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August 2021

Referees: Having a bad day at the office. Why? And what to do?

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By Walter Broeckx

One of our readers asked the following question after one of my ref articles. I will try to answer the part in bold.

Ref Reviewer: It would be kind and instructive and de-mystifying to readers here to have you weigh in on some questions. Refreshingly, you write: there are “moments when you cant see a blatant foul under your nose.” Fine, but how is this possible? Is this down to fatigue? What goes into a slump like this? What happens to a ref when this occurs say more than once; or more than once in the same game?

This said, do you feel that there should be ref press conferences after a game? Do you feel that PGMO ref reports should be made public the week after every game? Is there any training that is based on such mistakes? When does it take place? Any mid-season adjustments? After the season? Is there post-game reviewing by the ref and his peers for quality control purposes? If so, please describe. If not, why not?

I think it’s due time that our Ref Reviewers, whose work is appreciated, be asked to help us understand what really goes on. If this means undoing the black wall of silence, please do and help us to learn what is going on as much as you can or will. Cheers.


Lots of interesting questions. And I will try to answer them. Of course my answers are about refs who try to do their job in the best and most honest way.  A ref that wants to cheat is something completely different.

First of all the remark about not being able to see a blatant foul.

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Referees know this but many people are not aware of it but refs are almost the same as players. Sometimes a player has a period in which it all works and sometimes he misses an easy tap in from close range. He is in good form or he has a bad spell we say about the player. Well the same goes for referees. And this is for all referees.

As a ref there are times when you have to have eyes at the back of your head and know before it happens what will happen. You run with your back to a confrontation and your radar is telling you to look back and you see a player punching another player when he thought you were running away from him. But you are in such good form that you just feel it and react to your feeling. It’s hard to explain but refs who have been in great form will know what I’m trying to explain.

But there are times when you suddenly seem to have lost your touch. You make decisions that after the game you say to yourself: how on earth did you not blow for that foul? Or how on earth did you not see that incident? Any ref will have had such games and he who pretends not to have such games is the best ref in the world and I will welcome him to do the CL final, the final of the European championship and next world cup final. Or he is just a liar who wants to paint himself better than he is.

There can be multiple reasons for that loss of form. Fatigue is one of the major reasons. Loss of concentration is also one of the major reasons. Because to do a game (and certainly at the top level) you need not just a good physical condition but you also need a fresh mental condition. You can lose your concentration for example when there is a long treatment for an injured player. And when the game restarts you suddenly have lost the momentum as a ref (just as it can happen with a team).

But refs are human and so it can also have something to do with things not related to the game. Your child or another relative can be ill. You have a little injury that keeps coming back like a little pain in  the back that shows itself after a while in the game. Those things can bring your concentration level down a bit and bring it down just enough to have a bad influence on your performance.

The only thing you can do (and this is what I do when I have a low) is to try to  concentrate even more before the game. How to do this is different for most persons. I try to do this most of the time by trying to talk to myself and not talk with the rest of the refs in the dressing room just before going out on the field. Trying to say to myself that I must forget about the world and only look and  think about the game and what happens on the field. But I think everyone will have his own way of trying to raise his concentration level.

As a ref you should always try to forget your last mistake as quick as possible. Don’t try to compensate for it; it will make matters only worse. Making a new mistake to compensate an earlier mistake is the best way to end up in being chased off the field in a way of speaking. Even if you realise your mistake but when the game has restarted and has gone further do not look for any compensation. You will only make the mess bigger at the end of the day. Just be angry with yourself for a moment and say to yourself to pay more attention.

And if you cannot get out of a bad run of form maybe it is time to take a break of a few weeks. A moment to get things out of your head and start with a fresh mind. It can be helpful.



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4 comments to Referees: Having a bad day at the office. Why? And what to do?

  • rusty

    Thanks for this, Walter — the wealth of your experience is always welcome!

    Maybe later in a series of articles is the best place for it, but how can the FA apply these lessons to improve the quality of officiating? More refs, I guess, so they don’t have to each work so many games, but at this point it seems like we’re beating a dead horse…

  • Pat

    That is very interesting Walter. It is true sometimes you forget a ref is a human being with human failings (the honest refs I mean). I thought that was particularly interesting when you said if you make a mistake try to forget about it and not try to compensate for it, because that will just make things worse.

  • Adam

    I can understand people making mistakes when faced with quick decision making. But total omissions I cannot, even applying the rules in an inconsistent manner I cannot understand, those who choose to officiate only have to get a 70% score to stay in the job. When I contrast that to my own work I have no sympathy. I remember when I first sat my exams and was told the pass rate needed was 100% we immediately questioned this and was told, “It’s no good doing a good job 70% of the time and the other 30% of the time you kill your clients”. Plus I have to re-sit my Qualifications every five years. So please all honest refs out there just get it right or give it up.

  • Adam

    To all refs. “If at first you don’t succeed, then sky diving isn’t for you”.