By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
First days are always a little intimidating. A first day at work, first day of school — it’s new, you don’t really know what to expect, but you gather up the courage to get out there and do your best.
Thomas Friesen was 13 years old when he stepped on to the pitch to referee his very first soccer game for U10.
With 15 minutes left in the game, it started to rain.
“All the sudden there was huge crack of thunder and lightning and I had to stop right there,” he said.
Thomas gave the whistle to stop the play and got people off the field. The game was over.
One man spoke up and told Thomas he was abandoning the game. But all Thomas knew at the time was that if 2/3 of the game were played, the game would not be re-played, and so the final score was 1-0.
What happened next was unexpected.
“He came at me and tried to hit me, and I ducked,” said Thomas.
Someone restrained the man and Thomas grabbed his bag and left when his mother came to get him.
“I was in shock for a second. I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” he said.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
After attending a hearing that week, which Thomas recalls was a supportive panel, he was faced with a decision.
Quit being a ref, or keep going?
“It hit me the next time I had to go to the game, really,” he said.
Thomas said he was ready not to ref another game in his life, but his mom shared a different perspective.
“My mom made sure I continued reffing despite the negative experience at age 13. She knew not every game was going to be like that, that it was the exception, not the norm.”
Today, Thomas officiates both soccer and volleyball.
Over the years, he has learned a lot about being the one behind the call.
“What I’ve experienced in both sports, is people start out at the beginning of a game when you show up, people start out friendly, but the switch flips when you get into a competitive situation. It’s a feeling I’ve had dozens of times. It is when you step onto a field or court for those 90 minutes and you’re not really a person. You’re a robot that’s there to execute the job and people get into the heat of the moment and take out frustrations.”
But while Thomas first got into officiating for a job, there’s a reason why he continues to push through any challenges.
“I stay in it through all that other stuff because I’ve had so many good experiences in sports.”
Thomas believes that there is a way to go about interacting with an official that can be more constructive for everyone, like asking in a respectful way why the call was made and asking the ref for an interpretation.
“Everyone benefits from the learning there,” he said.
He also wants people to know that officials put a lot of time into being the best they can be and they don’t want one team to win over another.
“We put in the time, we study the rules every year, every month, usually for me after every game I’ll look stuff up to make sure I’m at my best to continue providing that for people.”
Thomas can also understand the athletes from his own experiences playing, too.
As a volleyball player, he remembers a time somebody hit a cross-court shot and he ducked aside, thinking it was surely out. He held his hand out to say it was out.
“I watched a tape later,” he said. “It was in by a foot.”
Advice For New Officials
What would Thomas say to an official who is just beginning their journey?
“First of all, know your stuff. There’s nothing worse than when you make a bad call and somebody is on top of you and you know you don’t have anything to support it other than to say, ‘I screwed up.’”
He also encourages seeking out high level officials to ask them questions about your game, any situations you’ve had, or even if they can come and watch and evaluate you.
The No Ref No Game campaign aims to generate support and awareness about the proper treatment of officials in sport in Manitoba.
Without them, the competition we all love and enjoy wouldn’t be possible.
Remember, respect your referees, umpires and officials.