The beginning of Target USA CUP is obviously exciting for all the players participating. But what about the referees? After all, they’re a huge part of this massive event, too, as 25-year veteran John Harvey will tell you.
“Without the referees obviously a lot of games wouldn’t go ahead,” Harvey said during the first day of action on Friday. “So we’re very important to this tournament.”
That’s true, and something that is easy to forget for angry players and parents. USA CUP is supposed to be a great experience for the referees, too. As he began his eighth USA CUP, Harvey had no question about the true nature of the referees’ role in the event.
“The main idea is it’s about the players,” he said. “They’re here to have fun, we’re here to help them with that.”
It doesn’t take long for the tournament to make an impression on officials. Ryan Woods is in just his second USA CUP, but his experience last year made it a can’t-miss opportunity.
“When we came out last year it was a brand new experience,” Woods, a United Kingdom native, said. “The enjoyment the kids have reignites your love for the game as well. At the end of the tournament I went back to UK so happy, and I couldn’t wait to sign up to come back.”
Newcomers also build up big expectations for USA CUP. 13-year-old Arabella Velleux said she was most excited to officiate young children’s games and learn from her peers.
“I’m really excited because I’m hoping that I meet some international refs and get some tips from them, as well as watch these international teams,” the Lauderdale, Minn. native said.
Woods said the tournament presents a special opportunity to learn how to communicate with non-English speakers on the pitch.
“I work with referees who I can’t understand them, they can’t understand me, but our body language gets the point across,” he said. “You take that and it’s really helpful to make yourself a better referee.”
Harvey also listed improved job performance among the two objectives in mind when he returns to Blaine from the UK.
“I come back for two reasons,” he said. “One is to pass on my experience in reffing to the younger generation that is coming up through, and [another is] to allow the players at this tournament to have a really good time.”
But the players aren’t the only ones who can enjoy themselves. Woods said he found a strong community among the other referees last year.
“When I came here the first time I was told about this family feeling,” he said. “I’ll go away from here and there will be new people that I’ve met and we’ll keep in touch on Facebook, on Instagram. Then you come back and it’s like you just saw them a couple of days ago.”
Velleux already knew about the player experience at USA CUP, having played in the tournament in 2015. But midway through her first day as an official, she already said she preferred being a referee due to her expanded involvement in the event.
“When you’re playing, you have all those gaps [in your schedule] and you have to go home,” she said. “It’s all about playing. But as a ref you’re here all the time and you’re at the center of it all.”