Students take on roles as mentors outside school April 23, 2017 — by Francesca Chu and Amy Tang Students begin to mentor younger students, such as soccer players, outside of school. As she watched the 9-year-old girl pass the ball to her teammate, junior Ketki Palande quickly checked the offsides line to see if it was a legal play. The player had passed the line of the second to last defender, Palande raised her flag straight up, and the center referee called an offside. Parents and coaches on the sidelines yelled and disagreed with her call, but Palande knew she was right, due to the hours of training she had endured before she became a youth soccer referee. Palande decided to switch from playing soccer to refereeing when she was 12 after seeing her father referee games before. “It was something I had always wanted to try, and once I began, I knew it was what I wanted to pursue,” she said. After volunteering as a referee at the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) for a year, Palande also started working and earning $25 to $35 per game as a referee at the California North Referee Association (CNRA). She usually spends two hours a week refereeing for each organization. According to Palande, being a referee demands strong leadership skills and the ability to make decisions quickly. Her experiences have taught her to be confident in her choices. “Even when you know you made the right call, you have to get used to uneducated parents screaming at you and making passive aggressive comments behind your back,” she said. Once, at a tournament semifinal game for U-12 girls, Palande made a tentative foul call when one of the girls was running at the goal. “The parents were being rowdy and rude, but I stuck to my instinct,” she said. “It was hard at first, but I’ve learned to assert myself, and I feel like I can keep a handle on the game very well now.” Nevertheless, Palande remains grateful for the people she has met through her time learning to referee. “Saratoga AYSO is such a tight-knit group of people, and I’m glad that I’ve gotten to know all the referees, coaches, players and families really well,” Palande said. Another member of the AYSO community is senior Naman Sajwan, who coaches at AYSO for under-10 boys on Wednesdays and Fridays. He has been coaching for eight seasons, approximately four years. Sajwan began coaching as a freshman when he found out that his younger brother’s team needed help, and has continued his passion ever since. “I jumped up at the opportunity, and after a while I wanted to do it regularly because I loved it a lot,” Sajwan said. Sajwan teaches his players the drills that he has deemed most effective in his years of playing club soccer. His goal at practices is to make things as fun as possible by adding a competitive atmosphere to the drills so the kids have another incentive to work harder. As the team’s coach, he feels immense pride when his team perseveres. The team lost their first game of the season 5-1 against a tough team, but came back later in the season to defeat the same team 6-1. “I like seeing kids carry out what they learn in practice into games, because it not only shows me they're developing as players, but that I’m teaching them the right things,” Sajwan said. Being a coach for years has taught him leadership and has helped him become a more patient and open-minded person. “Working with young children offers a unique mindset that I’m not usually used to,” Sajwan said.