When a referee arrives at a playing field, everyone who is already there, players, coaches, spectators, begin their speculation and assessment as to how this person will handle their match. They first notice his/her appearance: how does his uniform look? Did he shave today? Does he/she look lost, apprehensive? What’s in the bag he/she is carrying? Few people, aside from other referees perhaps, actually go through this checklist consciously, but each has his own questions in the back of his mind.
If a referee shows up with no equipment bag, I have to wonder how well prepared he/she really is. I know that many referees, especially experienced ones who have to assist (run a line), know that they really don't need much, and in their experience, they seldom if ever have had to produce something other than themselves. But, what if ....?
It's my opinion that anyone assigned to a match, whether it is the middle or assistant, should arrive at the field and be fully ready to take charge of the match. This means with whistle, cards, flags, etc. For this reason, I always bring my full bag, no matter what the occasion. Here's what I carry to each and every game in which I participate:
Uniform: besides the one in which I am fully dressed with current registration badge, alternate jersey (sleeves seasonal), extra socks, black hat, gloves.
Other stuff: sun blocker, insect repellent, glasses cleaner, umbrella, first-aid booklet, Laws of the Game & local league rules for the league I am officiating, towel, water bottle full of something, a practice pinnie (in case there is a need to differentiate a goalkeeper's shirt), eyeglass strap, ball pump, and often a pair of shinguards (in case of player shortfall).
Most days, I don't need all of this equipment, but on some occasions I have needed them all. It becomes especially important when you travel to a tournament away from home and expect to do four or more matches. It goes back to the old saying: "Better to have and not need, than to need and not have." Players, coaches, spectators, and fellow refs are impressed when you can say, "Yeah, I have one of those," or "Here, borrow this one, it's an extra." It tells everyone that you take your position seriously and you are giving nothing less than your best, no matter what the competition. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression. What's in your bag?
** adapted from "What's in Your Bag" by Phil Houk, the SECJSA Coordinator for Referee Development.