Christina Unkel, FIFA Referee of the Week April 5th


Christina Unkel, J.D., M.B.A.
Twitter: @ChristinaUnkel
Instagram: @Christina.Unkel_sparqchange

Christina in her own words:

“Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn’t be done” – Amelia Earhart.

Refereeing has been a way of life for me since I was 10 years old. I became a grade 8, certified US Soccer Referee, in Cape Coral, FL, in 98’ through the encouragement of my then soccer coach, Bob Harris. Coach Bob was a referee himself. One day he pulled me aside and told me I had to stop yelling at the referees because I didn’t know the laws of the game. I explained to him the reason I was yelling was because the referees on our games don’t try and it feels like they are going through the “motions” on a U-10 girls’ game – it was “unfair!”, I remember saying. He said if I

wanted to continue to “communicate”, I had to take the referee class but if I don’t take the class, then I can’t “communicate”. So, I took the class, determined to not be told what to do or that I can’t do something (constant theme in my life…). Little did I know this one small decision at age 10 would set my life down a course I never could have imagined.

As we all do when we first get our badge, we start working for our local clubs in recreational and then competitive. Back in those days, we didn’t have any on field training before being certified. I remember how awkward I felt being on the line for my first game. I had no idea where to point this flag thing they handed me! First decision, goal kick. I shrugged my shoulders when the referee looked at me and I yelled, “it’s a goal kick” [smooth]. The LOTG back then didn’t have pictures. So, a lot of our training was on the field by our peers. That was the second team environment I had experienced at that point in my life. Except this time, it wasn’t with other young girls my age but instead men, women and youth with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.

It was exhilarating to be surrounded in the “adult” world so to speak. I became responsible in checking my emails (it just started to become common back then), communicating availability with my assignors, managing my school, soccer team and other hobbies and finding rides with my supportive parents to get me to the game on time. Also, similar to 90% of those reading this, what initially intrigued me to continue to referee after that one/two times and quick realization of the verbal harassment that people think is ok, even to a 10-year old, is the money. Off record, all the free concession food items I wanted was also a huge motivating factor (I heard that practice isn’t common anymore – shame). But the money and the unlimited supply of Mystery Flavor Airheads wasn’t what kept me going in the long run – it was the mental challenge and hurdles

refereeing presented that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else in my life. I wasn’t consciously aware of it back then but today I would identify the drive to continue to referee was due to the constant and increase demand for emotional intelligence it required of me to be able to officiate the games I was being assigned to.

I was blessed to be surrounded by assignors and mentors such as Bob Harris, Joey Duncan and Hugo Sorenson when I began cutting my teeth as a referee for my first 8 years. They were able to see past my gender and age, and look at my determination, grit and knowledge of the game to assign me games that other assignors typically wouldn’t for someone like me. One of the best compliments I ever have received in my life and to this day I can still remember it vibrantly – and if you ask my husband I forget a lot of things – is when the coaches for the U18 boy’s recreational championships specifically requested the assignor to assign me to the game as the center referee when I was 16. That lesson taught me that among all the negativity and obstacles one has to overcome – if you control the controllable and are authentic and work hard – people can see past gender, age and other barriers and you can “create your own luck”. No victim mentality – athlete mentality / the deadlift effect mindset. Regardless of who is at the top controlling the assignments or in charge – Talent and Quality cannot be ignored. A favorite quote I’ve heard from a best friend recently is, “How you do anything, is how you do everything.”

I tell you my origins because those are the unknown. Those are what shaped me into the referee and person I am today. Those 8 years of officiating in my backyard taught me more about life than any other formal education could have.

Refereeing created – and still does – opportunities for me to develop the interpersonal skills and experiences necessary to succeed as a student, an athlete, a litigation attorney, an entrepreneur, a board member for non-profits, and a voice and advocate for the Third Team. It has created an avenue for me to share my story and to work with and alongside people in and out of the sports world as to the deadlift effect mindset.

It also introduced me to my husband and continues to play a pivotal role in our lives as we continue this amazing journey in the referee world with a three-year-old watching and learning from us. These past 21 years officiating – and having just achieved 10 years in officiating international and professional games – has been a personal mile marker for me. You blink and time passes by. Hold on to each moment. The highs and the lows – learn from each. This is a beautiful game. Have impact in all that you do.

In her Professional life, Christina Unkel is a sports law and complex civil litigation attorney, and a co-owner of Scorch Fitness and the Deadlift Effect companies. Christina is well equipped to deal with the reality of today’s business industry and the sports world through her past experience as an NCAA Scholarship athlete and at IMG Academies having worked with athletes, coaches, agents and businesses from across the world and amongst a cross-sector of sports industries. Christina also serves on the NCAA Soccer Rules Committee, is President-Elect of the Women’s Sports Museum and is a member of the Tampa Bay WISE Chapter. She is a commentator for Fox Sports as its Laws of the Game analyst and will continue that role with Fox Sports for the Women’s World Cup in France this year in supporting the third team and educating the viewers. Christina engages and supports over 250 women soccer referees across the world in The Deadlift Effect Community in having a high performance, DLE mindset to be able to tackle the realities for women in sport on and off the pitch.

Christina is married to Ted Unkel, another FIFA/Professional Soccer referee (who will be featured April 12th on FLSRC.ORG), and they are parents to an amazing, strong little athlete, Quinn Unkel.

Click the links below for additional information for all things Christina:

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