How to Overcome Fear When Refereeing

How to Overcome Fear When Refereeing

I’ve been fortunate to speak to a large number of referees who have experienced a range of psychological challenges with a common theme – FEAR. 

Some of the following things were mentioned in our conversations:

“I’m frightened at the start of the game that I’ll get something wrong and I’ll have to manage it for the next 75+% of the game after my authority has been compromised.”

“I worry about maintaining momentum when I’m in a good run of form”

“When the pressure is on at the end of the game I start looking at the players more. I’m frightened they’ll catch me looking nervous, and I’ll let my coach and the players down”

These observations have led me to do some more research into common psychological challenges faced by referees. It’s a project I’m working on so I’ll keep you informed on the results.

Getting back to the point. Often when it comes to fear our thoughts are irrational. In my Mental Toughness development work outside of sport I’ve been fortunate to chat to soldiers and police officers who experience frightening situations on a regular basis.

If you’re about to be attacked by a bunch of thugs or are being shot at in the battlefield you have every right to be frightened? – YES

This adds some perspective I hope…… let’s think about other situations that may scare us. Heights are an issue for me… the dark, public speaking, crowded spaces, fear of flying are all pretty common issues for people.

Now, let’s think about this when it come to refereeing – specifically football…… Fear breeds tension in the hands, wrists and arms, shoulders, back and then has a huge negative impact on our breathing, decision making and heart rate. Think about it – when referees are training they’re generally more relaxed than during the game. They then go on and make great decisions that frustratingly sometimes don’t look as clear to them during a match.

What its the solution to this fear? How do we calm down our overly sensitive brains?

Here are 3 tips:
Yes, it’s simple, very simple – but it works, when we get fearful, our breathing changes and makes the problem intensify. Focus on deep diaphragmatic breaths to calm the brain down and ‘re-set’ its reaction.

Train under pressure
Put yourself under pressure in training. Do not just sprint, cycle or run to kill time. Create targets, do some sprints and then watch a clip and see if you come to the right decision, make your training tough. Putting yourself under pressure, regularly creates immunisation. If you want to be a better decision maker, more consistently and under pressure this should be a MUST.

Face your fears
Instead of focusing on the problem and doing nothing about it. Recognise it is an issue, face your fears.

Ask yourself these questions:

What am I NOT doing when refereeing that is being ruled by FEAR?

What do I want to change when I train and on matchday?

How will making positive changes to my Mindset impact on me?

Now think about putting in place and focusing on key processes and routines that can help you. These processes can become a lifesaver when you’re under pressure. They really do allow you to relax and trust your skill set, especially when they are practised.

If you enjoyed this article feel free to forward it on to anyone who you think might find it helpful. Or if you would like to chat about this please get in touch.

Best Wishes, 

Nathan Sherratt Signature

Nathan Sherratt

Referee Educator & Managing Director of The Third Team