I sat down with Kayla Marcoux–a skilled soccer player, coach, and referee–who has officiated some of our Sunday “chill” rec soccer games. Kayla agreed to discuss her views on aggressive soccer and her experience as an officiant in our league. Note that we discussed our own views, which are not those of the BMO Center, Ontario Soccer, EMSA Referee, or Canada Soccer.
EP: Can you tell me a bit about your soccer career?
KM: I’ve played for 25 or 26 years now. I have played as striker, and I currently play as goalie. I am super passionate about soccer. I’ve also coached for 15 years.
After playing and coaching I figured the next thing to do was start reffing. I knew there weren’t a lot of female refs, and that didn’t sit well with me. Now, my friend and I and maybe one other are the only women refs who officiate in leagues at the BMO Centre.
EP: Can you describe simply–what is aggression in soccer? When I think about what is aggression in soccer, I notice that sometimes more and less skilled players may see the other as being aggressive, for different reasons.
KM: It’s not a simple definition. For me, aggression is done with intent and has a lack of regard for the safety of themselves or the other player(s). It makes perfect sense to me that if players from different levels of skill play together, that the player who has less skill or experience could interpret a higher skilled or experienced player as making an aggressive play or challenge occasionally.
Since we cannot determine someone’s “intent,” we must consider their actions: are they trying to “run through people” or are they using their body to shield the ball and gain possession? Running through someone, kicking at their ankles or shins wildly trying to get the ball are examples of what I consider to be “aggressive.” Shielding a ball or going shoulder to shoulder chasing a ball down to me would constitute normal soccer play and not be deemed aggressive. Just because I see it that way, it doesn’t mean someone with less experience than me will see it that way. Opinions will differ for everyone which is why I find this hard to define.
EP: In a poll of the team captains in our “chill” league, some felt like there were too many calls on rough play. How do you call aggression in our league?
KM: Yeah, that’s interesting. It depends on the league. Every league has different calls. It can be a challenge to adapt to varying degrees and levels of play, especially in a league like yours.
Our role as officiants is to watch the temperature of the game but let play happen. Contact is a grey area, one opinion vs another. We normally watch for 50/50, but because there are so many variables we have to try to abide by the rules.
EP: I am afraid I need you to explain to me what you mean by “50/50.”
KM: 50/50 is two players from opposite teams who each have an equal chance of obtaining possession of the ball. But it’s not easy to judge what is equal because players may be of different speeds, sizes, and skill levels when they challenge or defend their possession.
EP: So you are reffing our games with that 50/50 idea in mind?
KM: Yes, but that balance of power can change to 60/40 at any time. And that’s what we are looking for. If a player is defending very well, it might seem like a shift in power but really it’s just skilled play. They know how to move their bodies to their advantage. If a player is getting really frustrated, and their frustration builds up, it can also change how they play. They can start with elbows out or throw their body in the way, and that can lead to a collision. That becomes a safety issue. Body types can affect 50/50 challenges, but skill level and emotions can too. I’m not sure if that answers your question because it’s delicate. There are a lot of variables we are watching out for.
When I was asked to referee for your league for the first time, I was told that your players were really just out to get exercise and have fun, and that you didn’t want competitiveness and aggressive ball challenges. We were told this league was no contact at all.
And then I reffed several more games, and I found that the teams were all kind of different. We don’t want there to be complaints for players not following the rules, but there should be some flexibility.
EP: Would you play in our “chill” rec league?
KM: No. Players should be classified appropriately for the leagues they play in. Me, I play in Second Division. I know that I don’t have the ability to bring it down. I would be considered an aggressive player in your league. So I’m better off to find people that are playing similar to me.
You can’t control what other players do. The onus is on the player to say to themselves, “Do I belong in this league or not?” If people aren’t getting what they want, there are many other leagues available at the BMO Centre that can allow players to find the level of play they are looking for & comfortable with.
But I did tell my mom about this league. “They are actually chill and very calm,” I told her, “and they’re here just to exercise and have fun.” If she were interested in playing soccer, she should come out to this league to play!
EP: What do you think of reffing in our league?
KM: I’ve only reffed a handful of games so far. Everyone seems to be having a really good time. I’m on the field, laughing with everyone. I enjoy the games because there’s so much fun. I haven’t really seen any issues.
I like to talk to the players on the field, and have them talk to me because then I can keep an eye out for what they see as too much aggression. Of course, humans are going to make mistakes, but we as referees can respond to requests, so talk to us.
EP: What can refs do to support fun rec leagues like ours?
KM: Keep up with training. Stay on top of the IFAB rules and not become complacent. The rules change every year. Put player safety above all else. It’s our number one job.
Bring in referees that are like-minded and that want to officiate games at this level. Give them examples of situations that have happened, explaining what is okay and what is not okay. This can help us help you and your league.
It’s also a good idea to bring the officiants into the conversation. If you tell me what to look for, I’ll adjust my position to make sure I have a better view, and if I have to call something your team isn’t okay with, I’ll call it, no problem. For the most part, we’re all really easy to talk to.
EP: What can our league do to ensure its continued success in future seasons, in your opinion?
KM: A good conversation is easily had before it starts to get a sense of the team’s level of comfort with contact and what contact means to them. Identify what you are not comfortable with, and then bring it to the attention of the referee. If two teams are comfortable with a certain level of contact, then explain it. We want players to have a fun and safe environment but also be heard and feel like the officiant cares. Conversations can bring aggressiveness and animosity down. Even if teams don’t initially agree, they can come to a better understanding if we all talk and share our perspectives.
Maybe as well as make sure everyone else is signed on. Everyone signs something at the beginning of the season that says, this is what we all agree on.
EP: [Joking] Is it this complicated to be a referee for male soccer players in their leagues?
KM: In my experience, women are respectful and appreciative of having a female ref. I’ve had no grief or cattiness in this league at all or in any others.
In my opinion, women are superior players because we just go out and play and get the job done. When I officiate, most of the time everyone is respectful, but if I do get grief it is usually from the men. [Smiles]