The country’s top domestic competitions are set to kick off in just under a month and the match officials involved will be more than ready to control those games after many took part in a timely FIFA Referee Course.
Held at Bruce Pulman Lodge in Papakura last week, the course brought together 32 of New Zealand’s most capable referees with a particular focus being placed on the upcoming National Women’s League, which gets going on October 16 and involves teams from each of the seven federations.
The emphasis on females tied the course in with the FIFA Live Your Goals Week, activities for which took place across the country to help promote the girls and women’s game.
The men were not forgotten about though and were represented by a batch of assistant referees likely to be on the line for Stirling Sports Premiership matches this season. That competition will also begin on October 16 and the rest of the males will catch up in three regional seminars held earlier in the month.
Leading the participants through the content was FIFA Instructor Krystyna Szokolai, an Australia-based former international referee.
Szokolai was delighted to see so many women in attendance and says the course was held at an opportune time with some significant changes to the Laws of the Game having just been introduced.
“FIFA is committed to improving refereeing around the world, they consider it to be part of their social commitment to football,” she says.
“They’ve implemented lots of programmes for the education and development of not only referees but also instructors in each country as a service to the member associations. A big component of the course here was to introduce the changes to the Laws of the Game – there’s been a relatively big restructure with that and it’s quite a historical moment actually.”
As well as going over the amendments to the laws, Szokolai took the participants through technical and fitness sessions with every effort made to replicate game situations.
“I think this sort of course is crucial for national referees, particularly those who will soon be officiating in national leagues or tournaments, such as what we’re preparing for here,” she says.
“We can’t have players who are more educated than referees – they have to be staying up to date with the modern game. The game has changed quite a bit and I’m not just talking about the laws but playing in general – the tactics, styles of play and so on,” she adds.
“We have to educate our referees to be prepared so they know what to expect. Problems occur when they can’t foresee something happening so we’ve tried to arm them with as much as possible to prepare them for the upcoming leagues. If there’s anything we’ve done to make their lives easier on the field so they can make the correct decision, then it will have been worthwhile.”
One participant looking to benefit was Nadia Browning, for whom the course arrived at just the right moment as she is currently making the tricky transition from assistant referee to referee.
“It’s obviously a complete shift in mentality and thinking,” she says.
“I was able to really pick up on what an elite referee needs to know and how to develop my skills and ability as a referee. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from Krystyna before when I was an assistant referee and her knowledge is just huge.”
Browning, who officiated at the Youth Olympic Games in China in 2014, feels taking part in such courses is a vital component of a match official’s development.
“When you’re in an elite environment like this you just learn so much,” she says.
“The opportunities within the federations are great and you learn a lot but, when you get surrounded by elite referees and instructors like this, you don’t have any choice but to learn and it really takes you up to the next level.”