Just like athletes, referee trains for Olympic soccer matches

Jun 5 2012 - 7:37pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Next month, Veronica Perez will return to the Olympic Games.

With two coaches, she's working out -- sometimes twice a day -- to build her speed and conditioning. She's doing exercises to improve her mental strength and decision-making skills. She's watching game tapes.

All this because the Woodland, Calif., native is one of 36 women from around the world selected to officiate at the women's soccer tournament at the London Olympic Games this July and August.

"I'm excited for the opportunity," said Perez, who joined the ranks of internationally certified assistant referees in 2008, the year she officiated at the Beijing Olympics. "I just didn't want to make a mistake in Beijing, but this time around I'm more established, more confident."

In London, Perez, 32, will be joined by referee Kari Seitz of San Mateo, Calif., and assistant referee Marlene Duffy of Huntington Beach, Calif., on the field. The three women, whom Perez references as both her "crew" and her "team," have been working together since the Beijing Games.

Perez said she and her crew were selected by FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, and are guaranteed to officiate only one game.

Selection for additional matches is dependent upon both her individual and their group performance, she added.

Perez said the highest-level game her team could referee would be the bronze-medal match if Team USA advances to the final.

"It's a mixed emotion because we want the highest result for our own country, but we also want to do our best," Perez said.

That was the case at the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany. The U.S. Women's National Team advanced to the championship game while Seitz, Duffy and Perez were selected to officiate the third-place match between Sweden and France.

"We are fans of our country, but that is secondary to us," she added.

As a high school soccer player, Perez began refereeing when her coach encouraged her to try officiating at youth games. Perez said her father had a "no-jobs rule" at the time because he wanted her to focus on her schoolwork.

She was able to bend her father's household rule to referee on the soccer field, and later chose to pursue officiating over playing.

"I quickly realized I was a much better referee," Perez said.

Officiating for soccer matches at the Olympic level takes much more work than knowing the rules of the game. "We are just like the athletes," Perez said, explaining that she has to train at a high level to keep up with Olympic-level competitors.

Before each competition she meets with her crew to discuss factors of the game, including the tactics and tendencies of the competing teams.

"We need to know what they are doing, so we are not inhibiting their play," Perez explained. "You don't want to affect who moves on to the next game or who wins a medal."

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