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Referees need to be soccer students

Brian Hall has a clear message for the officials of the future – become students of the game.

Hall, perhaps one of the most recognised soccer referees from the United States, was appointed as the Professional Referee Organization’s Match Official Development Manager at the end of 2013, charged with the responsibility of identifying and developing a group of top-level officials for the future. 

But despite what he says has been fantastic development during his five months in the role, the 52-year-old wants to see the next generation submerge themselves in soccer and become masters of the sport.

“We are well on our way to starting to identify the second-teamers of officials who have the ability to referee at the elite level and be part of a crew that will take MLS games,” Hall told proreferees.com.

“I think there is definitely progress. However, the size of America is probably the biggest challenge. You don’t have the ability to see these guys on a regular basis. I'm based in New York and our officials are all over.

“When you see them, you give top-level instruction and advice but then they go home and after a short period of time they return to old habits. 

“It’s important we have as much time with them as possible, because the more time you spend with people the better they become. To Peter’s [Walton, PRO General Manager] credit we’ve got plans in place.

“When you can’t see these referees on a regular basis, they must be studying soccer, regularly watching MLS games and seeing what our top level referees are doing.

“They need to take the best bits and incorporate that into their own style. They also need to be looking at the teams, the players, and seeing how they can cope at this level.

“You can be successful at NASL and USL PRO level, but if you look at any country, when you get to the top the speed is completely different. 

“Their development needs to include new ways to challenge themselves, find mentors to help them, reading books, and increasing the number of tools in their toolbox.”

Another challenge, according to Hall, is how officials bounce back from mistakes, not just in the early stages of their development but throughout their lifetime.

Despite being on the FIFA list for 15 years at the time, Hall reflected on a moment in his career from 2006 that he uses to coach the future generation into understanding what is at stake in modern soccer, but also to teach them that misjudging a call here or there is part of the learning curve. 

“I was refereeing the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final,” he recalled.

“It was America against Toluca, two teams from Mexico, in one of the most storied stadiums in the world, the Azteca Stadium. 

“I’m there, with my crew, and for 100 minutes I had a fantastic game. Then, a minute later, America scored and we award a goal. Upon review, we find out that in reality the player was offside and it should never have been a goal.

“The rest of the game was then a nightmare. I had to send players off, send technical staff off for coming onto the pitch - it was an absolute disaster. 

“America won the game and I cost Toluca because they didn’t win and didn’t qualify for the World Club Championships. For two weeks I didn’t sleep. I just kept thinking ‘how will I solve this’. 

“I was the leader of the crew and it was my responsibility we all got the decision correct. I was on cloud nine and then made that decision which changed everyone’s perception of Brian Hall, the American referee.

“These days, there is even more financial risk associated with soccer teams - what they win in prize money, what they qualify for.

“This summer we are going to watch the World Cup with the top 25 referee crews in the world and we will see mistakes. It’s part of the game and, in a way, what makes it so beautiful.

“What we are communicating to these officials is that it is OK to make mistakes but the key is doing something with them. You develop a solution and when you next go on the field you don’t repeat the same error.

“With hard work and dedication, and I hope helpful training from myself and PRO, we can develop these talented individuals into a new batch of referees at the elite level of North American soccer."

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