Kids whistle while they work

Cayman’s flourishing football programme is in a way a victim of its own success and in desperate need of more officials.

From the tiniest children to the masters players unwilling to bow to age, officials are needed.

Thankfully, many are being recruited at junior level to help meet the demand. Fourteen juniors were recently certified and, so successful has it been so far, that around 30 should be busy at school and youth level by the end of the year.

Dwayne Ebanks is one of the senior referees instrumental in recruiting the youngsters who were involved in the Primary Football League and are now officiating Under-13 games.

“The young referees are doing well I think and their performances have been very good,” Ebanks said. “The junior referees themselves have got to take credit for that and I congratulate them as they’ve followed the instructions we’ve given them in the meetings.

“They have done what we’ve instructed, so there has been good consistency. They are quick learners and full of energy and willing to learn more about refereeing,” he added. “They inspire me a lot to come out and never to give up refereeing. The first Primary Football League matches they officiated they were nervous and didn’t want to make any errors from the start of the game to the final whistle as they adapted to the new environment around them.” A few of the young referees are players in the Under-17 boys, men’s Division 1 and women’s leagues. None of them officiate in the senior leagues yet.

The main focus is developing the novices in the youth leagues and preparing them for the senior league eventually and possibly becoming certified FIFA refs.

They officiated 22 of 58 primary games during a three week period and were a huge help. This year, Premier League matches missed the presence of the experienced Gary Whittaker, who has officiated this league for many years.

“We showed our professionalism, maturity, love for the game and what we learnt at training from our instructors to the volunteer referees, teams, parents, fans and our peers,” Ebanks said. “Certainly, the experience of this event is just as valuable to referees as to players. It’s a different environment, they are away from their usual comfortable surroundings but this group are very good, they have a fantastic camaraderie. The support they’ve shown each other is very encouraging.”

They are back to the training and classroom with instructors Alfredo Whittaker, Livingston Bailey and Dwayne Ebanks. They are expected to referee in other leagues, such as CIFA Under-8, starting on 16 March and the U-13s, which are currently going on.

The number of matches is unknown – it all depends on their maturity and their desire to reach the next stage of refereeing. They will have to be assessed before moving to the next level and the classes will cover additional technical procedures and rules.

There are attractive benefits, too. Most soccer refs earn between $10 and $20 per game, which on average last less than an hour.

Refereeing club games earns more, high school soccer pays even better and college games pays better still. As they get higher certification the skill level of the games increases, making them more enjoyable to spectate but more stressful to officiate. There is also the fitness aspect as demands rise.

“It is a fun job,” Ebanks said. “Having a job in an area you love makes it hugely more enjoyable. You also learn how to take charge. It’s tough for a lot of kids to learn how to be in charge, how to lead, how to be the authority on a subject.

“As a referee you are expected to take command so it makes it a lot easier,” he added. “Kids who play soccer know the rules and being a referee is an easy step forward. It also provides more knowledge about the game. It’s one thing to play, but it’s another to be the referee. Learning how the referee sees the game can only help your overall understanding. Other pluses are that referees get great exercise and get paid to do it. They also have the best seat in the house.”

Ebanks added: “A special thanks to Alfredo Whittaker, head of refereeing for the organisation, the Youth Referee Programme and Richard Hew, Neil Murray and Ronnie Roach of CUC Primary Football League for allowing our young referees to officiate this year’s primary school matches.

“Also, thanks to all the parents for encouraging their children to be part of this programme. We would like to encourage more young people to come out and be part of this programme.

“This programme teaches you a lot such as building personality, taking charge and becoming a better person. We are seeking more sponsors to come on board within the coming months.

“We recognise that not everybody wants to referee at a high level,” Ebanks said. “A large percentage of our members become referees only to help out with Saturday morning fixtures.

“We value your interest. We also know that not everybody is cut out to be a great player or coach either.

“If however, you are even thinking about making refereeing your choice, remember that World Cup referees are asked to retire at 45.

“Start early, get a taste of the action and follow the pathway. You can follow the referee pathway as long as you want. “There are many opportunities to progress through the ranks to FIFA level and be involved in international matches and tournaments overseas.

“By knowing the game’s laws, anyone can enhance their development and performance at the highest level in football and refereeing. Also, we encourage the CIFA clubs to get their youth players involved in this programme as this is their future.”