US Referee Connection is pleased to welcome Mr. Hilario "Chico" Grajeda. He is a USSF National referee in the MLS league.
Chico, please accept a warm welcome to US Referee Connection.
When did you decide to become a referee, and who were some of the influences on your career?
-True story, it was an accident… I was trying to attend a coach’s clinic and instead I walked into the referee clinic. I was too embarrassed to leave, so I stayed for the whole session. Mr. Dave Durbin was so kind to provide socks, a referee jersey, whistle, a wallet and a set of cards for the following weekend’s tournament. Before you know it, I was blowing the whistle at the Novato Classic in Northern California, and boy was I messing it up!
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of the refereeing profession by coaches, players, fans and the media?
-Sometimes I feel that the coaches, players, fans & media feel that we are some sort of dark, superhuman being that is not supposed to make any mistakes.
From your perspective as a professional referee. What are the best and worst aspects of being a referee and/or assistant?
-Being in the middle of some of the best matches at the top level, being part of the game, we have the best seat in the house because we are in the middle of the action.
On the flip side, every decision or indecision gets magnified. Sometime it’s not the angle that I had and the cameras will show that from a different angle, my call was wrong.
In your opinion, what are the key attributes that a modern-day referee must have to be successful domestically and internationally?
-I can only speak for the domestic leagues; we have to be a disciple of the game. The game has evolved to a very fast paced game nowadays. The modern referee must be physically fit and mentally sharp to deal with the changing dynamics of the game. Therefore, the referee must watch games at the professional level and whenever possible have open dialogues with the referees working at the professional level.
How do you diffuse a volatile situation that you know players are about to explode?
-It depends on the player. What works for me is to approach the situation in a very calm manner. If the player sees me get excited over volatile situations, I might make things worse. For me, I like to isolate players and I tend to lower my voice when I talk to them in an almost soothing manner.
What do you thing about the ‘RESPECT” campaign that US. Soccer has launch?
-I think it’s a good thing. Plenty of young fans look up to our biggest stars such as Landon Donovan and the fact that he is a spokes person is only a win-win situation.
With the new Professional Referee Organization (PRO), what do you think about the future of the refereeing in United States?
-It is obviously not only a good thing, but a great thing! To have the resources, the financial backup, the training and the manpower, the fact that we have increased our numbers of full time referees in this country, I hope it would reflect positively on the pitch. I hope that in the next several years it should trickle down from the professional ranks to the state level referees.
What’s your pre-match routine?
-I’m very relaxed. I like to listen to music in the locker room. For me, if the locker room is too silent I get nervous. I think my crew is a little too tense. I like to have a feeling about how my teammates will perform. If they are engaged in my music and conversation I know I will have good match.
-For a 7 p.m. kickoff, I like to eat around 1:30. I don’t necessarily load up on carbs, but I mainly load up on something light, sometimes a salad and piece of salmon. Sometimes a sandwich will serve the purpose; it just depends on that day. I do take an AdvoCare supplement, Spark (AdvoCare energy/focus drink) and an AdvoCare electrolyte drink.
We all have bad games, how do you deal such match in your mind?
-I am my worse critic; therefore I dissect the good and the bad. If I’ve had a below standard performance, I analyze whether the issues were systemic or pragmatic. I don’t try to ignore the issues, but I try to move on as quickly as possible. No sense in beating myself up over it.
Tell about your style of officiating how would you describe it?
-I like to describe myself as a “blue collar” referee. I’m all about work rate. I’m not flashy, just get the job done. I like to think that I have good management skills. If I can get the message across without any admonition then I have been successful at it.
Most memorable game moment?
-Wow! I have many. But refereeing the Boca Juniors vs. Club America is one of them. Manchester City game is another one with fond memories. Of course a few days ago being part of my second MLS Cup referee team.
How often do you train?
-I train 5-6 times per week. I mix running and endurance training on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day depending on the season. During the off season, I try to maintain a level of cardiovascular condition.
What are your plans or ambition as a referee for the near future?
-As I’m coming to the end of my career, I want to leave with a good impression. I hope that my legacy is a positive one for the up and coming referees, especially in my area, Ohio South Region II and my mentoring group. I hope that my replacement comes from within that mentoring group.
What advice would you give to anyone who desires to become a referee?
-Obviously, refereeing has opened many doors for me. It has expanded my network on and off the field. I have built lifelong, lasting relationships. With that in mind, first and foremost, do it because you love the game and you have a passion for refereeing. If you have passion for it, it will never feel like work and as he or she moves up the ladder of refereeing, stay grounded and keeps things in perspective. You will never be above the game. Leave the egos behind. And as one of my first few mentors told me, if you have these in order, 1. Your faith, 2. Your family, 3. Your job, 4. Soccer, you will most likely have a successful career.
Thank you US Referee Connection for allowing me to express my sentiments.
Chico, we want to thank you very much for your kind and insightful contribution to our Referee Community.