Pattern Recognition – by Pat McNally

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on May 13th, 2010

By Pat McNally

Two teams take the pitch and prepare for battle. The tension is apparent as the excitement builds.

The referee checks with both captains, starts the watch, blows the whistle . . . and then all hell breaks loose!

What happened?

If referees are to make any sense out of the mayhem playing out before them they must recognize the patterns of play of the two teams on that specific day.

They will literally have from 5-10 minutes from the start of play to observe the action, and arrange it into logical sequences that they can understand and process.

If it’s a Sevens match, they may have only 1 minute due to the unpredictable nature of those matches.

What is pattern recognition? It is the act of taking in raw data and then acting upon it based on the category (or shape) of that pattern. Pattern recognition can also be described as the ability to see order in a chaotic environment.

Good referees are able to perceive meaningful patterns in a game, quickly identify those patterns and effectively organize that knowledge. Those patterns may include such things as a forward-dominated game, kicking for territorial positioning, the play of an accurate goal kicker, etc.

This ability to recognize patterns of play is fundamental to performance in team sports and is one of the most significant predictors of anticipation skills.

Referees who read the game well can anticipate correctly. They not only perceive what is happening, but can better predict what will happen next based on that perception.

When you can correctly identify patterns in a match, your anticipation becomes easier and you have more time to analyze situations. This will enable you to take up the best position to view play without being in anyone’s way and to choose the most efficient running lines to get to that position.

You will be able to see play developing rather than to just reacting to events and playing catch up. This can be the difference between referees using preventative measures to avoid calling penalties and blowing up the third or fourth infraction.

Referees need to affect patterns of play to encourage a better contest, to facilitate positive or constructive patterns of play and to discourage or prevent negative patterns of play.

Being aware of each team’s pattern of play can alert a referee to possible changes to those patterns due to changes in a game plan or tactics, player injury or substitution, changes in game momentum, time left in the match, location of play on the pitch, etc.

Less skilled or inexperienced teams can prove to be more difficult to referee because they play with minimal structure, often as individuals rather than as a team and, therefore, lack pattern to help you anticipate.

In summary, referees must develop their capacity to understand the game, to know the strategies and tactics of the teams, and to adapt quickly to continuously changing situations.

Success in refereeing depends on your ability to be both fast and accurate in reading game situations, recognizing patterns of play and making the best decision about what actions to take.

Referee Advice

When a call comes in from the AR, don’t just thank him, but make it clear that he called it. To remind the players that we are a team of three. — Bruce Carter (NCRRS)

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