I have been in love with the game of soccer ever since I saw it on TV in Thailand as a young boy in 1974. I was fascinated with the foot skills of the players and the speed of the game. As a kid with boundless energy and some ADHD as well, soccer was the game for me because it was fast and non-stop. It was 9 years before I played organized soccer in high school. I can still hear coach Forest with his Scottish accent yelling at me to get back in to shape and to stop just running around. There are 2 commands I remember the best from coach Forest (imagine a Scottish accent): "Probert...Stay put!" and "Probert...put the ball in the net!"
And that was about the extent of trying to coach a head-strong ADHD teenager.
As a player, what I lacked in skill I made up for in mouth and mental tactics. I was that player who was always getting under your skin whether you were on the opposing team or were the referee. My job was to get you out of your game and into mine. I was also a yellow card magnet--mostly for dissent and sometimes reckless play.
The coach got much of the same, and I was not the kindest to referees. I thought I knew the laws and how they should be applied better than the goof in the middle. I was dismissed from a few games for my mouth and earned those dismissals. In hindsight, it was definitely the wrong example to set for the players and the parents.
When I talk to old soccer mates, they are amazed that I am a referee. They say, "You a ref? You hated those guys!" I tell them that this is my repentance for all the static and grief I gave to the referees over the 25 years of playing and coaching.
I started refereeing professionally in 2010 with a USSF Grade 8 and NFHS certifications. I learned very quickly just how difficult it is to stay calm in the midst of the soccer storm when players, coaches, and parents are all out for your hide. I learned to use all of my physical and mental skills to have fun and help the players have fun as well.
It is a BLAST!
I often listen for heckles that are creative and make me laugh (but while not allowing dissent to escalate).
Here are a couple of my favorite heckles:
"I have seen better legs in a bucket of chicken!"
"Hey Ref, your wife just called. She says you're WRONG ... AGAIN!"
I do love a creative heckle.
Over the years of refereeing, I have seen many deficiencies in the communications between players, coaches, parents and the referee.
I started trying new approaches on how I communicated with everyone at a match. From there, I created the IREF protocols. These simple yet proven effective protocols are the "Secret Sauce" that make IREF so unique. IREF referees talk to the parents and coaches with a specific formula.
I have been told by seasoned referees that they would NEVER use the IREF protocols in talking to the parents. This to me was the issue in a nutshell. The divide is so great that the old guard of referees are unwilling or unable to adapt to fill the communication gap.
So, IREF will train up a new generation of youth referees that will have the skills and courage to bridge the gap of communication with parents and coaches through the IREF protocols.
In refereeing, I found a passion that has brought me great joy by being close to the game I love. I also find great joy in teaching and mentoring young referees, players, parents and coaches. It is so satisfying to see young referees gain confidence and knowledge through the IREF program. It is very gratifying to have a parent or coach say how much they learned after attending the "Ask the Ref" clinic.
This is my passion and love for the greatest sport on earth.
I played, I cheered, I coached. Now…IREF.
Mark T. Probert