January 10, 2023

Jackson Native Makes History Becoming First FIFA Referee in Mississippi: Read Alyssa Nichols Story

Morgan Howard

Jackson native, Alyssa Nichols, has made Mississippi proud by becoming the First FIFA Referee for the United States from the state of Mississippi.
We spoke with Alyssa and learned more about her incredible and inspiring story:
Who is Alyssa Nichols?
Alyssa Nichols was born on January 15, 1996, in Jackson, Mississippi to Pearl and Andrew Pennington. She is married to Jackson Mississippi native, Phillip Nichols.
Alyssa attended Murrah High School and then went to Jackson State University where she achieved a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.
When did your career as a soccer referee begin?
In 2013, Alyssa was certified as a soccer referee for the first time. After she received her certification, Alyssa said she immediately fell in love with officiating soccer. She loved everything about it and said she had many great role models to look up to.
Over the years, Alyssa was selected to represent Mississippi at both a regional and national level.
At 23 years old, Alyssa was selected to become the first woman from the state of Mississippi to receive a National Referee license from the US Soccer Federation. She has been appointed to the NCAA division one and division two women’s final four, as well as international tournaments.
Right now, Alyssa is a PRO2 referee and she officiates in the NWSL, United Soccer League, and the MLS.
She is the first person from Mississippi to be appointed to the FIFA panel to represent the United States of America.
What is Alyssa Nichols “WHY”?:
Alyssa said when she attended Murrah High School, she was a multiple sport athlete, with soccer being one of the sports she played. She said that because she was playing multiple sports, she was unable to commit to a full-time job, but she still wanted to do something to earn money without a set schedule.
She had a teammate at the time who was refereeing youth games (ages 8-15) in a local club at SouthWest Jackson Fútbol club. This gave Alyssa the idea to work as a referee. She got certified and began working at a local soccer club.
Alyssa said the referee assignor (the person who assigns referee’s to games) was a great role model for her and for so many other people in the area. He was an excellent instructor, and always instructed them to use the proper mechanics, arrive on time, and be professional.
So after refereeing for about 6 months he encouraged Alyssa to keep upgrading (in soccer we have grades (Grassroots, Regional, National, PRO, FIFA) to determine your experience level and expertise.
The Process To Becoming A FIFA Referee:
Alyssa explained that in order to upgrade as a referee, you have to have a certain game count that you have refereed for. You also have to pass assessments on a certain number of games in order to upgrade to the next level.
This involves a high level of commitment and training, traveling, and networking.
Once you become a regional referee you then have to apply and then be chosen to be a National referee by the US Soccer Referee Federation.
From there you then can be selected by the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) to start refereeing professional games.
Then from there, you are eligible to be appointed to the highest position within our field which is a FIFA referee.
Alyssa was a licensed soccer referee for 10 years. She was a national referee for 3 years and started to get assignments from PRO in 2020.
Who Inspired Alyssa?
When asked who inspired Alyssa, she said her biggest inspirations are Lewis Williams and Rubiel Vazquez.
Lewis was the first referee assignor she ever had and he showed her what being a top referee in the state looked like and helped develop her to become one.
Alyssa said that Rubiel Vazquez (Current FIFA Referee) saw her referee at a regional youth event and was one person who helped her develop at the next level.
He was the first person to tell Alyssa she could be a FIFA referee.
When we asked Alyssa what advice she would give to inspire others, she said.
“If you have a dream to do something don’t ever let someone tell you otherwise. When things get tough remember your why and don’t lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing. There are many times that people said ‘oh, you’re from Mississippi, they don’t have professional referees at Mississippi’ but I didn’t let that discourage me I just used that as encouragement that I was going to change that. So be the change when you don’t see someone that looks like you where you are trying to go no matter what it is, job, school, sports, etc.”

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