Controlling The Controllables On The Field Of Play

Controlling The Controllables On The Field Of Play

To really change your refereeing performances you need to control the controllables. Sometimes we think we are in control of everything but in reality, we only have control over some of what goes on out in the middle. Sometimes we have full control. Every so often, we have partial control and occasionally no control.

This concept is important to understand. Why? We can decide how to best act and respond to situations, as well as, learn to let go of those situations where we don’t have any control.


When I talk of control, I am not referring to ‘I need to control and be in control of everything and everyone on the field of play’. I am actually (kind of) talking about the opposite. I am talking about taking the appropriate responsibility, how do you act on or respond to situations that are under your regulation; nothing more and nothing less.

You can create a plan that is yours for taking control and letting go of those things that are uncontrollable.

Full control

Having full control means, it’s yours and you have full responsibility to decide what to do with it. Here are some examples:

  • You have full control over your conduct.

  • You have full control over how you treat your colleagues.

  • You have full control over how you accept criticism.

  • You have control over how nice you are to club officials.

Of course, other things may get in the way so that you aren’t 100% every single day, but you still have 100% control over how you act and respond.

  • Players attempt to deceive you so you may not be feeling so sporting.

  • You had a disagreement with your partner and are taking it out on your colleagues.

  • You trained harder than ever for your upcoming key fixture making it hard to accept criticism.

  • You lost your job and are running short on cash so don’t feel like being nice to others.

However, you still have 100% control over your response to what is happening around you and to control your controllables.

Partial control

Rarely do we think about having partial control. That’s partly due to the perfectionistic society we live in – it’s usually all or nothing. The fact is, we do have partial control over some things out in the middle. Here are some examples:

  • You only have partial control over how a player or club official reacts and responds to a decision. You make it based on what you’ve learned and your experience but don’t have control over what a player or club official does with it.

  • You only have partial control over a fixture. When you are working with colleagues, you can do your part and help support the others working with you, but you don’t have control over their role.

  • You can try your heart out but can’t control how everyone reacts to the decisions you and your colleagues make.

  • You can kindly hold stop the game for player treatment but that doesn’t mean they will thank you.

The great thing about partial control is that it really defines thoughts and actions pretty clearly. It sets you up to focus on your part in the situation and let go of your colleagues’ parts. When you can think about situations from this perspective it allows you to do what you do best and not get caught up with what others are or are not doing.

No control

There are so many things that are out of our control, the weather, colleagues’ values, spectators, how players and club officials treat you, but still, we get so wrapped up in things that are out of our control we set ourselves up for failure.

When we focus on things that are out of our control, it takes the focus off what we should be doing. We could be using that energy on the controllables, our refereeing skills, our part in the game, recovery, or doing something else.

Having no control is the most difficult, because then what do you do? Nothing? Yes! You realise you don’t have control and learn to let go of actions and reactions. There’s nothing for you to do! Why waste energy when that energy could go into something you have full or partial control over?

Learn to distinguish between them

  1. When you go into matchday situations, get into the habit of asking yourself, do I have full, partial, or no control? If you have full or partial, develop a plan of action. If you have no control, let it go.

  2. When refereeing, point out the uncontrollables. This is an exercise I work on with clients and it’s had amazing results. A. Just before matchday, officials will point out those things that are out of their control. It reminds them what not to worry about. Clients learn to do what they do, be themselves and not have expectations of others. It helps them to let go of the external stuff and focus on who they want to be.

One of my FIFA Referee clients was getting so tangled up in the uncontrollables, things that were going on with players, club officials, and colleagues. It was taking up so much energy on/off the field that she was struggling to sleep, eat, train, or officiate. She was a mess worrying about so many things she couldn’t do anything about. We were able to talk about and define her controllables and uncontrollables and work on her being able to let go of the things that were outside of her control. So she could then focus on sleeping, eating, training, and refereeing at the level she wanted to.

Control controllables

Learning to see the difference in what you control and what you don’t can take time. We tend to take on too much when we are ambitious, or when we are just focused on the end result. You have to separate what is out of your control to free up space to focus on what is in your control, to do your best.

You can learn to let go when you realise and admit what is just truly yours and what you can truly control. You need to develop plans for things that are partially and fully in your control, so you focus on your controllables.

At The Third Team I work individually and in collaboration with different professionals where I have developed workshops and 1-2-1 sessions associated with Resilience and Mental Toughness Development to help referees. The workshops and 1-2-1 sessions are interactive, where referees are encouraged to open up and share their experiences to help themselves and each other.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about my workshops or 1-2-1 sessions and how I could help you or your officials.

Best Wishes,

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Nathan Sherratt

Referee Educator & Managing Director of The Third Team

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Nathan Sherratt

Nathan Sherratt, Referee Educator, Resilience Trainer and Managing Director of The Third Team.  A Mental Toughness Practitioner based in Tyne & Wear, North East England.