As a member of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), I had the privilege of working the Women’s World Cup in France in 2019. Being recognized as one of the top soccer officials in the world is a humbling honor and it was the ultimate reward from the game I so love.
But I also have another passion that has come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am a physician’s assistant working in the emergency room in San Jose, Calif., working 10-hour shifts dealing with the chaos that comes from fighting a new virus. Never in a million years did I think the world would stop and focus its attention on the frontline and how to battle COVID-19.
And while there is risk involved in my job, I am there to help people, so I worry less about myself because I am there for my patients. In the back of my head, there is always a small concern that I could contract COVID-19 and how would I battle it. But when I’m at work, that isn’t my primary focus.
In order to get my work done in the hospital, I can rely on a lot of the things I have experienced as a referee to guide me. One is communication. I must communicate with my patients that their health and survival is the utmost priority. It is the same with players. I have their best interest and safety in mind, and I must communicate that effectively to them.
The second thing, I must work under pressure. I take in a lot of information from a variety of sources and I must make high-stress decisions that are best for the game or the patient.
However, the stress is a little bit different between the two jobs. The beauty with sports is they are a live event. You get one snapshot and have to make decisions in the moment. With medicine, there are many more tools at my disposal to provide care for the patients for a variety of diseases in a more stable environment.
COVID-19, however, has been a challenge and a real test. At the beginning, every week there were new procedures, new information from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and new information from China. There was a high learning curve and we continue to be students of COVID- 19 as more clinical research and data become available. In some ways it is dangerous and very unknown, but in many ways it is intriguing new medicine and fosters an opportunity to learn and grow together as a community, society and country.
Now we rely on our experiences. That is both true in the hospital and on the field. We learn from our experiences, reflect back on what has worked for patients or other people around us, and it has been beautiful to watch the medical community come together and be forthcoming on what has been working in other hospitals, communities and countries. We are figuring out pathways to take to get better patient outcomes. In the same sense, as referees we may have gone about making a certain call that led to a positive match or environment. We feed off what happened in the past and implement it again in similar situations to get the same positive outcome.
I’ve also learned a lot about myself over the past few months. I’ve learned patience and prioritization. People are battling for their lives and there is no higher importance and priority than life itself. Wait your turn, wait for your hobbies and other activities to shine through because more important aspects of life — literally life — are on the line. There may be fewer cases, but it is just as dangerous and deadly. We are ready for potential spikes and curves, but we are anxious and hoping it doesn’t occur.
At the same time, I have been able to take the time to reflect on what is important in life — your friends and your family. Share moments with them because you never know whose life is at risk at any time.
This pandemic has shown me that I have many tools at my disposal. There are different ways and paths to deal with situations. I can always search for solutions and answers in many different ways. So being resourceful has been something I have strived for and learned from both officiating and this new pandemic.
Together, we will get through this. And when we do, I can’t wait to be around my crew, and together take the steering wheel on the pitch. I look forward to the interaction with each other and with the players to put forward a beautiful game.
Katja Koroleva is a FIFA international soccer referee for the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) and debuted in 2013. She was selected to work the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, as well as the 2017 NCAA Women’s D-I College Cup Final Four. She is also a physician’s assistant with a master’s degree in medical science from Salus University in Elkins Park, Pa.
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