Seth Kehr is only 14 years old, but has almost three years of experience as a referee. He doesn’t only put refereeing in practice on the pitch, but also tries to improve at home. “When I’m at home I will talk to other referees about their experiences and share my own”, he says in an interview with Dutch Referee Blog. “I’ll look in the mirror and practice my facial expressions and body language, and I can’t say that my family hasn’t caught me taking my phone out of my pockets, and practice different techniques of showing a card.
Hi Seth Kehr, please introduce yourself.
Hello Jan! First of all, thank you so much for taking your time for this interview, I really appreciate it. I am fourteen years old and been a certified referee since February, 2014 when I took a grade 8 class. I reside in upper NY.
Seth Kehr as referee. Photo provided by ref.
How did you get involved in refereeing?
“I often ask myself now the reason that I started, and I wish that I had made a note of why I did back then. My older brother, who is seventeen, started before me. When he started that was when i got my beginning interests to become a referee. also, there has always been a part of me that enjoys working with adults, and being treated as an adult. when i referee a game, they don’t agree on everything just because i am young, which i appreciate.
Where do you officiate and what does your refereeing weekend look like?
I’m glad you brought up the travel aspect! My parents are very supportive of me in this career and are willing to take me to very distant places for a game, tournament, or training session. I live in upstate NY, around 2 hours north of New York City. For the most part, I referee in the local youth league. Ad occasionally get an opportunity to work an adult game, or in various premier leagues closer to the city. This past summer I was lucky enough to go to Europe. I went there with two other experienced, young referees from NY, along with a national referee from Maine.
That’s where I was a referee at elite youth tournaments in Spain, Portugal, and France (Ibercup and Paris World Games). They were quite magnificent tournaments with professioanl youth academies from around the globe, such as Liverpool, Manchester City, Juventus, and many, many more. There were also top quality referees and assessors from many countries, including UEFA observers and FIFA referees. On an average weekend, I’ll find myself doing 2-4 games. Saturdays are when state cup along with other premier leagues play. On sunday is when I will work with my local league. For the most part, I’m an assistant referee.
Different requirements in each state
How is refereeing organized in your country?
In the United States, our promotion procedure just recently changed. A very young, beginning official starts as a grade 9, which allows him/her to referee in non-competitive leagues. Some states do not offer referees to be a grade 9, and have them start as a grade 8, which allows them to referee in competitive youth games. And occasionally he will be given a chance on an amateur adult game. Each state has different age requirements for different levels.
In Eastern NY you must be 17 to become a grade 7, which allows you to referee in amateur adult games. You’ll also be given higher profile adult games to test your abilities at what grade 6’s do. Up until this point you can referee in the middle, be an assistant referee, or, where applicable, a 4th official. starting at grade 5, you must declare if you are going to take the center/4th official track, or the AR track moving forward. This is when you move into the national pool, and start getting assignments from US soccer. Depending on which track you choose, you will skip grade 4 and go to 3, and then once again skip 2 and go to 1, or vice versa.
Watching clips at RA
Do you go to a referee association or train for yourself?
I do a little of both. Once a month my local association has a meeting where we discuss various possible situations and watch video clips. I am also part of my state’s advanced group, which meets once every month either for a field session, or classroom. This group is run by MLS referee Robert Sibiga. We will go even more in depth on various situations. It is great to be able to have the person who made the call on the television, be able to talk to us on why he, or one of his collegues made the decision. He will often bring in special guests such as PRO (professional referees organization) assessors and development manager.
When I’m at home I will talk to other referees about their experiences and share my own. I’ll look in the mirror and practice my facial expressions and body language. And I can’t say that my family hasn’t caught me taking my phone out of my pockets, and practice different techniques of showing a card.
I’ve also found that while I’m having a conversation just with my friends or family, i will bring in different “tactics” that referees use such as body language… so i believe you don’t have to be on the field to practice. I also think that refereeing isn’t just getting the calls right on the field, but rather it gives you an entire package. You need to be professional, humble, resonsible, as well as so many more things that happen behind the scenes. I can think back to before I was a referee and i see a dramatic difference in those traits now. And a big part of it is definitely because of refereeeing, and the referees, family, and friends who have been so helpful to me in this career.
No mistakes are forgotten
What do you like about refereeing so much and have you ever thought of quitting this hobby?
I think the thing that i enjoy most is the friendships I have made through refereeing. I’ve gotten the privilege of getting to know and work with referees who work in the top leagues in the United States, as well as other countries, along with the “just beginning” referees in my area. However, I loved to play as well, there is something else that excites me when I’m refereeing. And I’m still trying to find what that something is.
Perhaps it is the idea of solving problems, or maybe knowing that each and every decision you make, influences the game. Meanwhile in the left defense position (my position). If you meant to pass it to a midfielder, but instead it goes out of bounds. After your team gains possession back, your mistake is forgotten.
The first game I ever did was a under 8 recreational game, and I’m sure it was clear to everyone that it was indeed my first game. I don’t recall all the mistakes I made that game. Although I do remember my assignor who was watching the game, having to come onto the field for the rest of the game and help me out. That was the closest moment that I felt like quitting. Over the past 2 years refereeing has made me much stronger mentally and I’ll be looking to take this career as far along in the latter as I can.
Disallowing a Lisbon goal
What’s the hardest challenge/problem you faced during your career? and how did you solve it?
I consider a challenge different than a problem, so I’ll talk about the hardest of each. Both occurred this past summer when I was in Spain, and in the end they both improved my experience as an official. The biggest problem was in the U12 category in the semi final: Liverpool vs Sporting Lisbon. It was 2-0 in favor of Lisbon at the end of the first half. At the beginning of the second half, Sporting Lisbon puts the ball in the net again, but I felt they kicked it out of the goalies hands, so I disallowed the goal. I looked back at the end of the game of the video and it was the correct call. Liverpool then scores three goals, and won the game.
The mistake i made was only adding 18 seconds, when I probably should’ve added at least two minutes. after the game the sporting lisbon coach comes on the field and starts to show his disappointment towards me. I must’ve responded in English with a word that sounds or means something bad in Portuguese. This must’ve put him over the edge so he got a couple inches away from me. I decided not to back up, and then i got kicked. I am happy that I didn’t retaliate, and at this point the security came and escorted me to the changing rooms. The way that we managed it later that night, was simply having a civil meeting with the referee coodinators, and the coach.
Refereeing on national tv
The hardest challenge came the very next day. Throughout the week referees, just like players were “competing” to get a final. With around 160 referees and only 18 finals, obviously not everyone can get one. I wasn’t disappointed with my performances throughout the week, but I felt that with the issue I just explained, along with my age, they would opt to choose someone else. Later that night when the assignments were released I was most certainly surprised to see my name on the U10 final.
The challenge wasn’t necessarily the game itself, but rather my nerves knowing that it was going to be on national tv. Luckily, the other referees did nothing but support me and the game went smoothly with no problems. And i was able to ignore the camera as much as possible, but I absolutely loved it. By the time the Portugese tournaments finals happened, I wasn’t nearly as nervous.
Seth Kehr’s goals for 2017
It’s almost 2017. What are your refereeing goals for next year? And how are you going to achieve them?
The key for me is to get games. Any experience I can get I will gladly accept, whether it’s as an assistant or in the middle. The biggest part I’ve found that needs work is having good communication with the players and team managers. And that is something I can work on both as an assistant, or in the center. But also just in my day-to-day life during the week as I’m talking to a group of friends my age or colleagues, many which are adults.
I’ve done my state cups finals for the past two years, and doing what I can to be invited back upcoming year. I’ve been to one identification event for a youth premier league in my state and was chosen. So I’m hoping to work with and meet some of the promising referees in our state in this leagues games. I hope to be successful in them myself. Another goal for me is to return to Europe in the summer of 2017, and be more successful than this past year. There is ALWAYS things you can improve on.
As I said before, experience is the key in this career. As long as you make it a point to learn something every game, the more games you do, the better referee you will be. Post game talks are very important for me. That is when I can listen to the rest of the refereeing crew on things iIneed to work on, and I can share some advice for them as well. So if I get enough games, learn something from each one, then practice, I feel I’ll be successful in these goals. That will make it possible to expand them bigger and bigger.
Stay out of politics
What are the best 3 tips you ever got that made you a better referee?
My number one tip came from MLS referee Robert Sibiga around a year ago. He explained that there are a lot of politics in the referee world and to try and stay out of them as much as possible. He also talked to me about the importance of being humble and letting others invite me to events, rather than me inviting myself to events. this is something that is not only great advice for refereeing, but for life in general. All of this being done as he is in his hotel about to referee in the MLS — talk about a humble man!
Another piece of advice came to me by one of my trusted mentors Rich Zayas, a very successful state referee in NY. He told me the importance of taking my time in refereeing and not getting ahead of myself. If you go too fast, sooner than later, you will get caught in something that will set you backwards. If you are patient however, you will have seen more situations and experiences, so that when you are ready to move up, the game is also ready for you.
Law 18: use common sense
This advice has been given to me by many people. When we first start refereeing I believe many of us memorize as many of the laws as we can. But the situations in the law book that say “with the referees discretion”. We skip over and don’t want to worry about. In the beginning we are nervous to make a decision that isn’t 100% backed up by the LOTG. The point that I’m getting at here is law 18 – using common sense. The tough part about being a referee isn’t the parts that are spelled clearly out in the books. But rather the many times when you need to make a decision, based on the LOTG and your reaction to the situation. That is what separates a good referee from a great referee in my mind.