5 Ways to Better Engage Referees

By Sonia Denoncourt

5 Ways to Better Engage Referees

Many teachers, instructors, and presenters will tell you how hard it is to keep students attentive, interested, and engaged. It’s by no means an easy task. The same concern applies when educating referees. So, what can be done to keep referees engaged and interested? 

Referees will stay focused, interested, and attentive if some basic principles are respected. Here are 5 practical ways to better engage referees:

1. Make topics interesting, relevant, and practical

Choose topics that need to be discussed. No one wants to hear about something irrelevant or inappropriate. Practical examples and practical solutions to relevant issues work best. Have some updated videos to illustrate and demonstrate what is expected of referees. Practical refereeing is defined by tips and tricks that can be applied directly in a game, rather than simply reading sections of the Laws of the Game over and over again. Real life examples will go a long way to help referees develop and visualise their role.

2. Use accurate and updated teaching material

Updated materials are crucial, no one wants to see the same boring videos played every year. The information needs to be accurate and the  explanations and descriptions are essential but must be kept brief, go to the point and be clear so there is no confusion. Keep in mind that the material should be appropriate for the level referees are at, it should be all about what they are encountering in their games at their levels of refereeing. Using technology is an important tool for learning. However, if this is too complicated to use, we will lose many referees who cannot follow or are not capable of accessing or manipulating the information.

3. Make learning interactive and fun

Use a variety of teaching methods. For example, computer presentations, active demonstrations, practical exercises and fun videos, using as little text as possible. Some referees learn by reading, seeing, doing, or watching. A variation of activities will reach more people. Keep a brief and dynamic overview of the topic, state a few examples, add an explanation, and most importantly offer a clear decision. Keep it to the point so everyone stays focused. 

A general rule for training is that every 5 to 8 minutes someone else must be heard. A long self-talk will have the referees losing interest. Ask for different opinions, questions, comments, or examples from their own experience. Keep it short and sweet. Too many presentations are longer than they should be. Time is precious for everyone. If they dedicate their time to 3-hour sessions, it must be worth it to be there for 3 hours. On many occasions, an hour presentation could be done in half the time if well planned.

4. Challenge the referees

Incorporate quizzes, brief questions & answers and utilise small learning style games. There is no need to put anyone “on the spot”. Let them speak when they are ready and simply ask questions here and there to someone who seems to be losing concentration, it will bring them back on track. Have some testing without counting the marks or points. Or if you do, keep it confidential to maintain the mood and not humiliate anyone. Or simply mention the top one or two results for motivation. Respecting everyone’s opinions is important to create an elite development environment and team atmosphere. Let the referees express themselves and feel comfortable to think outside the box. Crazy ideas should be encouraged.

5. Provide Constant Feedback

Referees like to receive feedback and to know how they’re progressing. They need guidance and assurance so they can acknowledge how they can improve. Reinforcing good decisions and behaviors is crucial to build the confidence of referees. If there is a need for constructive criticism, consider a private talk to have better impact than a group talk or a general statement. Be personal and precise. The feedback you provide must be tangible, and understandable; speaking their language is important. Offering applicable options and a few solutions is key. Referees can adapt and adjust with what fits to their personalities or to various situations. There is more than one solution to each challenge, so it’s important to provide options, tips and precise actions to see better results. They must leave knowing exactly what they need to work on.


Referees will stay engaged if they can relate to the conversation, and if they feel like they are learning something new. When you make a collaborative effort to engage referees in their learning, they will be better able to maintain focus and sustain positive improvements. The educational material delivered will be retained better and the outcome will be more positive and constructive. They will want to come back to your activities and education sessions as they feel it was worth it and they learned something. Keep smiling, and best of luck to those referees who’s seasons are about to start or resume.

Sonia Denoncourt is a former FIFA level referee, achieving some incredible accomplishments including 3 FIFA Women’s World Cups and 2 Olympic Games. She now works with a range of referees and leagues to focus on education and development. You can follow her updates on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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