Referee Column – by Pat McNally

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on September 22nd, 2009

By Pat McNally

As National Sevens Referee Program Manager, I travel all over the country to observe rugby referees, to manage and assess their performances.

One of my most important tasks is identifying promising, young referees and establish pathways for their development.

I’m often asked, “What are the basic qualities that you look for in new referees?”

Like every rugby referee organization in the world, we are constantly in search of qualified athletes who can acquire the skills needed to referee the game they play in heaven. These are some of the qualities to look for:

  1. Fitness – Athletic ability is one of the first things to look for when assessing the potential of new referees. Speed, agility and stamina are required to keep up with today’s game. Youth, women, collegiate and club rugby have all improved drastically over the years and referees must keep pace. Physical fitness is the one aspect of refereeing that an individual does have control over. If you have to be asked about your fitness, you better get to work.
  2. Poise and composure – The ability to think and act quickly without panicking are essential to good decision-making. Referees are under all kinds of pressure; from the players on the pitch, from the sidelines, and from the referees themselves who want to perform well. The ability to remain cool in stressful situations is something that cannot be taught and is key to good match management.
  3. Solid work ethic – Referees need to be self-motivated and capable of working hard on their own. Our referee programs can offer direction and support, but at the end of the day, each referee must be able to devote their own energies and time to continuous improvement. There are no shortcuts to better refereeing and it must be worked on, week in and week out.
  4. Coachable – Developing referees need to be open to qualified instruction. Nobody starts out with all the skills necessary to referee at a high level (although many tell me that they do). It must be taught, usually from experienced referees and referee coaches who dedicate their time to share their knowledge and insight. Individuals need to be open to this valuable input and consider how they can incorporate this into their games.
  5. Desire – Only individuals with a true passion for their sport and a strong need to provide the best game possible for the players, regardless of skills or ability, can succeed. I believe that it is generally accepted that you must be nuts to take up the whistle, so it takes a special individual to want to take all that on. Every refereeing career is a series of mountains and valleys that must be endured and overcome. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

When we look at these qualities, they really aren’t that different from what makes a good rugby player or a good coach.

Admittedly, there are other qualities I did not list that are also important to the making a good referee; knowledge of laws, positioning, communication, etc. but these skills can be learned and refined over time.

My job is to observe beginning officials and try and determine if they have what it takes to reach the next level.

And like players and coaches, there are no guarantees that they will become successful. But you can have a pretty good idea whether they have the basic tools to begin with.

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