By Aaron Tomich/NPSL.com
July 21, 2007 is a date that many soccer fans, particularly those that follow Major League Soccer, can remember. It was the official debut of David Beckham’s Stateside career for the LA Galaxy when he appeared against English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea FC during a friendly.
Sitting in his flight on his way back home from Los Angeles, referee Paul Scott was relaxing and reveling after his sideline assignment to the newsworthy Galaxy-Chelsea match the previous night. The man next to him opened the morning LA Times, while the front page flashed in front of Scott.
Almost immediately, Scott recognized a familiar face in the background of the A1-photo featuring David Beckham; the face was none other than Scott himself, to his pleasant surprise.
“I’m like, oh my gosh, I made it to the front page of the LA Times and I didn’t commit a crime,” said Scott, reminiscing on a fun and memorable moment of his 20-plus year career in refereeing.
Scott no longer sees assignments on the field in 2022, but currently manages multiple officiating departments throughout the country at all levels, including his role as Director of Officials for NPSL since 2015. With the NPSL, he reviews referee performance to better assist in their training and development, while also assisting the U.S. Soccer Federation with assignments of NPSL refs.
From 1993 to 2015, Scott refereed professionally, notably having been assigned to the crew that officiated the inaugural match for MLS in Dallas. He then went on to assignments for MLS Cup and the All-Star Game in 2013, a U.S. Open Cup Championship, and an NCAA Division 1 Final Four, to name a few other notable matches. Additionally, Scott is enshrined in the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Hall of Fame as well as the Oklahoma Soccer Hall of Fame.
All these accomplishments have led to this point in his career where he is now able to give back and better strengthen the pool of aspiring officials here in the United States. With that desire to contribute in a new way to the part of the sport he fell in love with, Scott said he helps carry a shared philosophy of refereeing.
“It is okay to make mistakes,” said Scott. “But, we don’t want [referees] to make the same errors twice.”
Scott mentioned that one of the toughest things in the officiating profession is that element of mistakes, as it once was a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy here in the U.S. Years have passed since, and change made its way, providing the opportunity to build and learn rather than quickly punish.
“These referees, they’re doing on-the-job training, and there aren’t many careers where that’s how you learn,” said Scott. “We’ve tried to change and improve that with field sessions and technical sessions with video clip analysis, but at the end of the day, they’re learning on the pitch how to apply the laws, develop a feel for the game and grow their own personality to modify behavior, which is really difficult.”
A main element of the game that presents a real challenge for upcoming referees is learning to understand and gauge the atmosphere and feel throughout an entire match. Scott said it takes time and experience, along with a solid support system, for growing officials to master that skill. The ability to quickly and accurately make decisions while combining elements of temper, bookings, and rivalry are crucial to develop in one’s career.
Across his many fronts of referee development, Scott says that he’s found great success in NPSL with the regard of officials’ continued desire to learn. One big positive is that many games are live streamed, which provides lots of film for learning opportunities. With that abundance of film, Scott is able to better help officials improve their skills.
“These men and women want to get better, they want to improve,” said Scott. “Though some may not want to make it all the way to PRO (Professional Referee Organization), they want to be the best and most confident referee in their state.”
Scott said that he finds reward in the fruits of the growth process. Like any teacher wants for their students and peers, seeing them succeed after learning from challenges is the end goal. For Scott, he is able to give back in this way because he knows how truly important these lessons are.
Whether it was being assigned to a historic or notable match at the highest level in the U.S., or if it was a state cup final, Scott reflected on his time as a referee along with his current and future impact on this element of soccer.
“I’ve had one of the most amazing careers that a non-FIFA has had, honestly,” said Scott. “I look to be a role model to other referees who want to enjoy the game and be a part of it.”
Photos Provided by Paul Scott and James E. Cage Jr./NPSL.com