Don't forget about the referees during Major League Soccer's current suspension of play.
It's a generally thankless job as is, where sometimes the best you can do is to simply not be noticed yet often catching shrapnel from both sets of teams and fans. Now, though, the refs are in limbo of how to stay fit and sharp without normal training, just like the players.
The refs, like the players, worked through preseason to fine tune their match sharpness, as well as peak physically for opening day after individually passing the FIFA-mandated fitness test, which includes 10 laps on an Olympic track of 75-meter sprints followed by 25-meter recoveries.
“We’ve gone through the whole preseason, trying to aim for peak physical fitness at the right time … and then this happened," Howard Webb, general manager of the Professional Referee Organization, told MLSsoccer.com. "It’s really difficult, the uncertainty of knowing how long this is going to last.”
But they quickly formulated a plan.
PRO canceled in-person training camps until at least the end of April, but are excited about utilizing virtual meeting rooms to fill that void. They still have stuff to go over from Week 2, the league's last games before the stoppage. Training packets will be distributed, as well as a plan to stay fit from PRO's sport science staff, consulting with remote monitoring systems for heart rate they often use.
“We like to build out training plans around match assignments for individuals and now it’s a case of working with the timeframe we’ve got," Webb said. "We know there’s no games until April 11 at the earliest [30 day suspension announced by MLS]. Our sports science team has built a plan around maintaining a level of fitness that’s easily achievable and not burning people out unnecessarily. Keeping them as safe as possible, like training in isolation, but also keeping them interested because boredom is a factor.”
They feel they're better equipped for this scenario than many organizations given they normally get together twice a month, minimizing the adjustment.
“We’re in a better place than most organizations to deal with some of the remote learning, guidance and training," Webb said. "A lot of our time is spent doing that, we’re not like a club where we’re all based in one area. We’re based all over the country, it’s a challenge we deal with all of the time.”
All the while, PRO hopes to keep their referees fit, sharp and, most importantly, connected.
“We’ll make sure the group still feels part of our family," Webb said. "While people are physically in isolation, we want to make people feel part of the group still and keep each other motivated. We’ll keep looking out for the welfare of all of our people.”