FIFA referees grace WAGS Tournament as part of unique mentoring program
By Kevin Smith and Charles Boehm
LEESBURG, Va. – Participants and spectators at the WAGS Tournament matches held at the Evergreen Sportsplex might not have noticed them – unless a few keen eyes spotted the tell-tale “FIFA” jackets some wore – but several of the top referees in North America were on hand at the venue for most of the weekend.
They weren’t necessarily in charge of the matches themselves, though. They had traveled to the Northern Virginia complex to take part in a unique mentoring program along with the officials working the tournament.
The premise is simple: FIFA officials observe the working officials and provide feedback, and, in turn, help to provide a better on-field product for everyone involved – spectators, coaches, players and even the tournament organizers.
“The mentoring program within Elite Tournaments [the company which handles logistics for the WAGS Tournament] of which this is one, started about ten years ago,” Rob Fereday, a FIFA official who came through the mentoring program and now is one of its organizers, explained to SoccerWire.com.
“We had a discussion with Mike Libber [of Elite] and he wanted to do something special, something unique that isn’t normally done at these tournaments,” added Fereday. “He provided us a little funding. The first tournament we did, we brought in a bunch of mentors and he gave us an age group to work with. So we did the age group.
“At the end of the tournament, we asked him ‘How did we do?’ Mike said, ‘We didn’t have one referee complaint.’”
Fereday admitted that he didn’t initially realize that it was rare, at best, to make it through a tournament without rampant complaints about the officiating – until Libber explained to him that complaints were common, sometimes coming from as many as half the matches.
“But with your program,” he told Fereday, “we didn’t have one complaint.”
Fereday asked the logical next question: Do you want to keep this up?
Libber has tripled his funding for the program since that first year.
“We bring in the top referees” to mentor the officials, said Fereday. “In this tournament here, we have eight female FIFA referees or Ars [assistant referees]. We have two ex-FIFA males. We brought in two MLS ARs, so everyone here is recognizable.
“In this particular tournament, we brought in 27 female referees to mentored by the female FIFAs. For a young lady who is a referee to be mentored by someone so that they get the highest level feedback we can provide, it breaks down the door and makes [the FIFA officials] approachable.”
The mentors watch the games, observing the officials officiating the game, and then provide feedback and answer questions from the mentees both during halftime – allowing the officials to make second half adjustments – and after the game.
Then it’s up to the mentee to implement the suggestions. Success, explained Fereday, is gauged by the improvement of the officials who participate in the mentoring program.
“The opportunity to talk to a FIFA ref, especially a well-known and recognized female FIFA ref, is limited, because they only go to so many tournaments and they’re only in so many places,” said Beth Hansen, a New Jersey-based referee working at the WAGS Tournament.
“Their advice is just above advice that you would get otherwise.”
Hansen’s colleague Maria Brouard, also from New Jersey, had similarly glowing words about the value of the mentoring program.
“It was also related to females, because they understand certain body mechanics that might be difficult for [males], things that females tend to do,” she said. “We understand the game as females so it’s nice to have someone relate to you on a female level.”