Referees: Focusing on What You Can Control

Referees: Focusing on What You Can Control

When I talk to sports psychologists, they tell me about the mantra most crucial to their work with anyone in sport: “Control the controllables.”.

As referees, this means that we need to focus on what we can control during our games. So what areas of the match should we be giving most of our attention to? Officials get into trouble when they focus on incidents that are outside their direct control.

When out in the middle, it is possible that you or your colleagues may give more attention than you should to these uncontrollables:

  • Poor technical decisions made by players
  • Inclement weather conditions
  • Difficult pitch conditions (as long as the surface and immediate areas around remain safe)
  • Player conduct towards others (within the Laws of The Game)
  • Spectators (considering safety and spirit of the game at all times)

You or your colleagues should focus on what you can control, such as:

  • Your own performance
  • Your mindset
  • What your attention is on
  • Team communication
  • Ability to rebound from mistakes
  • Cheating or attempts to cheat by players

How to Focus on The Controllables

Reframe your perspective on the uncontrollables when you’re refereeing by choosing to view the event as short term and part of a 10 minute block within a 90 minute game, and move on to the next block. When you try to control situations outside of your direct control, tension and frustration builds.

In reality, the only things you can control are your reaction and your response to challenging situations during games. You can focus on the difficulties of a situation or you can accept what is beyond your control and focus on the things you can do to maintain a good level of match control in games.

Firstly, you have to acknowledge what is in your sphere of control when you’re out in the middle. You may find it useful to make a list of what these things within your control are. Additionally, you might want to list what’s out of your control, to make your peace with those things and consider how you might manage those situations should they arise.

Secondly, when you expend mental energy on an uncontrollable situation, you have to refocus, such as when you dwell on dissent from spectators. Consider that fact that when you start to give attention to something outside your sphere of control.

Finally, when you do refocus on the next phase of play, make sure you are 100% focused on the processes you use when you referee and any error you may have made during a previous part of the game.

How you handle the challenges that you’ll face during a game is a matter of focus. You can choose to focus on the situation or you can choose to focus on how you respond to that incident.

What is in Your Sphere of Control? 

Before you can concentrate on controlling the controllables, you need to gain awareness of the things you inside and outside your sphere of control. You may find it useful to make a list of the things outside of your direct control including weather, the condition of the pitch, other people such as players, spectators and/or club officials.

Additionally, begin to think about how you will respond differently to those situations and how you could make sure you do so in a more effective way.

Can you do anything about these situations? How can you change the way you think about those moments?

By concentrating on what is in your sphere of control, you are giving attention to the important performance points for you to referee most effectively.

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.