Know when to say when

Soccer official in action
Author:  Brian Goodlander, Board Member, South West Ohio Soccer Officials' Association
Issue: Volume 2 Number 2

Reprinted with permission from Referee, July 2002 www.referee.com

When is enough of a good thing too much?  Referees need to ask themselves that question on a regular basis.  Have you gone from a hard-working referee to an over-worked referee?  Has refereeing become an obsession with you?  What are the signs of referee burnout?  How can you prevent it from happening?

Physical fatigue

Your body often tells you when you are doing too much.  Those aches and pains in your joints are clues that your body needs a rest.  If you survive on a regular dose of popular muscle relievers, you may want to turn back some games and let your body recover.  One sure sign that your body needs a break is that you are tired and unproductive at work and at home.  Assuming you get enough sleep, your body should be able to recover overnight sufficiently to allow you to remain alert and attentive throughout the next day.  If you lack rest and push yourself too hard, your sleep becomes fitful and you feel lethargic during the working day.

Mental fatigue

Every referee must ask the question when stepping onto the field, 'Am I still having fun?' As you wear yourself down physically, your mental fitness suffers.  Just as it is difficult to maintain mental focus late in a game if your physical fitness is failing, it is difficult to enjoy a game if you are physically and mentally exhausted.

I referee constantly.  Late in the year, I was increasingly irritable with whining coaches that I normally could ignore or deal with in a polite but effective manner.  I issued more cautions than normal and I was beginning to dread my next game.

Based on advice from a friend, I took a break and whistled no games for more than a month.  When I resumed, I found that I enjoyed matches and was a more effective referee.

Potential fixes

The best fix is to maintain an ongoing log of games.  By reviewing that log, you determine how many games you average a week or a month and compare that number to what you are currently averaging.  Some people set limits.  For example, I will not accept more than five assignments a week, nor will I spend more that three hours refereeing on the weekends.  Get to know your limits.  Become more aware of yourself.  If you are beginning to show signs of physical or mental fatigue, accept fewer games.  Work with your assigners and make sure they know that if you exceed your limit, your effectiveness suffers.

Balance officiating and family

For every obsessive referee, there is a disconnected family.  Your spouse, children and pets are at home waiting for your company.  Fill your own needs and goals with the rest of the family by combining family time with your officiating.  Spend some of the money you earn officiating on your family.  Take them out to a nice family dinner at a new restaurant, go to the zoo or even escape via a weekend getaway.  Combine an out-of-town tournament with a family trip.  Work a few games early in the morning then save some time and energy for the family later in the day.

Alternative games

If you just can’t tear yourself away from the games, back off by dropping down an age group or skill level.  Sometimes it is refreshing to work a game with younger players and remember why you started refereeing.

Alternative exercise

Another potential fix is to find a different way to get your exercise.  Try riding a bike, taking a walk with your spouse or going for a swim.  Cross training is an effective means of conditioning and providing variety.  Granted, the best training is to train at the type of exercise you are trying to improve.  To be a better runner, you must run.  But even world-class athletes vary their training regimen.  Variation takes the repetition out of your days.

Every official must learn to balance work, play, officiating and family life.  If you can do that, you keep your life on and off the field fun and fresh.


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