Aug. 18, 2021 — Londi Tomaro, Siuslaw High School’s head soccer coach, doesn’t only run the Vikings’ soccer program. Nor is she merely the Siuslaw Youth Soccer Association (SYSA) Club Treasurer and Head Referee/Referee Assignor.
On top of all of these monumental soccer tasks in town, Tomaro is also in charge of coordinating the youth referee training program sponsored by SYSA in Florence for kids interested in becoming certified recreational soccer referees. The certified refs then go on to call games for SYSA in the U10 (third and fourth grade), U12 (fifth and sixth grade) and U14 (seventh and eighth grade) divisions.
“U10 is the first year the kids have referees, and before that, the coaches referee,” explained Tomaro. “When the game gets stopped and what the players get told they can and can't do depends on the coach and how much they know the rules, so when they get to U10, it can be sometimes a little bit of a shock.”
In the U8 division (first and second graders), one coach from each team is on the field to watch their end and coach in conjunction.
“For the most part, it hasn't been an issue,” said Tomaro. “There have been a few times, but really, the coaches are out there so the kids can play, and I don't know any instances where they really have gotten upset at each other’s calls.”
SYSA follows the progressional guidelines from US Soccer “by having the younger kids’ games be much smaller and more coach-driven, and not having a referee with a whistle,” Tomaro said. “Then, we have the refereeing start in that U10 age group, and developmentally, they've done a lot of looking at how it works for kids to learn the game, have fun and develop.”
Conveniently, the age at which kids are about ready to start playing the game with an official referee pairs perfectly with the age at which slightly older kids are ready to start training as youth referees, which is currently 13 years old, as specified by US Soccer.
“For the referees in U10, we always tell them this is a teaching situation, so that the kids learn the rules,” said Tomaro.
Up to this point, many players may not have been playing with all the same rules, and they may not know some of the more complicated rulings.
“So, [we tell them], ‘When you make a call, make sure they know why you have made the call,’” Tomaro said. “And sometimes it's as much about educating the coach as it is about educating the kids; the coaches might misunderstand something, or they might just have something in their head that isn't quite right, so they've been teaching their kids to do something that we're going to call them for because either it's dangerous, and they didn't realize it, or it's an age-group-specific rule because some age groups can do certain things others can’t, like head the ball.”
Luckily, the U10 age group is a bit easier to referee than the older groups.
“The kids are generally just making mistakes because they’re really excited,” said Tomaro. “They're not fouling on purpose at that age. So, we usually put our younger refs, or our kids who don't want a more stressful situation on those games.”
SYSA also has adult mentors on the side of the field who are certified referees.
“They can give support and explain things if the referee needs help,” she said. “I also like to do that because there have been some coaches who've been vocal when they think a call should be made, and I think having an adult standing there is a good buffer for that; when you have a 13-year-old, and there's an adult saying, ‘This should be the call,’ even though the kid is the certified ref, they start to feel a little bit either pressured or unsure.”
Tomaro makes sure that all of her youth referees have a great deal of support and guidance throughout, with kids being trained as both assistant and center field refs over time.
“We mentor the youth, but we give them a lot of independence,” she said. “In the games, when you have a center ref, they go out and do their work and the mentor is watching from the sideline. They’ll ask questions and point things out, but you kind of have to be immersed in the process and the experience, and then you learn as you go.”
That's part of why US Soccer allows referees as young as 13.
“We start the kids at the younger ages, and then we move them up,” Tomaro continued. “We first put them as an assistant ref on the side so they can get used to the speed of the game with older kids and what they’re going to be looking for. When they feel comfortable, we move them into the center position. Some kids are really comfortable and confident making those calls and being in that center position pretty quickly.”
Throughout the process, the youth refs gain a great deal of experience, and they mature along the way.
“I do think it's good that the kids learn leadership, they learn to trust themselves,” said Tomaro. “They learn a lot of good teamwork, because they're working together to communicate with each other, the players and the coaches and show a little authority.”
There are several youth referee training programs offered via the US Soccer website, but in Florence, SYSA runs their program once a year in the fall.
“You sign up on US Soccer for the course you're registering for, and you have to pay attention to the location because they're all over the place,” Tomaro said. “You do some online modules beforehand, and then you have to do a concussion training that's required of all referees, because it's not our job to evaluate whether they're cleared to play again, but if we see symptoms or the signs of a concussion, we can send them off the field. That's part of the responsibility keeping athletes safe from head injuries, and the referee definitely plays a role there.”
After the trainees have completed the online modules and they have their certificate of concussion training, they begin the in-person training, which is a one- or two-day course.
“There's a classroom portion where they learn different rules and talk about different considerations and situations that might arise on the field,” said Tomaro. “Then, they go out on the field, and they practice the different movements, how to hold their arms and hold the flag. They teach you a good warm-up and talk about having your game face — whatever you do to make yourself ready to go out and be an official for the game and have your official game aura about you.”
Tomaro does her best to coordinate trainings to happen while there is some type of real recreational game play going on.
“If possible, we like to do the trainings when there are either games going on for a club or even pick-up games,” she said. “Something where they can just see play happening and be a referee working and watching what's happening in the game.
“It's partially to see how a referee works a game, and it’s partially for them to start looking at the game in a new way,” she said. “A lot of these kids have played soccer for years, so they look at the game as a player, but you have to start training yourself to look at the game as an official.”
After the course is completed, youth referees receive their badges, and they get a new one each year as proof of their certification.
“Every year you have to re-register,” she noted. “At our level of certification, you're not required to do any continuing education. They do require us to read and accept that we've read all of the new rules for every year, because there are rule changes happening all the time that clarify or change things a bit. You have to know what those are, and you have to reup your concussion training every year.”
For each of SYSA’s seasons, referees have a meeting and go over the rulebooks and age-level-specific rules.
Once certified, Tomaro schedules the youth referees throughout the SYSA season. Although programs were paused for a portion of the pandemic, Tomaro was able to bring back the previously certified youth refs this past spring.
“We started practices after spring break, and then we did five weeks of games for U8 and six weeks for the older age groups starting on April 10,” she said. “So, six weeks of refereeing games this past spring. I have a couple of kids who've been waiting [to be certified] because we got the last group in before COVID, so we haven't done any new certifications for a couple of years.”
SYSA player registration closed on Aug. 14, and practices will start after Labor Day when school starts. Following about two weeks of practice, games begin.
“In the next few weeks, I'll get in touch with all the ones who reffed and a couple who are high schoolers,” said Tomaro. “Then, for the kids who are already certified, we will set a meeting date, probably in early September, and get everybody up to speed and refreshed on everything.”
Tomaro herself is going to the Lane County Soccer Referee Association training day for already certified reps on Aug. 21.
“I’ll bring back all that information and make sure the kids are all up to date, and I'll be communicating with those people who are interested about whether we're going to do a class on the coast this fall,” she said.
For more information on joining the youth referee training program in Florence, email SYSA at [email protected], or send a message to SYSA Facebook page at www.facebook.com/siuslawsoccer.