Overcoming the Fear of Negative Outcomes When Officiating

Overcoming The Fear of Negative Outcomes When Officiating

Are you fearful of making “significant” errors in out in the middle? Welcome to the world of refereeing where mistakes are a part of the game.

Two types of officials exist in sport: One type of referee focuses on the fear of making mistakes while their colleague focuses on taking each decision as it comes.

Focusing on fear places your focus on future negative outcomes and unknowns. Placing your focus on fear stops you in your tracks and disrupts improvement and peak performance.

Imagine what would happen if a hockey goalkeeper was focused on staring at their stick instead of the play in front of him. Or a golfer looking at another golfer while attempting to drive a ball off the tee. Both choices would end in disaster.

When you obsess over making an error, you are no longer focused on successfully performing in the moment. You are more worried about not making mistakes as opposed getting the upcoming decisions correct. For example, “If I make a mistake, it will mean that I am not a talented match official.”

Imagine the following scenario, a volleyball player is serving to close out a set, their team is an overwhelming favourite to win the match, but the opposing team is on top of their game, saving the ball with athletic digs and blocking shots. The match is closer than anyone expected.

Instead of focusing on the positioning of the opposing team, the player serving is focused on trying not to serve the ball into the net. The player’s fear causes them to be tense and nervous, slightly throwing off their timing. The player serves the ball right into the net, just like they feared.

To perform at your peak, your focus should be present oriented, “What do I need to be prepared for next?” instead of focusing on what ifs and negative outcomes.

Jean François Ménard, a mental-performance coach, has been working with Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, a 13-time world champion canoeist, as she prepares to hopefully compete in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

“When you show up at the Olympics, every athlete is strong physically, every athlete is prepared technically, but the ones who typically perform very well are the ones who can manage the moment, manage themselves, manage the pressure, manage the expectations that come with that.” Jean François Ménard, Mental-Performance Coach

Vincent-Lapointe has faced a lot of adversity, including testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Vincent-Lapointe has been faced with many fears regarding her ability to regain her form and compete at a high level again.

“[Menard] helped me realize that whenever I’m afraid of something that’s going to happen, it’s all speculative. I’m not basing my fear on something real, I’m basing my fear on something that hasn’t happened. So he helped me get back in the moment and get back to what I know I’ve done, my successes, and every good thing I’ve done.” – Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, 13-Time World Champion Canoeist

Fear is not real until you fuel that fear. Focusing on your actions in the moment minimises fear. Those fears may exist in the back of your mind but that fear no longer is an intrusive disruption.

Once you regain your focus in the present, you free yourself to put all your effort in performing in the moment.

Overcoming the Fear of Negative Outcomes:

Healthy internal dialogue can help you overcome irrational fears. Ask yourself the following questions: What do I fear? Is this outcome a definite? If no, what can I do in the present to enhance my performance the most?

Fear is often irrational. When you counter fear with logical thinking, you are better able to immerse yourself in the moment and officiate at your peak level.

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.

Best Wishes,

Nathan Sherratt Signature

Nathan Sherratt

Referee Educator & Managing Director of The Third Team

Nathan Sherratt

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