2024 NPSL Dallas Cup Camp Highlights League’s Continued Commitment to Referee Development

By Daniel Crooke/NPSL.com

For the third year, the NPSL hosted a camp for referees at the Dallas Cup.  Against the backdrop of one of the world’s largest youth tournaments, 17 U.S. Soccer match officials received the guidance of three U.S. Soccer national referee coaches for a week-long development program.

The camp has grown significantly from its initial offering, going from 12 participants to better support referees nationwide.  This investment, backed by support from Capelli, complements U.S. Soccer’s initiatives and recognizes the importance of improved officiating to benefit the game’s overall quality.

“The league has made a concerted effort to invest in referee development,” said NPSL Director of Officials & Health and Safety Paul Scott. “[The NPSL] sponsors this camp, and they also do other clinics…..This year we had over 40 applicants, and we had a fair number of women.  I would love to be able to get half and half [female participation].”

The NPSL is a crucial step in player development in the United States, with 13 NPSL alumni selected in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, but it’s also a platform for many referees.  Scott honed his skills in the NPSL before a 20-year MLS career that saw everything from the inaugural game to an MLS Cup.  Tori Penso can also credit development in NPSL games in her rise to taking charge of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup final and the recent Concacaf Nations League third-place game.

“This has been a fantastic opportunity to interact with referees who are very professional and serious, and get me a chance to have the perspective of what does it take to get to the next level?” said Sarah Siegel, one of four female officials attending the camp. “That sense of camaraderie, the relationships that I’ve got over the week have been really fantastic, and I definitely won’t forget this experience.”

A tournament featuring 280 teams from 17 states and 14 countries offers several challenges in communication and style of play.  The participants of the NPSL referee camp have not only faced those head-on but also had the benefit of immediate feedback from national referee coaches, including Scott and former FIFA assistant referee Kim Oberle.  A member of U.S. Soccer’s referee committee, Oberle serves as a coach for the Professional Referee Organization, which accounts for match officials in the professional game.  The shared experience and knowledge benefit not only the 17 attendees but also colleagues in their state organizations.

Nebraska referee Ray Shirley is involved with his state’s development program and reflected on how the lessons learned within the program were applied when he took charge of an under-19 game between Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) and CF Monterrey (Mexico).

“As a referee sometimes we talk about in meetings that the most powerful thing we can do is use our body language,” said Shirley. “Most of what you’re saying is not coming out of your mouth. So really, that’s helping me fine-tune my game because sometimes I’ll catch myself saying too much to players or getting caught up in the moment.”

Oberle cites her role as a national referee coach as her favorite part of her 30-year career since gaining USSF certification as a teenager.  The camp offers the opportunity to review games and footage face-to-face, where interactions are often remote between referees and the 96 national referee coaches located in 28 states.

“It’s that immediate feedback we get typically when you have an assessment,” said Oberle. “You have an evaluator who’s going to do all the paperwork, it might take him a month, it might take them half a year.  In this instance you’re getting the instant feedback sitting at the table with the referee coach or coaches.”


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