Preparation for Peak Performance

Elite level preparation for any level

By Dr. Tom Webb

Is a referee’s preparation for a World Cup any different to preparing for a regular season?

The preparation will have specific training workshops and seminars arranged by FIFA. The World Cup referees start as a larger group, and the group is reduced over the course of two seasons to the final group which attends the World Cup and officiates the matches. As part of this process the referees receive specific training at seminars and training events arranged by FIFA leading up to the World Cup over a period of time. This is in addition to the training that referees also revive from their national associations and from their confederations too. However, the preparation will comprise of physical and technical training, as well as tests (such as physical tests) to ensure that the referees are ready for the tournament and of a sufficient standard. There may also be specific directives which referees are asked to focus upon (holding at corners at the last World Cup for example), and this will be included in briefings nearer to the tournament.

What type of resources are required to allow referees to reach their optimum performance during a tournament?

Myself and a colleague have just written a book chapter (to be published towards the end of 2019) which focuses on the use of audio visual resources as training aides and support for referees. Technology is utilised by confederations and FIFA to assist in the development of referees – this could be reviewing decisions, assisting the referee group to make standardised decisions and not demonstrate differences in decision making wherever possible. Uniformity is important, especially in a tournament such as the World Cup, so players know what to expect and what consequence an action might have in terms of the decision that the referee will make. Also, and perhaps most importantly, during a World Cup referees need to feel supported, comfortable in their surroundings and their training and preparation in order to perform effectively. Support networks and competent training are essential for referees at all levels of the game.

While maintaining peak physical performance is important, what type of support is provided to ensure referees mental health is optimised to remain confident during high pressure matches?

Mental health is an area of training and support which requires further consideration in refereeing and in terms of provision for match officials across sport. Referees have access to psychologists in some countries, although this is certainly not a standardised provision, and in some countries there is no psychological provision for elite referees at all. We have written a book chapter on the need for increased consideration of mental health and wellbeing for referees and match officials in sport (due for publication in early 2020), to initiate conversations and ensure that this support is something that is considered in terms of the support offered to referees. Moving on from errors, particularly in high profile matches, is something that can be a considerable issue for referees, and we have just started some research which considers referee mental health in football. hopefully this, alongside some other forthcoming publications, will increase consideration of this subject area.

Are referees assessed differently during the World Cup?

Referees are assessed at every match in which they officiate. This differs from country to country, and competition to competition. Generally speaking referees are assessed similarly in confederation competitions and at the World Cup. A considerable difference in a tournament such as the World Cup is that, as with players and the nations which they represent, good performances ensure that referees will continue in the competition, whereas performances which are deemed to be below the standard required will mean that those referees do not officiate matches in the later stages of the tournament. There is an argument to suggest that referees are the most accountable people in football, given the assessment’s that they have during every match, and the World Cup exemplifies this accountability.

How has referee management changed over the years for elite level tournaments?

The main differences in the management and provision of support for referees at tournaments has been how professional the support and training for these referees has become. As I have researched and written about previously, referees have historically been the forgotten part of football, the individuals and groups that receive funding after players, coaches and managers from governing bodies. This meant that since the codification of football in 1863, referees and referee organisations were playing catch up as they were under funded. This has changed as more money has come into the game from television and sponsorship deals and some of this money has filtered into refereeing, and we have seen the introduction of professional or full time referees in some leagues and competitions as a result. In terms of the World Cup this has also meant bigger budgets to provide referee training and support before and during the tournament.

How can grassroots referees implement similar preparation techniques used by World Cup referees?

There are clearly differences between the preparation, training and performance of those referees in elite sport, or performing at the World Cup, and referees who officiate in lower level football around the world. However, I think lessons can be learned related to how referees can dedicate themselves and prepare for matches, no matter the level at which they operate. The elite referees across the world should be role models and individuals for referees at lower levels to aim to aspire to achieve what those elite referees have achieved in the game. Dedication to training and development is essential to perform as well as you can, no matter what level a referee operates. Fitness training is perhaps the easiest thing that referees can focus on – heart rate monitors are not expensive, and you can find information on training plans that elite/professional referees undertake, although clearly this level of physical exertion should be developed and increased gradually, and joining a gym can help with this. Referees can also access training from Referee Associations, which can assist in their technical development, increase their support networks and provide connections with other referees which can also assist development.


Dr Tom Webb has researched referee and match official working and operational practices across a range of sports, working in the sports industry for over 14 years. Tom is a senior lecturer in Sports Management and Development at The University of Portsmouth and is the founder and coordinator of the Referee and Match Official Research Network. He was kind enough to share his thoughts with the RefLIVE blog. You can check out his twitter profile here, check out his book about elite level football refereeing here and learn more about his research here.

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