Officiating sports is so much more than black and white striped jerseys and whistles. For Abby Van Note, officiating has meant traveling around the world, landing on TV next to soccer star Alex Morgan, and gaining valuable life skills that come into play on and off the field. We sat down with Abby to find out more about how she got her start in officiating, and how that role has transformed and grown with her throughout the years.
REC SPORTS: Tell us about yourself.
ABBY: My name is Abby, and I’m a Coordinator with Competitive Sports here at Rec Sports. I just graduated from Ohio State where I earned my Graduate Degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs, and I also worked with sport clubs and intramurals there. I’m originally from Maine…which is not a soccer hotbed…but, originally from Maine! I started officiating soccer when I was 12 and have been officiating for over half my life at this point.
RS: How did you start officiating?
AVN: I started officiating when I was 11 or 12 because at the time, I was playing soccer and my coach said to me, “This would be a cool thing for you, and it would make you a better soccer player!” So I sat through the two-day course when I was 11 years old and then I just started officiating little kids on the weekends (and when you’re 12 or 13, cash on the weekends is great!). I continued to play soccer through high school, and then after I graduated, I really started to focus on my officiating career. Officiating is one of the ways I was able to stay connected to soccer.
RS: What are you officiating now?
AVN: I referee at the college level, Division 1 through Division 3. I also do some adult amateur and professional games through US Soccer as well as local youth and adult games.
RS: What is your proudest accomplishment as an official?
AVN: That’s a great question. Probably the first professional game that I did. It was Chicago [Red Stars] vs. Orlando [Pride] in the summer of 2016 and Alex Morgan was the captain. In the first captain’s meeting, we were there, [it was] televised, and Alex Morgan was standing right next to me, so I fangirled a little.
RS: We don’t blame you! Do you have a favorite memory as an official?
AVN: Probably my favorite memory would be when I refereed FC Cincinnati in front of over 20,000 people. That was a really cool and exciting atmosphere to be a part of.
RS: Any other cool experiences you’ve had as an official?
AVN: Definitely. Last summer I traveled abroad to Scotland to officiate with US Soccer, and was able to experience officiating in another culture. I also officiated the U17 Women’s National Team in a home tournament before they left for the World Cup. Walking out of the locker room to the FIFA anthem was a really cool experience.
RS: What’s your end goal for officiating?
AVN: I always say I want to officiate until it doesn’t become fun anymore. But for now, I definitely want to keep working at the professional level here, and hopefully advance beyond that to some international tournaments.
RS: What is your favorite thing about being an official?
AVN: Definitely the people. The referee community both on and off campus is just such a fun atmosphere. Everyone is super supportive, and you get the chance see the game from a different angle. There are lot of successes and failures as a referee, so just having a group of people to move through all of those with is probably my favorite part.
RS: What is the toughest thing about being an official?
AVN: That’s a hard one – there are so many tough parts. The toughest though is just adjusting to the criticism; it can be a lot to take in at first. But I think officiating has made me a stronger a better person overall, on and off the field, because I have learned to take that criticism for what it’s worth and move on.
RS: Speaking of taking criticism, what is the funniest thing someone has yelled at you while you’re officiating?
AVN: One game, I missed a PK call on one side, and then I called a PK for the other team…in the 89th minute. Someone yelled at me, “What…are you dating all of them?!?!”
RS: Do you get nervous before games?
AVN: Sometimes. Anytime I’m officiating a new level I definitely get the nerves. A lot of times though, I think it’s just fun for me, I just love to be out there.
RS: What skills unrelated to officiating have you developed while officiating?
AVN: One major thing I’ve learned is how to deal with conflict between different players or coaches. I’ve also gained a lot of cultural awareness because soccer is played all over the world, and there are different expectations and styles of play
in each culture. Another big skill I’ve developed is communication. Especially in the games where players are heated or don’t speak English, I’ve had to find ways to communicate and learn universal languages to in order to get my point across.
RS: What advice would you give to officials who are just starting?
AVN: Just keep going. The first time a game doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, or if someone yells at you, it gets super easy to just want to quit. But don’t! Officiating can be super rewarding, not only while you’re in college by connecting you to a super awesome group of people, but also by giving you a way to stay involved in sports after you graduate. So with your officiating career you can bring in some good money and stay involved in a sport after you can’t play anymore.
RS: Why should someone become an official?
AVN: I think people should become officials because it gives you a new perspective on the game or sport that you may have played growing up or loved watching on TV. And that perspective just makes any sport more interesting. I watch referees now all the time, it doesn’t matter what sport, I just love watching the art of officiating. And going back to the people, officiating just gives you a great community outside of work or classes that you can connect to you and decompress with. Especially on campus, that group of people can be your outlet and source of stress relief.
RS: Awesome! Is there anything else you want to share about your journey as an official or officiating in general?
AVN: Yeah, I think for me, people look at me and see that I’m young and have accomplished so much, but I started where everybody else started – officiating youth games and on campus. I got to where I am today because of hard work, on and off the field. Officiating has taken me all over the world, and has allowed me to have really cool, cultural experiences but I still enjoy the games at home, and local or youth games just as much as any other experience. I would definitely recommend getting involved on campus in intramural sports and stuff, you never know where it might take you!
Interested in becoming an intramural sports official like Abby? We’re hiring! Check out our employment opportunities for intramural sports on our website: https://recsports.wisc.edu/about-us/employment/.