In my role as Managing Director of a small business, I have seen many parallels between my day job and my refereeing career. I have had adventures and periods of learning the hard way out in the middle and in the office. What began as a way to get exercise and earn money so I didn’t have to work in a shop as a teenager, has, I feel, given me almost a degree in human relations from the university of life. From Saturday afternoons, midweek evenings to Monday mornings, a bridge was constructed that benefited every area of my life. Lessons on the application of authority, handling mistakes, teamwork, human nature and achieving goals have been the benefits of refereeing.
1. Use Your Authority Tactfully
As referees, we are in control with the whistle in hand and we enjoy the authority this gives us to manage the game. Players, club officials and spectators expect the referee to use that authority. The game cannot begin, fouls are not identified and the game is not won or lost without the referee’s signal.
What players, club officials and spectators find more frustrating than a referee they perceive to be poorly skilled, is one who they see as timid. “Blow the whistle, ref,” is a common complaint. Sometimes it is people venting emotions. Other times it may be the justified protest of people looking for order, justice and the pleasure of watching skilful play. Of course, any official can become over officious. But, to the degree authority is vested in the position, people expect and want that authority exercised.
Do not abuse, but tactfully use, the powers and duties handed to you by the Laws of The Game.
2. Prevent One Error From Becoming a Bad Game
Mistakes happen. Every referee will make a few in every game. You can be satisfied if you leave the field of play having made only a few minor mistakes. Key errors can haunt officials for days after. Big or small, mistakes are the vehicles that can carry you to the next level. Be accountable, evaluate, decide and move on. Own up to your mistakes. If appropriate, run by the offended player and say, “Sorry, that was my mistake.” Good players readily accept the apology and get back to the game. Successes, such as goal scoring is what they crave.
In the few seconds during a stoppage, park the error quickly. Don’t become fixated on it and don’t allow it to contaminate your match. Answer the questions, “What happened?” and “Why did it happen?” Was it fatigue? Attitude? Lack of knowledge? Decide on a simple strategy to avoid repeating the same mistake and move on. Everyone else wants to put it behind them. Don’t be the one who keeps it alive. Whatever you do, don’t try to “even it up” by making an obvious error.
After the game, you can thoroughly evaluate the incident, often with input from your assistant referees (or, perhaps, an observer). Take positive action. Correct where needed. Do not dwell on any mistake. That leads to more, and greater, errors.
Focus on doing the right thing, not on mistakes committed or anticipated.
3. Put The Team First
“Teamwork makes the dream work”. Pride takes two forms – one healthy because it is tempered with humility, the other destructive because it is dominated by vanity.
Every referee is part of a team, with only one operating in the middle. The competitive spirit needed to be a good referee can also make it hard for some officials to serve as an assistant. I have worked with clients who resented their appointments as an assistant, they regrettably get into the mindset that they are better than the person in the middle. Some even go as far as taking pleasure in a referee’s mistakes and shortcomings. This is deeply unhealthy. When I work with clients to help them become aware of their bad attitude, they are able to make changes.
I help my clients resolve to be the best possible person for the position assigned – middle, assistant or fourth official. If by their actions they can make the referee look good, then they are a success, too. A brilliant performance by the team enhances their reputation, too.
To whichever role you are assigned, perform to the best of your ability as a team player.
4. The Crowd Haven’t Paid To Watch You
It is human nature to be self-centred. Few people enjoy being screamed at, called names and verbally abused. However, such is the fate of officials. Not to please everyone, or to make others happy, or to justify every decision, but to ensure safe, fair, enjoyable football is played. Enforcing the Laws of the Game is the best method available to that end. Just because people are screaming, criticising or calling into question your judgment does not mean you are doing poorly. In fact, it may mean just the opposite.
Anger is a common reaction when, in life or in football, things do not go our way. Sometimes a referee’s best compliments are angry outbursts from people who, by attempting to circumvent the rules, sought to get their own way. Being at the centre of a storm of human emotion can feel uncomfortable. We would all rather receive plaudits and praise.
5. Develop Goals Which Benefit More Than Just You
Refereeing can be rewarding work. However, at times it can feel like the most difficult and unpleasant job in the world. There comes a moment when the modest remuneration, fleeting recognition and fading hopes for international glory are eclipsed by demands on body, mind and spirit. Carrying the full weight of authority through tedious, poorly played matches can tempt a referee to walk away, unless it’s balanced by goals greater than personal glory.
Officials who successfully negotiate the reefs of discouragement are those who find purposes beyond themselves. Love for the game, the virtues of mentoring younger referees and the opportunities to advance the sport by one’s professionalism are examples of goals that inspire and sustain the spirit. When you embrace those and similar goals, every success in the world of football feels like a personal victory.
At The Third Team I work individually and in collaboration with different professionals where I have developed workshops associated with Resilience and Mental Toughness Development to help referees. The workshops are interactive, where referees are encouraged to open up and share their experiences to help each other.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about my workshops and how I could help you or your officials.
Referee Educator & Managing Director of The Third Team
Nathan Sherratt, Referee Educator, Resilience Trainer and Managing Director of The Third Team. A Mental Toughness Practitioner based in County Durham, North East England.