Whether it’s a timed mile run, a beep test, shuttle sprints, or some other form a fitness testing, when an referee fails to pass a required strength and conditioning test it can set off a cascade of negative emotions ranging from frustration and disappointment to guilt and anxiety.
Many times referee coaches and managers also attach consequences of not passing fitness testing like being unable to officiate certain fixtures, not having access to equipment or other privileges. Every coach and manager is different, so you may have to negotiate each instance differently, but hopefully these perspectives outlined below will give you some added insight to help navigate these often tense situations.
Having a clear understanding of not only the testing standards but what type of fitness the exam is trying to assess and what the consequences will be, are important things to establish, and as early as possible. Some specific tests are standard for referees across all levels however, often tests are selected at the discretion of the association and don’t necessarily sync up with the qualities necessary for their officiating. Having this information helps the you formulate a conditioning program that not only gets you in better shape, but in the right kind of shape for referee, and if the testing protocol is appropriate, the conditioning program will also prepare you sufficiently to pass the require fitness test.
Officials should also be clear on what the consequences of a failed strength and conditioning test will be and what the timeline will look like for an official that does not pass. If the consequence involves not being allowed to referee games, this then really becomes an urgent situation and so the answer of these questions should be considered prior to any testing taking place. How soon will the re-test occur? Will officiating out of rhythm cause more harm than good? What if the referee fails? What if 50% of the officiating team fails? Will extra conditioning help or hinder re-testing? What if a referee keeps failing after multiple attempts? Will there be a modified test option? The re-test protocol or timeline should also be established in advance. Some tests physically exhaust the body and energy systems more than others, so while a 40 yard dash could potentially be tested every day, a multiple mile run test should probably not be. How often a re-test opportunity will take place and whether extra conditioning will be added to the training schedule are things that should be established well before and made clear among all officials.
“Punishment workouts” for failed tests, tardiness, missed sessions and other slip ups or mistakes used to be common place and even expected. As times have changed, the type of punishments given or even the use of the word punishment has changed considerably. I’d like to offer a few points on workout sessions that are administered as a consequence to a failed test or failure regarding some other policy for that matter. The punishment should fit the crime. If endurance is an issue, adding a 2, 3, or even 5-mile run or the same distances but broken up into intervals with targeted run/rest times might be more appropriate. In a test involving shorter sprints with turns or quick direction changes simply repeating the test with added reps and shorter recovery times is an option. Similarly, lengthening shuttle distances for increased endurance or decreasing distances for shorter shuttles to emphasise quicker turns or direction changes are also good approaches. If the goal of the punishment is simply to build toughness, accountability, or an improved foundation of fitness then the options are almost limitless. For example, a circuit of minimal rest involving things like stair sprints, tire flips, box hops, battle ropes, and challenging bodyweight exercises not only builds physical toughness but mental toughness as well. When selecting a punishment also take into consideration things like whether it will involve the whole group of officials or just the guilty parties, how close we are to the start of the season or the next re-test day, and when or what the next group practice is. Regardless of the reasons leading to the punishment, the workouts administered in consequence to that should be designed to elicit fitness or performance related benefits rather than just inflicting pain, fear, or humiliation.
Referees should also have a clear understanding of testing standards, related strength & conditioning workouts, and consequences of not passing a fitness test. Officials should know what the test is measuring, how it’s conducted, how it relates to refereeing, and recognise the correlation between the test, officiating, and the strength & conditioning program. Knowing these connections can help referees mentally wrap their minds around the purpose for their training, especially when it doesn’t appear obvious. This can also help reduce testing anxiety in some officials and increase overall program adherence. Understanding how to do the test and the consequences of not passing the conditioning test eliminates surprises, builds accountability, and may also increase motivation because no one wants to let their colleagues down, miss refereeing opportunities, or have to do extra conditioning sessions.
Once everyone is on the same page with the logistics, it’s now time to figure out what went wrong. Usually it’s one of three things: mental failure, physical failure, or preparation failure.
Mental failure occurs when the official is in shape and has successfully passed the test during training sessions but nerves or anxiety overwhelms them during the actual test and they fail. Usually these referees just need one or two more attempts to pass because the anxiety or fear decreases once they experience the test in real-time. They can be can helped with positive talk, reassuring the official that they’ve already done all the hard work to pass this test, and help keep them calm with breathing or visualisation techniques. Check out our blog: 7 ways referees can benefit from mindfulness.
Physical failure occurs with the referee is simply not in physical condition for the test. A referee that didn’t follow the S&C program, is sick, or is injured or recovering from an injury and is just not physically in shape enough to complete the test to the standard set. They can be helped by having an honest conversation with the official about why they came in out of shape and if necessary work with someone to create a rehab program that helps to fast track their conditioning level while working around any injury restrictions. If the referee simply didn’t do the required training then extra conditioning sessions combined with, appropriate recovery, and re-testing as often as safely possible will help jumpstart their fitness level.
Preparation failure occurs when the official is in shape but is either not familiar enough with the testing protocol or doesn’t have the right level or anaerobic or aerobic conditioning for their test. In either case whether familiarity or specificity is the issue, simply repeating the test one or more times will be all that is necessary for the referee to learn and adapt to the test. Remember, the official in this scenario is usually in very good shape, but may have geared their training towards things that are easier for them, more suited to their natural ability, or just more enjoyable to them. For example, a referee than needed to pass a repeat shuttle sprint test, because of their avid enjoyment of long distance running, may have conditioned themselves to be more aerobic than required by their sport or testing protocol. So, even though they are fit they just might not be physically peaked for the test-specific anaerobic sprint work. They can be helped simply by reassuring the official that they are fit and capable of passing the test, that they understand the protocols of the test, and help them with timing, change of direction, turning techniques and other skills that could improve their efficiency in performing the test.
No one likes to fail or feel unprepared. As long as the referee coach/manager and referee are on the same page and have open communication regarding expectations and consequences then conditioning test failure can be addressed, handled, and successfully overcome with little or no drama. You have to be ready to hear the mediator and voice of calm and reason during these times, especially when the season is approaching and passing a test can mean the difference between a referee sitting on the sidelines or officiating a game.
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.
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.