KIRKLAND — Being a young soccer official has its challenges, Logan Griffis admits. Players always try to see what they can get away with, particularly with a referee who just might be younger than they are.
“Players like to test me early just to see what kind of referee I am … with fouls and outbursts and stuff like that,” said the 19-year-old Griffis, who is from Everett. “But if I can make myself look confident in my decisions with a strong whistle and a loud voice, I can kind of assert my authority.
“And I’ve been told by people that I look older than I am when I’m out there reffing a game.”
Griffis, a 2013 graduate of Seattle’s King’s High School, has emerged as one of the state’s most promising young soccer officials. Barely out of high school himself, he was a linesman for last spring’s Class 4A boys state championship game between Snohomish and Ferris. This fall he was the referee for the Class 3A girls state semifinal game between Edmonds-Woodway and Bellevue, and the Class 4A girls state championship game between Jackson and Central Valley.
A top official needs knowledge and skills along with a knack for dealing with emotional players and coaches, and putting that all together “is hard,” said Will Niccolls, the referee program director for U.S. Soccer in Washington. It is, he went on, something “that’s usually seen in someone older. Logan is quite unique in his ability to do all that as a young man.”
There are other outstanding young officials in Washington, including a few from Snohomish County, Niccolls added, “but Logan is unquestionably in our top group.”
Griffis started playing soccer as a young boy and went on to be a goalkeeper for four varsity seasons at King’s. His love of the game had earlier led him to take up officiating, and he worked his first game with U-9 teams when he was 13.
“I remember thinking, ‘I know everything. I know all the rules,’” Griffis said. “But right before I blew the whistle to start that game I was very nervous, and I reffed not really knowing what I was doing. On throw-ins I probably pointed the wrong way 10 times.”
“I felt overwhelmed. I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want these coaches and parents yelling at me.’ And I didn’t really know if I’d be able to perform well in those high-pressure situations. But when it came down to it, I was fine.”
In almost six years Griffis has officiated approximately 1,500 soccer games. He started with youth leagues and progressed to high school. He also has worked college, semipro and even national youth tournaments.
On the field, his approach “is that it’s the players’ game, so let them decide who’s going to win,” he said. “When you need to come in and call a foul, that’s when your presence is known. But you don’t need to be a showboat referee.”
As every official knows, verbal abuse from players, coaches and fans is a sometimes uncomfortable and always predictable part of the job.
“You really have to have a thick skin,” Griffis said with a smile. “Selective hearing, in a sense. … When you call a foul and a player disagrees with you, he’s going to yell. Now, how much yelling are you going to allow?
“Every player will have an emotional outburst if you call back a goal for an offside call, or if you call a foul when they’re getting ready to shoot on goal, or if you give them a yellow card. They’re going to say, ‘That’s crap, ref,’ or something along those lines. And I just have to let that go because it’s part of the game.”
But if the angry words become personal or overly profane, “that’s a yellow card,” he said. “And sometimes a red (card, an ejection), depending on how abusive it is.”
According to Niccolls, newer officials benefit from mentoring by older, more experienced officials. “You have to learn how to do this from a referee who knows how to do this,” he explained, “and Logan has really put himself in a position to learn.
“Some of (his skill) is intuitive, but for him it’s far more intentional. He’s invested a good bit of time to seeking improvement and seeking feedback from those who (officiate) quite well.”
As Griffis progresses, new opportunities keep coming his way. Last month he was in Florida for the 2014 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase, officiating five games in four days. In the coming years he hopes to begin working international youth tournaments.
The goal, he said, is to officiate professional soccer someday, which could mean “being in the MLS and maybe in the World Cup.”
“That’s a very real dream that I’ve had for a while, but it’s definitely going to take a lot to get there,” said Griffis, who is studying nursing at Kirkland’s Northwest University, where he is a member of the school’s cross country and track teams. “It takes experience, a lot of patience, a lot of hard work and a lot of people to help you. And I’m so blessed to have had people who’ve helped me along the way.
“I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but with my age and with my experience and the people I know, it’s a strong possibility. And to be able to travel the country and the world, reffing soccer games, that’d be really cool. I’d love for it to happen.”
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