I just returned from my annual soccer (football) referee recertification clinic. I have been reffing since 1994 and many years ago upgraded from the entry Grade 8 to Grade 7. As best I can tell, the main difference between the two grades is that I now have to take an annual physical exam and also pass an annual written test. The passing grade for the latter is 85%, which I think means that it is acceptable to be wrong 15% of the time. (Hey, that's not bad. There was a period of time where the passing grade for nuclear power plant operators on the NRC's test was 65%. Let's not think about what that meant! That preceded Three Mile Island.)
One of the things I love about fútbol is that the rules we use are the same throughout the world. Theoretically, that means I could officiate a game in Brasil or Italia or Cameroon or Korea as well as a game here in Massachusetts. I say theoretically because there is no way I could keep up with the players there.
There is a joke among experienced referees that you go through three stages of self-confidence as you get more and more experience officiating matches. The first is when you are starting out and are insecure. A coach complains about a call, and you reply, "I'm doing the best I can."
After a couple of years, you gain self-esteem, and you reply, "I called it the way I saw it."
Finally, when you have the full degree of self-assurance, you reply, "It happened the way I called it."
Actually, though, what was clear among my teachers and colleagues today is that the more experienced referees reach a level of comfort at which they no longer respond so defensively to complaints about their officiating. There is more of an understanding that your job as referee is to make yourself as invisible as possible and let the game flow. In what other sport, for example, is there the equivalent of the "advantage" rule, where you intentionally do not stop play to call a penalty if the aggrieved team's possession of the ball is not harmed by the foul? Soccer is a passionate game for players, coaches, and fans, and it is the referee's job to let many of those passions roll of your back and enjoy the overall experience while ensuring an appropriate level of fair play on the pitch.