At Football Australia, we appreciate the amount of time and effort our community Officials dedicate to growing the game of Football.
During our time liaising with a large number of Officials, we've identified some key topics where advice is often sought after.
An official that is skilled in these key areas in combination with having a great understanding of the Laws of the Game is able to provide an enjoyable and professional experience to all involved. We encourage all Referees to read into the topics below:
Learning how to communicate is an important attribute for all referees. Appropriate communication helps to deliver high quality officiating as well as prevent and manage issues such as conflict and abuse. As such, it is important to acknowledge the main forms of communication available for referees and how they can assist them to deliver good officiating. The Australian Sports Commission has compiled a comprehensive resource for all sport officials, with key concepts highlighted below.
Forms of communication:
- Introductions to participants, coaches and others prior to the competition
- Explaining a breach of the rules/laws to participants during the competition
- Relating an account of an incident to a judiciary/tribunal after a competition
- To award a free kick or penalty
- To end a period of play
- A flag/indication is used for fouls/law infringements, substitutions and when the ball goes out of the field of play.
- Eye contact
- As a general rule, communication will be most effective for everyone when the official uses more than one method of communication to convey a message eg. verbal and a visual signal (flag)
- A confident and decisive verbal communication style assists officials in managing all parties, characterised by a clear voice, appropriately chosen words and a firm manner
- Confident and decisive body language. This shows a person in control of themselves and the competition
- Court presence is an effective selling tool for officials. Officials should look good and come across as someone with authority and in control of the situation.
- Good body langue involving eye contact, a comfortable stance, hands behind the back, a nod of acceptance all give the impression of being approachable, and always looking to be in control.
- Varying the whistles tone, volume and length of sound is an often underutilised but effective conflict management tool.
Health and Fitness
Keeping up with the play is important for both assistant referees and referees in order to ensure they’re taking up an appropriate position to make the correct decision. This means that refereeing football requires a degree of mostly aerobic fitness in order to adequately officiate. This aim to keep up with play predominantly involves jogging, running, or sprinting as referees must remain at a suitable distance to the ball as it travels around the field. Additionally to keeping up with play, football-specific fitness is crucial as decision-making has been shown to be impaired when people are fatigued. As such, it is beneficial for officials to have knowledge of appropriate health and fitness requirements of officiating, with important topics outlined below.
An easy way to minimise the likelihood of injury whilst refereeing is by undertaking a thorough and appropriate warm up. The benefits of warming up include:
- Increased speed of contraction and relaxation of warmed muscles
- Reduce muscle stiffness
- Increased blood flow through active muscle tissues
- Allows the heart rate to get to a workable rate for beginning exercise
An appropriate warm up for referees will focus on warming up the leg muscles. A general structure as recommended by the Australian Sport Commission involves jogging, dynamic stretching and a specific warm up. This should take place over approximately 15-20 minutes. Jogging should begin at a slow speed, serving just to raise the heart rate and blood flow around the body. The dynamic stretching should replicate the types of movement performed whilst officiating; creating a stretch on the move that reduces muscle stiffness. For a referee, the final few specific drills should involve some short acceleration from standing and jogging starts to near maximal speed to reflect the sprints they will have to take during a game. However, there is no need to overload the intensity or length of the warm-up and officials should feel warm, with a light sweat, and ready to go.
Whilst most amateur officials do not require exorbitant fitness levels to participate in refereeing, it is a good idea to perform some fitness training outside of actual matches. This could involve sessions focusing on particular components of fitness such as aerobic endurance, agility or speed. All of these foundations are required to referee a game of football and therefore it would be beneficial some out of competition development of these areas. This could include going for a run to improve aerobic endurance, or completing interval shuttle runs to develop speed and agility. This could be completed multiple times per week if aiming to maximise fitness improvements, however this may not be necessary for all levels of officiating. Many refereeing groups have organised training sessions for their referees on a regular basis throughout the season.
The nature of football refereeing requires physical activity that must be fuelled by energy from consuming food and drink. As with participating athletes, referees should energy levels are adequate prior to matches, as well as ensuring adequate nutrients are received. The Australian Sports Commission recommends a light, high carbohydrate meal at least two hours before a match to make sure you are well fuelled to officiate as well as sufficient water hydration. During the match, fluid and hydration is most important to prevent dehydration associated with sweating and poor fluid intake. After the match referees should again aim to replenish carbohydrate levels with a carbohydrate rich meal including foods such as sandwiches, fruit, soup, cereal bars, yoghurt and carbohydrate drinks.
On non-match days, it is important to maintain nutritional standards to maximise health and any training undertaken. Particular focus should be placed on carbohydrate, protein and other nutrient rich foods to boost energy levels (carbohydrate), allow fitness to improve (protein) and keep the body functioning well (nutrients). Below lists some of the typical foods that are high in the stated mineral to give you an idea of appropriate meals.
- Carbohydrates: breads, cereals, pasta, rice, potato and fruit
- Protein: fish, low-fat dairy products, chicken, eggs, legumes and meat
- Iron: red meats, wholegrain cereals, eggs, and leafy green vegetables.
- Calcium: low-fat dairy products
- Fibre: wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables.
Many mental attributes are required by referees in order to maximise correct decision making as well as minimising conflict. Skills such as staying focused, determined, as well as remaining controlled whilst under pressure are all beneficial for football officials, and can be improved.
Goal setting will ensure internal motivation is high for match officials, therefore leading to greater determination. Examples of such goals may include to eliminating incorrect decision making or becoming accredited at a higher referee level. Additional factors to improve determination are personal belief, physical and mental rest and keeping perspective.
To improve focus, officials can undertake a range of exercises. Simulation training (including imagery), positive/effective self-talk, performance routines and concentration exercises can all be utilised by referees in preparation for performance. Consistent practice will help referees remain focused during matches and therefore be beneficial for overall performance.
Pressure situations within matches challenge referees to perform at their highest. Maximising decision making in all areas is important however particular stress is placed on crucial decisions such as awarding goals or penalty kicks. To improve the control of referees, practicing to maintain a focus on the present and disregarding past errors will aid referees in their ability to achieve this. Again, concentration exercises will help to eliminate the influence of internal and external distractors during times of pressure from players, coaches and internal sources.
Preventing and dealing with conflict
Conflicts for all sports officials is usually a difference of opinions between the officials the coach, the player, the spectators and even the administrators. There are occasions when conflict in the sporting environment is inevitable, however developing strategies to minimise conflict from arising is vital. The following tips recommended by the Australian Sport Commission may assist officials’.
- Prevention is always better than cure! If action is taken early in the game, conflict is less likely to occur
- Make competitors aware of your presence by reacting immediately to rule infringements (when appropriate)
- Be definite and firm with decisions and communication
- Look sharp and act sharp - this will gain respect as an official
- Don’t take criticisms personally. Remember that coaches and participants are seeing the game from a different perspective to the officials
- Speak clearly and firmly in heated situations. This will indicate confidence in managing the situation
- Keep calm
- Be professional: Speak clearly and stay composed in heated situations. This demonstrates confidence in managing the situation.
- Remain calm: Don’t over-react. Stay relaxed and adopt a low-key posture/body language.
- Address the problem - not the emotions: Try to put aside the emotions of all parties.
- Focus on the person: Acknowledge a participant with eye contact and use their name if possible.
- Be fair: Avoid team or individual bias at all costs. Demonstrating integrity is one of the greatest assets of an official.
- Be confident and open: Don’t be defensive or try to justify actions. Clarify decisions when appropriate, based on the facts and the evidence presented.
- Be firm: Deal with unacceptable behaviour firmly and quickly. Set boundaries in a polite, professional and assertive manner.