There’s a saying my former boss used to love: failing to plan is planning to fail.
And in the case of the work we did, it fit perfectly, but it always reminded me of something that a coach I had as a kid used to say: if you aim for nothing, you will surely hit it.
Which is why, for the past two years, I’ve been training and pushing and aiming for a goal set originally by my ambitions, but one that has now become a requirement for the elite level refereeing I’m engaged in…
That goal is to pass the FIFA Futsal Referee Fitness Test… and on Sunday 10th January 2009, I officially achieved that goal.
Now, before I get ahead of myself and start patting myself on the back in a complete lack of humility, I’m going to say this much; I passed by the absolute thinnest of margins.
The test requires the following:
1 km run in 4 minutes or better
15 minutes rest
4x10mtr shuttle run in 10 seconds or better
5 minutes rest
80mtr agility run (running start, 30mtrs forward, turn, 10mtrs side-to-side left, 10mtrs side-to-side right, turn, 10mtrs backwards, turn, 20mtrs forward) in 20 seconds or better
5 minutes rest
repeat sprint, rest and agility run
In previous years I had struggled with the 1km run component. My build and body composition does not suit that aspect of the test, and the fact that I am carrying more weight than I should be despite being the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been (a claim I’ve made previously, but each time, turns out to be true… the benefit of a desire to constantly improve).
Last year saw my best performance, passing the sprints despite tearing a muscle in my leg during the first run at the shuttle run. Unfortunately, that injury also sidelined me for the tournament.
So, with that in mind, this past year saw considerable preparation and planning for the test, right down to diet and hydration for the week leading up to the test… the one thing I couldn’t control was the weather and the time of day the test was to be done.
It’s nothing unusual for a summers day in Canberra (where the FFA National Futsal Championships are held in January each year) to reach into the mid-30’s (that’s in Celsius)… I’m from Queensland where 30-plus degree temperatures are the rule rather than the exception. What I wasn’t ready for was the change in humidity. Queensland is a typically tropical/sub-tropical state with most cities on or near the coast, making humidity an unconmfortable reality of daily life.
Canberra, however, is inland… and at an elevated altitude. Not so much so that it requires aclimatisation, but enough that in summer, the humidity tops at around 12%… considerably lower than in south east Queensland where, at the time of the fitness test, were around the 55-65% range, depending on your location.
In 12% humidity, the simple act of breathing is enough to dehydrate you in short time… add the exertion of running a minimum of 15kph for 4 mins carrying near enough to 100kg as to make no difference… I was not looking forward to the test.
Thankfully, sanity prevailed and the organisers move the test forward from the Monday morning to late sunday afternoon where conditions, whilst hard, were considerably better than those forecast for Monday.
The main track at the Australian Institute of Sport is like any other athletics track around the world… 400mtrs on the inside lane… and for this day, just over 2 laps.
I’ll admit, the first 200mtrs was relatively easy, and I kept pace with the rest of the group, but in passing the 400mtr mark, the differences began to show. I began to fall further and further behind, and to his credit, one of the younger referees remained there with me, keeping pace, encouraging me the whole time. By the time we passed the 600mtr mark, I could feel ‘the burn’… and near the 800mtr mark, I said one thing to my colleague still running alongside me… “Go!!”
Whilst I wasn’t convinced I would pass, I sure as hell wasn’t going to hold anyone else back as a consequence.
Rounding out the last turn, and seeing the last straight stretch of track, I found a reserve in my legs and started lengthening my stride, finding a comfortable pace to finish with… until, with approx 70mtrs left, I heard the count from the assessing referee… 3:49, 3:50… and to my left, the voice of one of my colleagues from Brisbane urging me forward.
Looking back, I can see an entire years training came down to 70mtrs and 10 seconds… and there must have been a realisation of that somewhere in my subconscious, as the long distance run became a sprint.
The test requires referees complete 1 kilometre in 4 minutes or better.
I passed the line and the only words I heard were “4 minutes”.
The first, but biggest, requirement had been met… and I was thankful for the next 15mins, even though at one point I put myself in the first aid recovery position for fear of the impact the shock I’d put my body through would have.
I knew from previous years that I could pass the sprints and agility, however, I also knew that the first pass on the sprints would either a) be just outside the required time or b) also result in injury. The previous year I had torn the tibialis anterior muscle during a turn, precipitated by being dangerously dehydrated after the 1km run. This year, I’d prepared with the aforementioned hydration plan and by also strapping the affected area.
And as expected, the first run came in at 10.3 seconds… not good enough, but thankfully the test also allows for one additional attempt to meet the requirements, and with two successful agility runs both at 19.7s, and a sprint at 9.5, with everyone else finished, I lined up for the last run of the day.
At this point, I will offer praise and a salute to those who cheered on and encouraged me during that last 10 seconds. Nobody had to stay, everyone else had passed and the slowest member of the herd was keeping them from a hot shower the chance to relax and recover… but they stayed, such is the camaraderie, teamwork and the culture of support and excellence that is emerging amongst the National level Futsal referees.
I’ll freely admit, the next 10 seconds were nothing more than sheer determination… nothing more, nothing less, and after crossing the line, to hear “You passed!”, it hit me VERY hard… not the physical impact, but the emotional impact.
After a year of work, a year of frustration, bouts of depression, the temptation to walk away from the sport due to infighting and politics… none of it mattered. In that moment, having surpassed the expectations of some and met the requirements set by those whose make the decisions, I rediscovered something I’d lost… my sense of purpose and passion for the game.
And with that accomplishment, a new expectation… to do it all again, and more, next year.