The Art of Listening – by Pat McNally

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on January 12th, 2010

By Pat McNally

I was recently enjoying a conversation with a referee friend in a respectable establishment (if you want to know where the referees are, always look in the bar first), when the topic turned to our mutual frustration in convincing referees to be good listeners.

We spent considerable time trying to figure out how we can get referees to open themselves up to receiving good information and using that newly acquired knowledge to improve their performance on the pitch.

After all, there’s none so deaf as those who will not hear.

Referees first need to acknowledge the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a physical ability while listening is a skill.

Listening skills allow one to make sense of and understand what another person is saying. The best way to listen begins by paying attention to the speaker and avoiding distractions and includes letting them finish before you begin to talk (don’t interrupt).

Understand what your speaker is trying to impart by listening for the main ideas, sorting out what may apply to you, and responding appropriately. Always remember that the goal in listening is to learn and build rapport.

Players and coaches can provide valuable clues to what is really going on in a match, provided you are able to understand and evaluate what they are telling you.

While no referee should allow a player or coach to sway calls during a match, they do have a wealth of information and experience to share, as long as the referee is able to distinguish between astute observations and blatant whinging.

By listening to the players, it is possible to accurately gauge the temperature of a match at any given time, similar to walking into a bar and knowing within 15-20 seconds whether you belong there or not.

Referees must be willing to process input from evaluators, referee coaches, and senior referees to improve performance.

It is necessary to be open to qualified criticism in order to keep progressing. I know some referees actively seek out their seniors to watch them and provide advice, but only if they tell them how wonderful they are.

If you’re serious about learning how to become a better referee, you need to be willing to actively listen, whether your mentors are telling you what you want to hear or not.

While not all advice is valid or relevant, part of being a good listener is the ability to pick out the main ideas and decide which have value (a good BS filter), and politely gloss over the rest.

We listen for several reasons; to obtain information, to understand, to strengthen relationships, and to learn.

As referees, we need to establish regular lines of communication with reliable sources of information, to serve as reality checks.

We must listen to gain the knowledge and experience needed to learn how to be better referees.

Or as my old coach would tell me, “If you would shut up long enough and listen, you might actually learn something.”

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