Referee Wisdom for Parents

He has heard you

He heard you.

Wisdom for Parents – from the training of Premier League referees

A good referee needs to be able to exercise self-control, especially when provoked.  Body language is very important ….  A glance from the referee should be enough to make a player understand that he is breaking the rules.  Sometimes everything can depend on the way you look at a player.

Massimo Busacca, Fifa & World Cup referee (2006)

I can’t say that parenting and being a football (or “soccer”) referee are the same thing – they aren’t.  But the training is similar, as are the goals.  The ref is not in control, but the situation is under control– the players actions and the properties of the game decide what happens, while the referee’s confidence is “read” by everyone – she or he lets everyone know the game is okay.  

You don’t notice good referees until you look for them – at which point they effectively define reality.     While the calls they make are important, what really counts is their presence. It’s not their message, it’s how it’s delivered – Confidence sells the call.

Which one is in control?

Just like for parents – their presence is their power.  (Watch a single mum or an experienced teacher with a group of kids and you’ll see that presence – no threats, no yelling, just close observation and connecting.)  

The facts about presence.

  1. Presence is not natural
  2. Presence can be taught, and can be learned with practice. 
  3. Presence can’t be faked

Referees’ work hard at their presence – the littlest details that go into it.  Their performance is a skill that comes from experience, knowledge, preparation, and communication.  High level referees continually work on how to get difficult calls right – and they continually work on how they present them.

Here’s what referees are taught that is helpful to parents

  • Be aware of your body language – control what your body is saying – all the time.  Especially when first appearing, or interrupting play to make a call.  Be solid, and symmetrical when possible – always know which way you are facing.
  • Showing ListeningShow listening. So don’t just listen, but make sure they know you’re listening.
  • Be aware of your posture, and move with a presence. Move from your center, solidly, and always in control, and with your head up
  • Be mindful – breathe – feel yourself breathing
  • There is no questioning her action
    There is no questioning Stéphanie Frappart’s intent
    Still your body before making an announcement – so the announcement is the only thing you are communicating.
  • Use changes of pace and modulation when you need to make a point. For example, slowing down or speeding up your actions to communicate.
  • Make eye contact when you are speaking – throughout the conversation. 
  • Mind where your eyes are going, and your facial expressions – you’re always being “read.”
  • The Ref's eyes make his point - conversation over
    The Ref’s eyes make his point – conversation over
    You communicate by what you pay attention to.
  • Keep your arms and hands close – small gestures from a calm center are more powerful.
  • Practice basic signals (stop, calm, come here –  for soccer, the open-hand “I’m here” or “I’m making a barrier” for baby)
  • This face is a warning
    This face is a warning
    Have “Maybe” signals, like “I’m thinking of kicking  you out” or “I saw that – and if I see it again, you get a card.”  With children, the equivalent may be a sitting up a little straighter with a facial expression that says “young lady, don’t make me put down my beer.”
  • Keep your reactions – to everything – small. Your response defines the situation – “we can handle this” is always the message.
  • Go big sometimes – modulate as you need to – but don’t over use.
  • With emotions, when responding to emotions – use body language, not words.
  • Set a tone – a fun hard game.  (you’ll hear Mic’d up refs “Narrating” to manage the game “That’s good hard play – no foul”  “The pace is picked up here boys,” etc)
  • Does not like what he sees
    Does not like what he sees
    Think about your “resting face.”  Many officials (and many parents) stick to a slightly bemused look, which keeps the spirit of the game light – and throws their occasional scowls into high relief.
  • The smile - he's heard enough
    The smile – he’s heard enough
    Smile – enjoy watching – but always in a way that shows you’re keeping an eye on things.
  • Be calm, and in charge – People’s upset is temporary – Your calm presence lends conviction
  • With older kids, there are more advanced “Referee Moves”:
    • ▪ Answer questions, but don’t respond to statements.  
    • His body shows full attention to the conversation with #23
      His body shows full attention to the conversation with #23
      ▪ When you’re seen as fully listening, you have more credibility, which gives you more options in the “gray areas” where the call could go either way.
    • ▪ Narrate – even when  you are saying “I’m not going to do anything”
  • Use I statements declare your presence “I saw . . .
  • I believe the Referee is making an 'I statement'
    I believe the Referee is making an ‘I statement’
    Narration! Where your word is stating the law, as stating a simple fact:  “I saw it, I called blue ball – it’s a blue throw.”  Or “I said if it didn’t stop, we’d have to leave.  Now we have to leave.”

Good Caregivers and high-level referees manage the environment – they will chat with you, but their real work – when things get tough – is often around emotion. And they respond to emotion with body language.  They slow things down. And they create a culture of respect by always showing respect – even when faced with whininess or attempted deceit.   

How top level football referees keep getting better:

  • ▪ Observe yourself …. Notice how you do in difference scenarios.  
  • ▪ Get outside whenever you can  – to help you see yourself
  • ▪ Know your strengths and your weaknesses
  • ▪ Keep working on your game
  • ▪ Watch the masters – study them. Copy them.  
  • ▪ Practice

These techniques will make it easier for parents, and they can be learned. 

Parents – watch this video and see how these referees keep their body language together in stressful situations. Or another video all about their body language. See how many of these moves you can use next time your kiddos are going at it.


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