A few years ago I was volunteering for our tournament, and at the last minute had to jump into the time keeping box as the volunteer scheduled to do it had a family emergency.  “Other duties as assigned” is how volunteers get through the crazy hectic weekend of hosting a tournament. So I jumped into the box to help out, without hesitation.  The only challenge was I had not used this particular timekeeping device since the last tournament a year prior and it is one of those that are a beast to figure out.

As I was madly trying to get the time up and set the warm up timer, a spectator in the stands starts to yell at me to hurry up because the game is behind schedule.  I can feel my anxiety rise.  The game starts and the of course, a penalty is called in the first two minutes of the game.   “NOOOOOO, not a penalty, I don’t remember how to put them up!!”  And by the way, this is a Midget game (15/16) year old’s, so you know darn well, this will not the last penalty going up on the board.

As I am in slight panic mode trying to put up the penalty (oh, and I should mention that this is run time, meaning the clock keeps running, so its important to get the penalty up before the ref blows the whistle to start the play….more panic….), it starts.  The spectator really starts to heckle me about my lack of capabilities.  I look up at her in the stands behind me, with the look of “then please come and help me if you can see I am struggling”. But No.  The tongue lashing continues.

I knew one of the referees and asked him if I could borrow his referee shirt so I could throw her out! He didn’t oblige but was extremely helpful and patient, knowing that I was struggling.

The more she yelled at me, the more mistakes I made, and my performance was not stellar!

Brain science tells us that when we are under stress, fight or flight, our stress hormone cortisol increases.  This helps our body send all our resources to either our legs so we can flight, or our arms so we can fight.  Zero resources are left in the brain.  From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense.  If you are face to face with the saber tooth tiger, you don’t need any resources in your brain to strategize on how to manage the tiger – just go!  Our stress response is the same now as it was then, so even though the stress isn’t as life threatening as the face to face meeting with the tiger, our bodies don’t know that.

Let’s take this concept and apply to the referees.  In a recent survey we did with a client, we asked the membership which “worst behaviour” had they witnessed.  Hands down yelling at the refs was the most common.  It seems, Spectators feel the need to yell at the refs, in hopes that it will improve the perceived bad calls or missed calls.  However, it has the exact OPPOSITE effect. It makes their performance worse. And my personal experience of just being the timekeeper can vouch for that!

If we want to improve the quality of officiating, the last thing that will help is yelling at the refs. We know that it can put them in a stress response, decreasing resources to the brain that help them to think quickly and make calls.  Next, we need to keep in mind that we are yelling at kids typically aged 14 -16 as a Level 1 or 2 referee.  I don’t know about you, but if I constantly got yelled at in my first job, I don’t think I would last to long.  Many organizations have issues with referee retention which means high turnover, and always bringing in new talent learning how to referee.

If parents and spectators want to have quality refs, we need to give these young officials a chance to learn….and yes make mistakes, because that is how we learn the best.  If we can keep these new refs, they will have the opportunity to improve year over year.  Every game they officiate is their time to practice the skills of making accurate and timely calls.

If we want to have top notch officiating, then we need to stop yelling at the refs.  This will stop the vicious cycle.  If you know this is a trigger for you, then prepare for it.  Come up with a plan to create space between the “bad call” and your reaction.  When you create space, like taking in a deep breath – 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out – you can alter the reaction to a response, and not get hijacked by the trigger.

It takes practice.  So just as the refs need to practice making calls. You need to practice managing your reactions.  Here is your opportunity to practice together, and you will both improve!

Here is a practice drill.  During your athletes regular practices, take a deep breath every time the coach blows the whistle to create an association between a whistle and the breath.  With practice, you will learn to breath on a whistle, and take a deep breath.

Be Loud & Proud! Of Your Own Performance.