Katy Nesbitt top assistant referee from the US

Katy Nesbitt is the 2020 MLS AR of the year. In this blog she tells her story, shares how covid influenced her refereeing and gives advice on how you can improve as a referee. Nesbitt got into refereeing as a kid to make money, but has developed into a FIFA assistant referee and officated in the MLS Cup final in 2020. Have a great read, in this story packed full of tips and advice. 

How Katy Nesbitt experienced 2020

“2020 was different for sure. The year started heavy with international refereeing before the MLS season started.” She only had one MLS game before lockdown kicked in. “I got many more games than many other referees. Then I had a long break.”

“That came with challenges”, she says. As in many other countries people couldn’t go out a lot to train and practise. Referees need to be creative to stay fit. “But luckily I got excellent trainers that kept us motivated somehow.” Because the professional game was on in the US and Canada since July, Nessbitt had games from July until December. 

The bubble vs regular games

“We started with a bubble, which was incredibly safe. We were testing every other day. You couldn’t even exit your room until you’ve received your negative test.” It felt like a safe environment, they could not leave the hotel, except for training and games. 

In August the regular season started, with games all over the country. That led to more travelling and contacts outside your own bubble. “But it’s still reasonably safe, as they’re testing us in a cadence that is recommended by health professionals.” Protocols also prevent players (or refs) from taking part in activities and they get into self-isolation. 

The referee teams were also located in front of the aircraft, not between everyone else. Also the hotels have to take safety precautions. “It’s different than a bubble, but it has safe as it can been and it has been working.” 

Staying fit in covid times

Staying fit was “one of the hardest challenges” for Nesbitt in 2020. She lives in Philadelphia and there are not many open fields and running tracks and gyms were closed. But she found a nice stretch where she could do most of her training. “My community has now getting used to seeing me training outside.” She laughs. “Sometimes I even got a little fanclub”. 

Training was made easier now she got a routine to go out there and train.  Do you find it difficult to find that motivation? See tips by fitness instructor of Dutch pro referees Wieke Hoogzaad on this topic.

According to PRO she did 18 games as AR and 7 as AVAR in 2020. And when on the road, she found it even easier to stay fit as match officials. More open fields and opportunities to train. “It was even easier when travelling and on the road.”

MLS is back tournament

The MLS is Back Tournament was different from what she experienced before. Everyone was eager to get back to the game, but maybe was still a bit nervous about this new situation. It had to settle in and all had to get comfortable with it. “It became a group effort amongst the referees to have a really successful tournament. I’ve been to many tournaments before, but this was the most motivated I’ve seen a group of officials. We all wanted to do well and all had extreme circumstances we’re living under.” Kick-offs at 9am, high temperatures in Orlando. That attitude led to an environment where everyone wished the best for everyone else. “It made it easier to do well on the field.” 

It was the first ever final for Nesbitt. She also got appointed of the MLS Cup final later that year. Plus she got the AR of the Year Award by MLS. “That was so cool for me”, she says. “It was actually a goal of mine that I put in before all this had started. I really wanted to have a good season in MLS. Not that I don’t always, but it was on top of my list for 2020. I just wanted to stand out.” 

Change things to improve

“One of the big things I did is looking for more confidence from within myself, rather than other people telling me I do well. I was trying to find my own balance of confidence.” 

I also want to work on my game as assistant referee, but not necessarily in terms of offside. “But more about how I can be an asset to the referee. Not just calling out the fouls that are right at my fight, but how far can I actually help. How much information can I always give in misconduct situations? Can I help with their positioning when the referee gets caught up in play and are not exactly sure where they want to know next. 

2019 Women’s World Cup with Carol Anne

2019 was the year where Katy Nesbitt was going to the World Cup, assisting Carol Anne Chenard. The Canadian referee couldn’t go, because she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nesbitt paired up with Kate Jacewicz (interview) from Australia. “One of my goals for that year was learning to work with a new referee.” 

They got 8 days before their first game together. “We all worked really hard to figure that piece out”, she says. “I’ve worked with Carol Anne for 2 years to figure out exactly how this was going to work during the World Cup.” 

Kate Jacewicz, Kathryn Nesbitt and Chantal Boudreau, the other assistant, had coffee together from the moment they heard they were going to work together. “We decided that our number one goal was to succeed at the tournament. We want to make sure that we were the best team that we possibly could be”. 

A big advantage was that all went through the same training sessions by FIFA, which means all considerations and thoughts on how to do your games were all in line with each other. “We then had to work on the nuances on how to communicate clearly so everyone else understood what was needed from them.” 

Quitting work to focus on refereeing

Nesbitt worked at university as a professor until 2 weeks before the Women’s World Cup. She decided to quit early in 2019 and wanted to finish the school year. But how does it influence your career when you can solely focus on refereeing? “I got to the top balancing work and refereeing at the same time, so it is definitely possible to combine these 2 things”, she says. Refereeing was no longer a hobby for Nesbitt, it was her top choice. She was curious what would happen if she didn’t have to split her time any more. 

The first six months after she stopped working were difficult, because she had to find new routines. What helped was talking with lots of full time referees on how they do things. “For me, that has made this year 2020 possible. I don’t know if I would have been able to do all the games that I did. Plus with the added time I could watch more games, review clips and focus more on my training.” She felt that she didn’t have to rush through the fitness sessions or to ask herself if there was still some time for stretching afterwards. “It has been really positive for me.” 

Other training sessions and prep as AR

One of the biggest things I started doing is taking my time for training. I spend a good time warming-up now. We have trainers that prescribe us work-outs, but sometimes we do a little extra because we have our own goals for something that I wanted to work on. Oftentimes, for me that is agility, because I am an AR. I can always get faster feet somehow. So I focused a lot on my agility work. 

Nesbitt also did more recovery work, stretching, hot and cold therapy. Really take care of myself. “It’s no longer that I’ve 60 minutes to fit this in. I have the whole morning. 

And some other routines that changed:

  • More clip analysis too. “That’s where my match preparation has changed a lot. 
  • More social in the referee community. Asking other referees for their opinions. 

Katy Nesbitt on importance of female referees at the top

It’s still a surprise to everybody. It’s still a big deal  for Stéphanie to get a Champions League game as a female or for me to get the MLS final.” She says it’s good that it brings attention to the fact that women can do this at the same level as men. “But ultimately it’s good that it doesn’t look like a female has done this for the first time, but that a referee has done this. I think it’s all really positive and I’m really excited that Stéphanie has gotten that game. And Bibi has done some much wor for refereeing in Germany, to promote women. Sian in England. There’s women that have been doing this for a very long time and everything you see a woman making that big stride it’s really positive. Just to show it doesn’t come down to gender, but to skill. 

Even though it might take time and not every country is changing as fast, these changes are important. And Nesbitt says the role of Kari Seitz in the FIFA referee department is also important, as she encourages FA’s to explore the women’s the ability to officiate games and let them join the men’s FIFA fitness tests. “We are on the right track.” 

More from Kathryn Nesbitt to follow soon

Later this month Nesbitt will talk about long-term vs short-term goals as referee. Plus she also has a special technique to analyse her own performance. Stay tuned for them on this blog or make sure you receive the weekly newsletter ()

Make sure sucbribe to YouTube to get more solid advice, like this one from Kathryn. 


  • Sebastian

    Excellent blog. Very inspiring. I am so happy for Katy to be AR of the year. I really enjoyed reading the part about quitting her teaching job to be a referee full time. I think this is something unique – many referees still have to juggle more than 1 job. Most of us just have one job to concentrate on.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Thanks, Sebastian. I liked that part too. It worked out really well for her. A great year for her and hopefully many more to follow.

  • Steve Kelly

    This sis a great article Just the sort of thing you need to keep you motivated in these difficult times Thank you Steve Kelly London England

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