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Sunday, 06 November 2011 21:57

Who’s the youngster in the black?

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New initiative at Linlithgow Rose CFC gives youth footballers the chance to referee
By Danny Scott
Football is a game of mixed emotions but empathy rarely features among them. Even at youth level referees can come in for a lot of stick. National campaigns to engender ‘respect’ for the often thankless task of officiating football have met with mixed success so far - changing attitudes and behaviours at the grass roots from on high is not easy.
However, in the picturesque town of Linlithgow, 10-miles west of Edinburgh, community club Linlithgow Rose are trying an altogether different approach. There, the committee of the club hit upon the idea of exposing their youth players to what it takes to be a referee by encouraging them to pick up the whistle. Club coach and referee Doug Johnston and former grade one official Ian Fyfe, who refereed in Scotland’s top divisions from 1998 to 2006 took on the task of setting the scheme up.
Doug Johnston says: “Ian and I got chatting earlier in the year about giving some of the 15 to 17-year olds the chance of getting involved with reffing some soccer 7s games. We thought it was a good chance for them to experience something different and make some money while also offering them an alternative path in football for the future. My own son refereed for extra pocket money when he was at the club as a youth player and really enjoyed it and has gone on to qualify as a  referee himself as well as a player – we thought we would see what appetite there was for setting something up in a more structured way”
Linlithgow Rose CFC has always been a large yet innovative club with over 300 boys and 50 girls playing across the age groups. Doug and Ian were unsure how many of the youth players would be interested in taking on the responsibility of officiating a match but eight players signed up straight away.
Less than 6-months in, the initiative’s positive effects are already evident. One under 17 player Lewis Murray is on course to be the first player to graduate with a refereeing badge this year and a further four under 16 players are set to take a refereering course in January. Doug says: “Lads this age aren’t going to do something unless they enjoy it. We encourage them and give them basic training and mentoring from whistle technique up to more detailed coaching in the rules, managing different scenarios and overall game management. Their natural fitness really helps as they have no problem keeping up with play.”
An appreciation of the difficulties of being the man in the middle isn’t the only benefit Doug’s noticed: “Refereeing doesn’t just put a bit of extra money in their pockets. It also builds their confidence. If you think about it, they’re managing two teams, coaches, not to mention sidelines full of parents so they’ve got to concetrate hard, focus, stick to their guns and make decisions. We see their confidence grow week in, week out – on and off the park.”
Buoyed by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from coaches so far, Doug hopes to continue exposing players to life behind the whistle for as long as the club has young players, and non-players, interested in taking part. His words of advice for anyone brave enough to have a go? “Enjoy it. That’s the last thing I always say to the lads. People are always going to have a moan but if you make honest decisions then you can hold your head up high at the end of the game.”
Last modified on Tuesday, 09 July 2013 18:11
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