Thursday, October 3, 2019

GNAC Officiating Q&A: FIFA Referee Michelle Pye

Michelle Pye, who works GNAC matches in Canada, has been a FIFA referee for 11 years.
We are using this blog during the 2019-20 academic year to bring you profiles on the unsung heroes of GNAC athletic competition -- the referees, rules officials and officiating supervisors without whom the games could not occur.

These Q&A's are intended to heighten awareness for this critical aspect of amateur sports while celebrating the efforts of those individuals who are giving back to the game through the avocation of officiating.

This initiative is part of a comprehensive strategy by the NCAA DII Conference Commissioners Association to 1) bring attention to the crisis-level shortage of officials affecting amateur sports and 2) promote the benefits and rewards of officiating by implementing a national recruitment effort within the division.

For more information on how to become an official, we encourage you to visit the following links or reach out to your local officiating organization:

Now, on to our Q&A with FIFA (and GNAC) soccer referee Michelle Pye:

Name: Michelle Pye
Hometown: Kamloops, B.C., Canada
Years as an official: 22 (11 as a FIFA referee)
Highest level reached: FIFA referee (now a FIFA instructor)

Describe your competitive background in the sport of soccer.
I played youth soccer from the age of 5 until 18 and then played recreational women's soccer for a few more years!

What was it that attracted you to the officiating world and how old were you when you first started officiating?
I'm not sure when I started, if I really thought of it as a long-term part of my life, but as I got more and more involved, I really enjoyed the challenge of refereeing and the fact that every game, regardless of the level, was a challenge. I have met great people from all over the world through officiating and have had so many amazing life experiences that I will never forget. I was later than most when I started refereeing as I was already in university and 19 years old. Many referees start at age 12 or 13.

What were the initial steps you took to pursue a career as an official?
My mom actually saw an ad in the Kamloops newspaper when I was 19 years old and so I took the course in order to make some money while I was going to university. I definitely didn't have any aspirations of going anywhere in refereeing … it started out as a hobby to make some extra money!

What do you remember about your first “real” assignment as an official?
I remember going back to my hometown about two years after I started refereeing to do my first men's league game. I was sooooo nervous, that I tried to come up with any reason I could to get out of the game (sick, injured, dog died). Long story short, I put my game face on, went out and did the game, and it went really well. That was probably the beginning of the addiction I had to keep doing games!

Describe your ascent to earning your FIFA badge. Was this always a goal of yours, or did it evolve over time?
I definitely didn't start out wanting to be a FIFA referee. I enjoyed refereeing and was pretty good at it, so I seemed to get opportunities over the years. Before I knew it, the opportunities in my province became opportunities in my country and in 2007 I was nominated to the FIFA list as a referee. To be honest, I really wanted to be an assistant referee, because I felt much more comfortable on the line. My director of officials told me, point-blank, that I wasn't very good on the line, and that I was a better referee! And 11 years later, I guess he was right!

What was your reaction to learning you were selected to work the 2015 Women's World Cup hosted by Canada?
Because of the time change between Vancouver and Zurich (FIFA headquarters), I actually found out when I woke up one morning to an email on my phone! I think the biggest feeling I can remember was relief ... hahaha. The whole process leading up to the final selection was, of course, very stressful, and I was just so happy that I hadn't let down all the people who had believed in me and supported me over my entire career.

As an official in any sport needs to become a rules "expert,” what approach did you take to learning the rule book inside and out?
As with anything, it is important to constantly review the Laws of the Game in order to stay up to date. With so many law changes over the last few years, sometimes I'm not actually sure if I really even know them all! Lol

Can you outline a typical officiating year in terms of the number (and classification) of events you typically have on your calendar and the travel involved?
My busiest year, by far, was the year leading up to the 2015 Women's World Cup. August of 2014 -- U20 Women's World Cup in Montreal (1 month); October 2014 -- Central American Games in Mexico (2 weeks); February 2015 -- Algarve Cup in Portugal (2 weeks); April 2015 -- Final Selection Seminar in Zurich (2 weeks); June 2015 -- Women's World Cup in Canada (1 month).

What have you found to be the biggest challenge as an official
For me personally, maintaining an elite level of fitness 12 months of the year has meant training 5-7days every week. I stepped away from the field in 2011 to have my daughter, and then again in 2013 to have my twin boys. Returning to match fitness after pregnancy was very difficult and took a huge amount of commitment and sacrifice by not only me but by my family as well.

Describe an aspect of officiating that the average person or fan doesn’t realize?
It don't think people realize how much we want to get every decision correct, and that we really don't care who wins.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in officiating?
Officiating is definitely a difficult, but rewarding career that teaches many valuable life skills that would serve anyone well. My advice would be to sign up for an entry-level course and start out by doing local games in their area.

What has been the highlight to date of your officiating career?
For me, walking onto the field for the first time at the Women's World Cup would definitely rank very high up there in terms of accomplishments. Having come back after having twins, to be among the best referees and the best players in the world was really something I am proud of.

Your husband, Alain Ruch, is a national-level referee in Canada who also works GNAC matches. What are the officiating discussions like in your household?
Lively and animated! Haha!

Previous GNAC Officiating Q&A's: