Almost every kid who grows up playing soccer dreams of one day participating in the world's most prestigious tournaments. The ultimate goal is usually representing your country in the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games.
For St. Louis native, George Gansner, his dream is coming to life as he was chosen to participate in this summer's Olympics in Beijing, China. Gansner won't be a member of the Under-23 U.S. men's Olympic soccer team, instead Gansner was chosen by CONCACAF, the North American region's governing body for soccer, as one of three referees named to the U.S. referee crew in Beijing. Gansner, an assistant referee or linesman, will be joined by referee Jair Marrufo and assistant referee Kermit Quisenberry from the U.S.
Gansner began refereeing when he was just 12 years old after his uncle suggested it as a good way to make some extra money. Two years later he had his goal set of one day being on the FIFA referee panel, and saw the 2010 World Cup as his opportunity to fulfill his dream of making it to soccer's biggest stage. From age 12 through high school Gansner focused on being a top referee working youth, high school and college games. All the effort culminated by being named the first ever Missouri Young Referee of the Year at age 18.
Although he loved to play the game, Gansner considered giving it up to concentrate on refereeing. However, refereeing would take a back seat for a few years as he was recruited to play for NCAA division II Florida Southern College where he played center defender for coaches Sam Snow and Kris Pahl. Sam Snow is now the Interim Technical Director for US Youth Soccer. At the time, Gansner's coaches urged him to give up refereeing while he was in season, citing the fact that he seemed to focus on the game as a referee and not as a player. What might have seemed like a detour on the road to his dreams was actually more of a benefit as Gansner realized the value of reaching a higher level as a player.
"Don't ever stop playing. Play first, ref later. You learn so much more by playing the game."
After graduating with a communications degree in 1993, Gansner spent time in Germany playing in the semi-professional league. He returned home just in time for the inaugural season of Major League Soccer in 1996.
Upon his return the refereeing criteria was beginning to change. Similar to players, referees have certain abilities and skills that set them apart from other referees, and may be suitable for different positions. It was recommended by the U.S. referee committee that Gansner specialize as an assistant referee. His skills at applying the Laws of the Game, in particular the application of the always controversial offsides rule, led to his appointment as a permanent assistant referee. Referees are told by FIFA how to apply the Laws, despite what fans or players may want. His understanding of the game and ability to relate to players are at the forefront of Gansner's abilities, something he credits to his playing days.
Gansner's dreams would begin to unfold in 1997 as he was asked to participate in the MLS as a 4th official for Kansas City Wizards home games. The following year he began traveling for MLS games, and then was named to the FIFA referee panel in 1999, making him eligible to participate in international matches. Gansner has gone on to officiate over 150 MLS matches running the line, still focusing on his goal of making the 2010 World Cup.
The big chance to move ahead in international soccer came last year as Gansner participated in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the FIFA men's Under-20 World Cup. After that came an appointment to the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying held in the U.S. earlier this year, which has led him to the chance to be a part of this summer's Olympic Games. While Gansner is honored at the opportunity to be a part of the Olympics, he hopes the chance will be a springboard to his ultimate goal, the World Cup in South Africa two years from now.
"The Olympics are about the experience. There are so few people in the world who ever get to represent their country at an event with the prestige and respect of the Olympics. I'm just honored and can't wait for the experience. For the future, it's a very important step for the U.S. crew along the way to World Cup 2010 in South Africa."
The path to success has been an enjoyable one for Gansner, but it hasn't come without its difficulties. Despite being one of the top referees in the U.S., it is not a full-time position. Gansner also has to balance a job, and a family while training, educating and traveling as a referee. Gansner is currently the Director of Sales and Marketing for Crown Plastics, a division of Inter-Global. And the excitement of the Olympics will be coupled with the arrival of Gansner's second child while he is in Beijing.
"It is a very challenging balance between family, work and being a referee. Refereeing is a full-time job when you consider all of the training, watching videos and games, keeping up with the laws and interpretations and traveling for games. The last four years I traveled for work 2-3 days per week on average, and then another 2-3 days on the weekend. I have a wife, a 2-year old and another baby on the way that's due while I'm in Beijing. The support I get from my wife is simply unbelievable, she's an angel. Balancing the family obligations and work commitments with soccer is a daily exercise in time management."
Leading up to the Olympics Gansner will be on a strict daily regimen of training. He must first pass a referee fitness test prior to the Olympics in Beijing. Physical training encompasses cardio workouts where Gansner emphasizes change of heart rate, and a vigorous core routine. He also must undergo focus training to keep him sharp and ready for the speed of play in the Olympics. With his determination, work ethic and the support of his family Gansner will get the opportunity to experience a lifelong dream of performing at the highest level in the game of soccer.
Gansner's ambitions as a referee are taking him to the Olympics, but he believes that anybody interested in soccer should try refereeing to see the game in a different light.
"Refereeing is a lot of fun and you can learn a lot about managing people and situations. It's a great way to make lifelong friends, keep active in a game you love, and learn lessons that will help you through life. I encourage every soccer fan, player, coach and parent to try refereeing for a year. Do a couple games to see what it's like and get an understanding of a different side of the game."
Many of today's top referees, like Gansner, got their start by working US Youth Soccer games via their local US Youth Soccer State Association and working to continue their education and experience through the referee ranks. To learn more about opportunities to referee or to learn more about refereeing, please contact your US Youth Soccer State Association by visiting, /aboutus/StateAssociationDirectory.asp