Washington Youth Soccer Committed
to Enhancing State Referee Structure
By Brian Beaky, Editor, PlayOn
In March of 2012, U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer made a major announcement — the creation of a unified, national referee training and management system, the Professional Referee Organization (PRO).
The purpose of the new organization, said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and MLS commissioner Don Garber, was to bring the many disparate referee programs in the United States and Canada together into one cohesive system, significantly increasing the consistency and quality of referee training and development at all levels of the game, and in all parts of the country. In addition, the program would reduce costs by eliminating duplicate processes — funds that could then be reinvested into referee programs nationwide.
It’s a program that has already begun to show dividends for the nation’s top referees — and one Will Niccolls would like to replicate in Washington state.
In November of 2011, Niccolls — a veteran professional and collegiate referee himself — was hired as Washington Youth Soccer’s first-ever Referee Program Director, with the job of improving refereeing standards and referee processes and systems statewide.
That’s been no small task — rather than a unified structure, each District and local area in the state has one or more of its own independent referee associations, amounting to nearly 20 separate referee businesses in all. Clubs and Associations then work with, and rely on, the referee group in their area to recruit and train referees, and schedule games. Making the process even more complicated is that each local referee group uses different systems for scheduling and maintains different processes for risk management and other important behind-the-scenes operations, resulting in different standards for refereeing and referee management across the state.
Over the past two years, Niccolls has traveled the state, meeting with Club and Association leaders, referees, referee assignors and other members of the Washington soccer community, and has come to the conclusion that soccer in Washington could benefit from a referee system that eliminates the redundant business functions and associated redundant expenses. The current referee system, which relies on the independent operation of nearly 20 different referee businesses, provides many opportunities for system improvement.
“The way the system works currently places an undue burden on everyone involved, from the leagues and referees in the scheduling process, to the parents and players, who deserve to know that the referees working their games have been properly trained and risk-management cleared,” Niccolls says. “Our goal is to create a referee-centric system which gives referees access to more games with fewer hurdles, and guarantees that every game in the state will be assigned by a registered assignor to a registered, risk-management cleared and consistently trained referee. In fact, no system should allow for anything but that outcome. We have the technology in place that will automate many of the processes and allow for a dramatic simplification.”
To that end, Niccolls has worked with a senior collection of respected referees to create Washington Soccer Referees, a new organization which aims to bring all of the state’s officials under one umbrella. Washington Soccer Referees would be assigned to — and paid for — games throughout the state, through one central organization with one web platform, one insurance policy, one business license and one set of bylaws. Furthermore, Clubs, Associations and leagues that used Washington Soccer Referees would be guaranteed to receive what Niccolls laid out above — trained, risk management-cleared, currently registered referees who have been assigned by, and answer to, a professional and licensed assignor.
Like the PRO system has done at a national level, Washington Soccer Referees will increase opportunities for the state’s committed referees, simplify scheduling and payment processes for leagues and referees alike, and eliminate redundant business practices, freeing up funds for increased referee development and training. And, most importantly, give members and even fellow referees the assurance that the individuals working their game are being held to the highest standards.
“We want to put the same level of commitment towards increasing the educational opportunities and quality programming for our referees as we have in recent years for our coaches and players,” says Washington Youth Soccer Board President Doug Andreassen. “This system will provide a tremendous benefit not just to our members, but to our referees as well, by streamlining the processes through which referees are scheduled and managed. That will in turn allow us to focus more time and money into enhancing our referee development programming, and get more young referees involved in the game.”
Niccolls says the goal now is to communicate that vision to the 4,000-plus referees statewide, and showcase the benefits Washington Soccer Referees will provide.
“We have the opportunity now to transform our existing system into something better,” he says. “I’m excited to begin taking the next steps.”
To learn more about the Washington Soccer Referees, contact Will Niccolls at firstname.lastname@example.org.