Katja Koroleva gives us a glimpse into the life of a FIFA referee

Referee Katja Koroleva of the United States (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
Referee Katja Koroleva of the United States (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images) /

The referee’s story is one rarely told, so step forward, Katja Koroleva.

Being a referee is a thankless job. Players show up to games intending to find a way to win at all costs and fans show up desperate for their team to win.

Unfortunately for referees, every call they make goes against one of the teams, often enraging players and fans to a considerable degree. No matter how many fair calls they make in a game, there will always be some call made that causes tempers to rise.

But perhaps people will approach each call with a little more sympathy when they hear Katja Koroleva speak of the games and preparation from a referee’s perspective. Katja sat down with Jordan Angeli and Charlie Davies, hosts of the U.S. Soccer Podcast, to discuss life as a FIFA referee.

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Katja explains her pre-game preparation of analyzing the spaces that certain players tend to occupy and the playing style of each team to maximize her chances of staying out of the path of the ball.

Think of how many times you’ve rolled your eyes when a critical pass intended for the feet of an ideally positioned forward ends up hitting the referee in the rear end. And yet the ability to avoid these unfortunate moments takes years of practice and careful planning.

At the highest levels, referees have more similarities to the players than you might think from the high fitness expectations and sprint speed to video sessions watching former referee greats and the necessity for resilience and thick skin when you make a mistake.

Like the players, they are also chosen or benched based on the quality of their performances, and though one poor performance could cost them in the short term, they’ll be given the opportunity to prove themselves again.

Though there are plenty of hot tempers and foul language aimed at the referees, it’s certainly not unheard of for referees and players to get along. In fact, referees like Katja enjoy playful banter with players they come across frequently who they’ve developed friendly relationships with.

Beyond her claim to fame as a FIFA referee, Katja Koroleva also works as a physician assistant in the ER, a job that until now has probably been equally thankless, but in today’s environment is wildly appreciated.

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Referee Katja Koroleva’s perspective is fascinating and is a side of the soccer story that rarely gets told. And I can say with certainty that I truly enjoyed hearing it.