Having self-confidence as a soccer referee



Written By Dan Sugar From the Academy of Refereeing


There are many important qualities that we need to have in order to succeed at the mission of serving the match. Those qualities include fitness, knowledge of the current Laws of the match, their applications and the ability to orchestrate a match to create a fair and balanced environment, among many others. However, one of the necessary qualities that soccer referees need, that is sometimes overlooked, is self-confidence.


Be Confident In your ability to control the match


Confidence in your ability to control a soccer match starts with the ability to control yourself. You are in control of yourself as a referee when you let go of your emotions as they pertain to a match. When players shout at you for handball or get in your face after you have awarded a penalty, you must not become flustered or thrown off. If you respond emotionally when a player does or says something, the players will think you have thin skin and can be influenced easily. What you as a referee should do when players yell or scream is to try to ignore them. If you have awarded a penalty or a free kick that the defending team does not like, you might even simply say, “I had a trip,” and move on.


My favorite strategy to be confident in my match control is to visualize myself getting the big calls right. When I go into any match as an AR, I imagine myself nailing a tight offside/onside decision in either team’s favor within the last five minutes with a tie score. Before a match in which I am the referee, I visualize that I have strong and fair control of the players, that my foul selection will be spot-on, and that I use strong body language and mechanics when issuing fouls and misconducts.


Another strategy for self-confidence that I use is to tell myself that I had been there before. I got this idea from Become Elite, a YouTube channel owned and operated by FC Tulsa player Matt Sheldon. Sheldon applied this strategy when he went on professional trials with clubs in Iceland, Germany and California. He told himself that even though he was nervous, he had already been there before and knew that he belonged. On the inside, he was scared according to himself, but he “faked outside confidence” in himself that he had been there and it was no big deal. The way he did this was by using positive, strong body language, demanding the ball in trial sessions, and chatting with the guys who were already on the team. Sheldon has numerous videos on his channel in which he talks about faking confidence.


What I do to apply this concept of faking confidence in refereeing is pretty much exactly what Sheldon does. When I had my first USL League 2 match, of course I was a bit nervous, because it was my first time and first opportunity at that new, higher level. But I faked confidence to the other referees that I belonged there, that it was no big deal, that I had already done this level a hundred times. On the field, I ran all the way to the corner flag, used strong mechanics when signaling throw-in directions, and talked to the players during high-intensity situations. If I had needed to signal any offside infractions, I would have done that with a confident flag straight up in the air. There were no offside infractions for me to signal in that match.


During a stoppage, one of the players chatted with me casually when the ball was in the opposite corner. When we talked, I used relaxed body language and a relaxed tone of voice. I am sure that that helped him realize I was just another guy on the field albeit in a different uniform. Overall, I believe that my faking confidence worked because I had a solid performance in that match.


Referees must keep a level head during moments of serious injury. A prime example of level-headedness to control the match comes from the UEFA European Championship. Christian Eriksen infamously collapsed during his match against Finland. The referee, Anthony Taylor, kept a level head while everyone else started to panic. Upon realizing the seriousness of the situation which had just arisen, Taylor immediately stopped play and summoned medical staff to enter the field because he knew that every second counted. Had Taylor become emotional, his instruction to the medical staff to enter might have caused a delay that could have led to Eriksen not making it out alive.



As you can see, referees need to be confident in their ability to control a match because the safety of players depends on it. The best ways to be confident in this aspect are to visualize yourself getting the big calls right and to convince yourself that you have been in similar situations before that you are facing for the first time.



Be confident in your fitness


All soccer officials working matches in any competitive league need to be physically fit. This is pretty common knowledge. If you cannot run to be where you need to be to see what you need to see, then you cannot sell your decisions. Players and coaches will lose confidence in you because you are not keeping up. On the flipside, if you are physically fit and are keeping up with play, people will respect your decisions a lot more because they see that you are working smartly and staying 10 to 15 yards from the ball at all times. Fitness is also very important from the standpoint of angles. The current thinking is to give yourself an angle through negative space so you can see the most likely points of contact between opponents.


Being confident in your fitness begins with doing the right training. There are many training resources available to referees like 100 Workouts for Referees from gccsoccer.com.


100 Workouts for Soccer Referees
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This document provides workouts tailored to the fitness needs of all soccer officials and covers all aspects of movement, aerobic fitness and anaerobic fitness. I still recommend always doing your own research before trying any workouts. Plus, if you feel like a workout is too easy or too hard, you can adjust it accordingly. An example would be if you find that 40 reps of 100 meters with 90 seconds is too much, then start at 20 to 30 reps. Once you find that 20 reps is not so challenging anymore, increase it to 25, then 30, then 35 and finally 40.


One of the workouts I like to do is to run the diagonals and jog along the goal lines. This is a simple workout that can be done on any soccer field with no equipment. You do not even need cones. This workout focuses on aerobic and muscular stamina in a similar running pattern that you use while officiating as a center referee. In no match do you just run continuously. You always have starts, stops and starts back and forth, which sometimes require you to run the full length of the field consecutively.


The best part of the diagonal setup is that you run the longest length possible. When you train for the center referee position, I recommend running with as much of your refereeing kit as you can. You do not need to wear your actual uniform to train, but I do think it is a good idea to run with your whistle, watches, and even card and data wallet during your training. To make your workouts more match-realistic, I suggest ending some of your runs with a whistle and a mechanic. I prefer to train in my officiating boots on artificial turf. However, always follow your personal preferences!


To train for your assistant referee assignments, you should focus on repeat sprints. You can do this in any sort of order and distance you would like. I personally do sprints no longer than 60 meters, roughly 66 yards. Some of my sprint workouts will be up to 20 sprints. Another great way to train as an assistant referee is to run what I call, “AR drills.” These are simple combinations of jogging, shuffling into a sprint, and shuffling. These can be done in any order and combination you like. It is a great idea in my opinion to use your flag and practice all your mechanics and eye contact as you would in a match.


To apply this confidence, I would suggest reminding yourself that you are able to keep up with play. Work harder in your training sessions and run at a pace faster than you run while officiating matches. This way, your match pace will feel easier. It is also smart to take the fitness test every year. Even if you are a Grassroots referee content on staying at that certification level, doing and passing the fitness test will prove to yourself and your state referee committee that you are physically fit. By going through the fitness test and passing every year, you will also make a good impression on your state referee committee. It might lead to some better assignments in the near future. As an add, if you want to upgrade from Grassroots or maintain an advanced grade, the fitness test is absolutely mandatory.


The more confident in your fitness that you are, the better you will feel about your coverage of the pitch. You will confidently travel from corner to corner along the channels of vision across the field, always keeping your ARs to your right and the ball between yourself and the lead AR. This will pay dividends for your refereeing career. When you do matches as an AR, you will feel very fit every time that you follow the ball the entire way to the corner flag, which should be every single time the ball crosses the goal line. This will get you in the habit of making great goal-line decisions because you will be used to being in that location perpetually.


Be Confident in your decisions



Being confident in your officiating decisions is the final important aspect of having overall confidence in your officiating abilities. It is absolutely crucial. To be confident in your decisions begins with practicing excellent mechanics and being physically fit enough to be close to play at all times.


I will give an example from a U17 boys academy match I worked as AR1 on October 9th, 2021 between the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union. In the 71st minute, the Union scored a goal that put them in the lead and went on to decide the game. The goal was scored by a winger (jersey #6) who was making a run down the coaches’ touchline, with two Revolution players in line with him. At the moment the ball was played by a Union center midfielder, the #6 was still in-line with the two Revolution defenders, both of whom were field players.


I was 100% that he was onside because I had side-shuffled to give myself the best view possible. Once I decided that he was onside, I communicated this decision with my fullest confidence by sprinting along the touchline to the goal line to keep up with play. He scored a few seconds after the pass by taking only one touch to control the ball, and then shot far-post. I used strong body language to show that I was 100% confident in this goal being valid.


(Go to 1:30:32 in the Video)


I had to show this confidence in myself and in this decision because the game was recorded on Veo and the coach was none other than Shalrie Joseph, a veteran of the Revolution organization who played 11 seasons for the first team. I grew up a supporter of the Revolution and always admired Joseph’s playing style. You can imagine how incensed Joseph was that I ruled that goal onside because he was 100% sure that it was offside! No matter what he thought of the goal, I could not and did not let his harsh reaction change my decision.


The unbiased viewpoint of the assistant referee is far more important than the biased viewpoint of the coaches. Shalrie wanted to see it as offside because that would have helped his team win the match. As the assistant referee, my objective was to get the call right based on what I saw. This goal was the biggest key match incident I have had this season because it was at such a high level of competition: the MLS Next Academy U17 level.


Conclusion


Confidence derives itself from your ability to do your job to a high degree of proficiency. You should be confident in your ability to control the match, your fitness and your ability to make correct decisions regarding key match incidents. Confidence comes from practice and from getting little decisions right. I find it helpful to focus on my mechanics and positioning in all matches and getting the easy decisions right. Doing this helps me each match with what is to come, because I know there will be tough incidents or calls to make later in the match. Do not let anyone phase you; you are a great referee who deserves to reach the highest level within your potential. Although not everyone will make it to the international scene, you can always do your best to become as great of an official as you possibly can.

Premier League Referee: Martin Atkinson