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CONCACAF International Referee Symposium Blog

By Fotis Bazakos:

I first learned about the opportunity to attend CONCACAF's International Referee Symposium when we were at the Cooper Hotel Conference Center & Spa in Dallas, Texas, for training in September when fellow referee Ismail Elfath came up to me and said, 'Congratulations'.

I had no idea what he meant, having not checked my email account for a couple of hours, so I was surprised to say the least when he explained more about the upcoming event. 

Once he got me up to speed, I realized that he and I, along with a number of other PRO officials, would be spending the middle part of October in Mexico City for the Symposium.  

We spent four days with 60 other referees from all over CONCACAF as part of a motivational, thought-provoking, introduction to the international referee scene. Through a sponsorship with Comex Futline - the official spray provider for CONCACAF - this four-year partnership would focus on referee development across the region.

We were first welcomed by Mexican FA President Justino Compean, CONCACAF General Secretary Enrique Sanz along with Marcos Achar, CEO of Comex. They spoke about their curiosity on what makes a person want to be a referee. The conclusion was that it takes a person with very special skills and determination to take up the challenge. 

They also addressed what has changed in soccer recently, which was the basis for this partnership between Comex and CONCACAF, to re-align refereeing with the way soccer has changed. Things like the speed of play, technique of the players, even the materials and quality of the ball. Also, the weight and pressure of the game itself has increased. This resonated well with the group.

Brian Hall and Peter Prendergast led the classroom and field training sessions. The focus was on the five Ps: pride and passion, preparation, professionalism, persistence and performance.  

We were taken through video clips, drills, and simulations of game play. These sessions reminded me of the frequent PRO training camps. The consistency of these types of events, whether provided by PRO or CONCACAF, will only help my peers and I become better referees to serve the game. There was a focus on handballs, teamwork, and severity of fouls. Again, very similar to my training with PRO.

Pierluigi Collina was another highlight of the event. He spoke several times throughout the week and he seemed to love the idea of development for the future. He was very focused on the things not included the laws of the game as he believed they can make a bigger performance difference than most people realize.

For instance, the economics of soccer and the linkage to referee decisions has become huge. A modern referee must take on the responsibility, produce results, handle crisis, and inspire others. He encouraged us to pass along our knowledge to an aspiring referee and mentor them.

We also attended the Mexico vs. Panama World Cup qualifier, and we witnessed one of the most beautiful goals ever, which saved Mexico’s qualifying. It was a totally different experience, seeing over 100,000 passionate fans, desperate for a win. I’ve been on the field in front of over 67,000 in Seattle, as well as big games in Europe, but this was another level.

It really brought together the pieces that we’d be trained on during the week - and, for us PRO referees, throughout the year - from mental toughness, to physical fitness, to ability to execute under high pressure.

We were all honored to be sent to the inaugural CONCACAF International Referee Symposium and it was a very valuable and worthwhile event.

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