Ref Support UK

A Q&A with Ref Support CEO Martin Cassidy

Martin Cassidy is the CEO of UK registered charity Ref Support. Ref Support offers independent training,support & development of referees for the modern game as well as providing mentoring, coaching and e-learning. To learn more check out their website, Facebook and Twitter pages.


Part of Your missions reads “To raise the quality, status and benefits of refereeing”. In terms of quality, what have you found to be the most effective methods for raising refereeing standards of new referees?

With out a doubt it has been our coaching scheme. Our coaches are all experienced referees or retired refs. We go to their game and give them feedback on everything. We find phone calls during the week to debrief and reinforce our message really helps them. Then most phone us before their games so we can agree on a game plan etc. The main learning trends of the group are body Language/non verbal communication, game balance, tempo management and positioning.

What type of support can the average referee in the UK expect to receive from Ref Support?

We have a blended approach and we offer all the forms of learning. The online learning suits some but most love the “human” approach. Our social media platforms, in particular our Facebook page, has a very high level of engagement from refs from all over the world. The instant answers and questioning really is popular and a great way to receive different takes on the same thing. The message is clear, there really is more than one way to do things and you can take what you want and see what works for you. Video analysis is very popular but we ensure it does not turn into a ref bashing post.

Has the treatment of referees gotten better or worse over the past 5 years?

In 2017 we introduced the UK’s first national referee abuse and assault hotline. It is clear form the calls we receive that the problem is getting worse. Some of the calls we receive from refs of all ages can be upsetting. We have a few ways of refs contacting us and all have seen an increase. The is a real issue. We believe the problem is bigger than The FA say, not because they are not telling the truth but because some refs are just too scared to report it but need a shoulder to cry on. Being an independent Charity give them confidence that we will not judge them when they call us. It also make them feel that it’s not their fault and that they are not on their own.

What do you see as the main barrier holding back a referee from reaching their potential?

Lack of real support and guidance. The FA over here just have not got the resources to cover all the refs who want help, particularly at grass roots level. It surprises us that they refuse to works with other organisations who offer help in this regard. There are many who would help but don’t want to do it under the name of the FA or County FA. It’s definitely the elephant in the room.

What are some of the most effective strategies that leagues and associations implement to improve the retention of their referees?

Some are good at this and cover the costs of the referees course which helps get referees. This is one clear barrier for recruitment that needs addressing. In today’s age money is tight and there is not much disposable income to spend on a refs course. In the UK it can cost up to £150. Some league are giving free kit which also helps. The retention has many problems from the abuse refs receive to the time commitment. The amount of money can be enticing but also a problem. Some will do it for the money so if certain league pay more than others,they will go there. Equally, some say the money is not enough compared to the abuse they take and the time they spend away from their families. It really has got many faces. A couple of leagues have given new refs purple shirts. This states that the ref is new and under the age of 18. This is a positive move and it will remain to be seen if this does work. It is a positive move and we welcome it.

Is there more of a focus on recruitment or retention at Ref Support?

Probably retention through support however, because we work closely with clubs we have encouraged players to take up the whistle and had some success in that. We find our club visits are very productive. It’s incredible what players don’t know about rules the (Laws of the Game). When we do our visits there has never been a time when someone hasn’t said ” well I never knew that and I have been playing for x years” We believe more education on football law would help players. These club visits are a great way to “humanise” refs and build trust with players and managers alike. We hold managers forums where managers from local teams come to our refs meeting and we swap ideas about the game and discuss what we like and dislike about each others roles.

How can leagues better support their referees?

We have touched on a lot of this above and we feel building relationships between refs and players outside the arena of football takes away the subjectivity and emotion. This enable players to connect more with refs and leagues should hold meeting where it is compulsory for teams and refs to attend. We also believe that every club should commit to having refs around at one of their training nights and to talk about each others roles and the expectations.

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