What it’s like to be an NWSL referee – The Athletic

What it’s like to be an NWSL referee – The Athletic

“Hey referee, you suck!” 

It’s the lot of the referee: the heckling, the booing, the second-guessing. Your decisions are picked apart both in real time and in Monday morning quarterback sessions, your moral character is sometimes impugned, and you’re treated as a sort of rules robot that is never supposed to make a single mistake throughout what is often a brutally fast-paced collision of players. 

It’s not an enviable position, but when it comes to the referees assigned to the NWSL, there’s an additional level of complaining that the refs are amateur hour, somehow getting worse season after season. Players don’t know what calls might matter from game to game, and sometimes may take protecting themselves into their own hands. It makes games messier, sometimes farcical. 

NWSL referees do make mistakes, but a hyper focus on these mistakes prevents audiences from taking in the fuller context. The Athletic interviewed four different sources about the day-to-day reality of working as an NWSL referee. Only Steve Taylor, in his capacity as the executive director of the Professional Soccer Referees Association, spoke on the record; the other sources, which included two referees with at least several years of experience, one in MLS and one in NWSL, and someone with detailed knowledge of NWSL referee procedures, spoke anonymously about their experiences in order to avoid the possibility of professional retaliation. They described a working environment that involves long hours for short pay, little to no safety net, and few avenues to meaningfully improve their performances.

NWSL referees: where do they come from?

NWSL referees are trained and assigned by the Professional Referee Organization, or PRO. PRO’s origins lie in MLS and the U.S.


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