Careers that require physical literacy: FIFA referee

Ever since I began refereeing soccer four years ago, I’ve found myself tracking FIFA officials more than the game’s biggest stars. Christine Sinclair and Arjen Robben are among my favourites, but it’s the men and women with whistles and flags that have caught my eye lately.

Where is the referee positioned on the pitch? How does the assistant make an offside decision at game speed? These are the questions I ask myself, and look forward to answering this summer during the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Carol Anne Chenard has been assigned to officiate the quarter final match between Germany and France on Friday, June 25. That game will be played at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Not surprisingly, when I was asked to be the Personal Assistant to FIFA referee, Carol Anne Chenard, at the Ontario Soccer Development Conference in Waterloo, Ontario, I was all in. It actually took me a few minutes to process the offer.

Is this real life? You want me to hang out with a FIFA referee for an entire weekend?

The answer was yes, and the opportunity turned out to be way cooler than I ever could have imagined. Not only was I a V.I.P. by association, but I had the privilege of participating in both in-class and on-field workshops lead by Chenard herself.

On a slightly less glamorous side note, had I known that I would be learning on turf with the internationally recognized referee, I would have reconsidered my dress pant and dress shoe attire. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

Apart from whistling alongside Chenard, I got the chance to have some private conversations with her and find out what life in the middle of the pitch has been like so far.

Long before soccer took centre stage, Chenard was a multi-sport athlete in high school and was named Senior Athlete of the Year in her graduating class. She competed in volleyball, basketball, and soccer, but perhaps is best known for her six World Cup short-track speed skating medals and former world record in the 3,000-metre relay.

It was like Chenard was reading my Active for Life mind when she stressed the importance of cross-training and credited her multi-sport background for her overall body strength and the absence of any major injuries.

Fast forward to the FIFA Women’s World Cup (2011), London Olympics (2012), and two under-20 World Cup finals (2010, 2014), just to name a few, and Carol Anne Chenard has established herself as one of the best soccer referees on the planet.

When I asked about the perks of being a FIFA referee, she was quick to draw correlations between her on-field and off-field work. As a team manager at Health Canada, Chenard leads a large group of people and handles a high-profile portfolio, often using her “player management” skills in the office. In fact, she acknowledges her ability to make quick, informed decisions under pressure as a referee for her confidence to make important decisions at work. And vice versa.

Chenard speaks English, French, and Spanish — which helps her to connect with players in many different countries — but as she points out, body language and tone are often enough to convey a stern message. She’s gained invaluable political and cultural experiences, let alone checked off some pretty amazing places on her travel bucket list.

But make no mistake, when travelling for a referee appointment, Chenard rarely (if ever) has time to relax and explore. A referee’s schedule is much like that of a player, with training and education consuming the majority of time. Just like a player, the referee is an athlete, which is why Chenard trains like one.

Between leading a track club twice per week, Chenard finds the time to speak to children and teens about her experiences as a FIFA referee and promote participation in a variety of activities.

Just as she grew up playing multiple sports, she believes in the importance of developing diverse skills and giving the brain different experiences. These physical literacy skills aren’t exclusive to future athletes, but expose kids to a world of opportunities, one of which is a career as a professional referee.

My weekend with Carol Anne Chenard is one that I won’t forget. Her passion, focus, and determination was obvious, yet even more admirable was her compassion and eagerness to give back to aspiring referees. Her consistent message to coaches and referees alike was to never be limited by your preparation or knowledge.

As Chenard prepares for her third World Cup this summer, all eyes will be on her during critical match decisions. Decisions she has been training for her whole life.

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