Match Management – by Pat McNally

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on February 9th, 2010

In this column, National Sevens Referee Manager Paddy Mac looks at how a referee can manage a game while not losing sight of the bigger picture.

By Pat McNally

You’ve taken the compulsory referee certification courses and have put your time in with a good number of matches under your belt.

Your knowledge of the laws of the game is sound, and you can apply them to game situations without being pedantic.

Top physical conditioning has been achieved and maintained – speed, strength, and agility are all good. But you are still having problems on the pitch and the lack of satisfaction is clearly apparent to you and the players. What’s wrong with this picture?

An experienced referee once told me, “Good refereeing is 20 percent fitness, 20 percent knowledge of laws and 60 percent match management.” While the small details are important and mustn’t be overlooked, if you don’t have the ability to convince the players that you know what you are doing and to follow your lead, it’s going to be a long afternoon.

One must have the ability to look at the big picture, put the player’s actions into context, and influence the direction of the game away from destructive to constructive play. Ensuring a natural flow and positive pattern of play is more important than catching every infringement.

There’s a lot of salesmanship in what referees do on the pitch, they have to be able to sell the call. You need to officiate with confidence and thoroughly convince the players yours is the right decision.

While all the laws are written down, they are still open to interpretation and there will always be 50-50 calls during a match, so you must learn to deliver your decisions clearly and with conviction.

You have to be able to tell people how unacceptable their actions are and not only have them agree, but thank you for pointing that out. Persuade people it’s in their best interest to comply and help them to arrive at their own conclusion that they were in the wrong and need to stop.

“There is only one way to get anybody to do anything and that is by making the other person want to do it.”

Good referees must be able to not only recognize a problem, they have to be able to solve it and find a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It cannot be enough to identify an infraction and just keep blowing the whistle.

Any knowledgeable observer can spot an infraction, but the referee has the responsibility to make sure it doesn’t repeat itself. It’s not acceptable to whistle the correct penalty over and over, it is more important that you find the right tool (humor, caution, yellow card, etc.) that will prevent it from reoccurring.

Good managers have an intuitive feel for the temper of a match and know how to keep the game from “boiling over”. They are able to pick up clues from the players actions and comments, tightly apply control when play heats up and fade into the background when play returns within the proper boundaries.

If the referee can remain calm when all those around him are losing their heads, he can return them back to sanity. Players will feed off the emotional signals the referee gives and they will reflect any uncertainty or panic they sense.

Every referee will have different strengths and weaknesses, but the best referees are always the best match managers. Certain referees may have better technical skills, while others may be better athletes, but the referees who relate best to the players and keep their cool under pressure, are usually the officials that produce the best matches.

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