While many of the region’s clubs are wearing the brunt of decreasing playing numbers, the Albury/Wodonga Soccer Referees Association has gone ahead in leaps and bounds, particularly on the junior front.
During the past three years, the AWSRA has seen an increase from seven juniors to 22 currently on the books.
AWSRA branch coach Sean Farrar said there’s been a concerted effort to encourage, grow and assist junior members into refereeing, with senior members becoming qualified assessors and coaches to ensure they have the support they need on game day.
“After going through the level 4 course, all of our new members begin their journey in the AWFA miniroos program, before progressing through to the Sunday competition,” Farrar said.
“With our involvement in the NPL, we’re able to introduce our members to a higher level of football without the need to continually travel to the capital cities.
“This doesn’t stop us from encouraging our juniors to attend tournaments to enhance their skills.”
But Farrar admitted the role does come with its challenges.
“Referees are human and they’ll make mistakes, just like players and coaches do,” Farrar said.
“Those who think it’s acceptable need to think about what impact their words and actions have, especially on the junior referees.
“It’s hoped that continued cooperation with AWFA and the clubs will help educate all participants to understand the laws of the game and keep the undesirable behaviour to a minimum.”
Wangaratta’s Maddy Dodd, 18, has been one of the rising stars, attending the Kanga Cup in Canberra, as well as an academy program where she worked with some of Australia’s top referees.
Cameron Roach was involved in the M-Sport Cup – a tournament in Sydney between New Zealand and A-League club academies.
Dodd began refereeing on Saturdays in Wangaratta and was encouraged by her father to pursue it further.
She hasn’t looked back since joining the AWSRA and understands it’s often a thankless job.
“Overcoming abuse can be hard, however you grow immensely from the experience, plus it is a really great feeling proving them wrong and being better than they would have expected.”
“The lead up to the grand final is the best and is what keeps me coming back.”
Lavington’s Zac Lieschke, 15, Bellbridge’s Harrison Simpson-Nagle, 15, and Thurgoona’s Caitlin Nichols, 14, are also among the next generation of referees and have learnt to block out negativity thrown their way.
Murray United technical director Adam Carty also backs the AWSRA.
“In my time coaching in the Victorian NPL competition, it is clear that Albury-Wodonga has the best refereeing structure in the state,” Carty said.
“The support and mentorship program they have in place for junior and underage referees is something that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
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