Issues with today's approach to referees

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The job from hell, but does it need to be this way?

Ever wondered why referees always seem arrogant, ill-equipped, dishevelled and incompetent? Well, here’s why...


Imagine a job where you were forced to pay an annual fee of $100-500 to be able to work, you had to fork out $80-600 for your work uniform, oh, and you were also told that you owe your boss 10%-30% of whatever money you make, and that it was your job to pay HIM otherwise you weren’t going to get any more work.


This is but the tip of the iceberg for the life of a football referee.  But wait. It’s gets better.....


Not only that, imagine that your wages came to you in coins and notes, and that is was somehow perceived to be reasonable that you could break a $50 note when your wage was $14.50. Oh, did I mention that sometimes they would also forget or refuse to pay you?


Imagine then that you were immediately thrown in the deep end to fend for yourself, got almost zero support from superiors (who were not present most of the time), and you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing. 


Because you don’t receive adequate training, you get abused in a sexist, racist, intimidating, and defaming manner by anyone and everyone purely because you exist. 


You might even get your car keyed, your nose broken, your belongings stolen or vandalised, or even suffer worse physical harm; and your boss is somehow NOT liable for any of those. 


Slowly over time, you become conditioned into such a bitter, twisted mess of aggression, intimidation, stubbornness and bad habits; that you almost end up hurting the game. 


And in the end, through no fault of your own, your passion somehow became your job from hell. 


This is the unfortunate reality for many referees in the game that we all know and love. 

There is an unnecessarily high referee attrition rate at grassroots level

The sad truth is that every year, of the thousands of people that decide to give Refereeing a go and give back to the game they love; the majority will give it up after less than one season.   


The main reasons are: 

•  An infestation of office politics getting in the way of making the refereeing experience enjoyable 

•  A lack of support & guidance from superiors 

•  Inadequate training  

•  The nature of the system of receiving work & remuneration is often archaic and poorly run 

•  Given the significant personal financial outlay required to even be able to STEP OUT ONTO A FIELD, many referees do not see it as a valuable investment of their time.


Why is this happening?  Does the experience really need to be so unpleasant?    

The referees who remain are suffering

Of the remaining referees that actually still want to continue stepping out onto the field, very few are taken care of.    

The referees are the 1%

Coaches and academies invest billions every year into player development, educating and moulding players certain traits and skills. Too often this all becomes redundant as soon as the player steps out onto the field in a match.   


This is because less than 1% of the amount invested into player development is invested into referee development.   


Inadequately-trained referees will inadvertently prevent players from executing their developed skills.   


When unskilled referees erroneously prevent them from utilising their learned skills, players will see little relevance in continuing that trait, resulting in stunted technical development.   


Bad referees, in turn, create bad players and coaches. Once you realise this, it is shocking to think that our referees are inadvertently stunting the development of our players in general. And they're forcing new referees to learn from them, and the cycle continues....  

Grassroots referees tend to have a huge barrier preventing access to modern technology

When technology is developed for referees, the first to gain access to it is usually the elite referees. From there, it usually filters down the hierarchy. An example is the communication headset. 


The referee communication headset has existed at the elite level for more than ten years, however it is STILL not widespread amongst other levels of the game. Whilst the headsets contain technology that has existed for the past 50 years, it is usually hugely overpriced, causing it to be considered a non-essential component of refereeing.   


Ignite Refereeing has a plan to develop and issue as many referees as possible with an affordable version of this vital refereeing tool, as well as many others.   

Player? Coach? Referee? Spectator?  At the end of the day, we're all here for Football!

We've all been there.  We've all had that referee who acts arrogant, is unapproachable, and is somehow blind to the fact that he is destroying the game.   We've all been there.  We've all had that referee who acts arrogant, is unapproachable, and is somehow blind to the fact that he is destroying the game.    


How did he get like that, you may ask?  Through years of isolation on the field, and lack of support off the field.  When you get thrown into a hostile environment, your mind will want to distance itself from the hostility.  Unfortunately, a lot of referees erroneously distance themselves from the entire match, including their love and passion that they once had for the game.    


Was he always like this?  Of course not!  He started his refereeing career wide-eyed and enthusiastic, stepping out onto the field genuinely enjoying himself.  He used to be approachable, caring, have a sense of humour, and actually SMILE and be happy.    



What happened to him?  He was thrown into the deep end and left to drown.  He was rushed through a training course, became a faceless number, and was left to fend for himself.  He was not adequately taught the skills that are required to be able to deal with match situations.  As with every skill acquisition process, he learned by making mistakes.    



Does he think he's doing a good job now?  Sadly yes.  He is still stepping out onto that field and acting that way, because his past experience has shown him that he ought to behave.  At let's be honest, in his mind, it has worked well so far.   His behaviour and actions have been conditioned and left to fester, almost beyond the point of reversal.   

But it doesn't have to be this way...   



The us-and-them mentality between referees and other match participants only exists psychologically, and it is hurting the game.  Players, coaches, and referees all have a symbiotic relationship. One cannot exist without the other. Each has a direct impact on the development and progress of the other.   


Why can't referees help players improve without the perception of bias?  Why can't players give constructive feedback to referees without the perception of abuse?  

The root of the problem

Why do referees act and react the way they do? What data do they have to support them?

Well......none, really.  


In the entire history of football, the only academic study supported by actual dataabout how to referee was conducted by Dr Peter Simmons of Charles Sturt University in 2003.    


In his study, he showed that there is so much that players, coaches and referees have to offer each other.  Players are able to provide feedback to help referees with foul identification, positioning, foresight and anticipation responses; and referees are able to collaborate with players.  


Everything else, how to hold the flag, how to hold a card, how to give signals, how to interact with players, how to hold yourself, and even how to toss a coin; has been distributed as "the right way" purely because someone's opinion mattered more than everyone else's.  This means that most referees are 'groomed' by someone with an agenda, and can't really justify why they do things the way they do.  They will continue certain practices, even when they clearly have detrimental effects on the game as a whole.  Why?  Because it's the best they've got...    


Referees do not have anywhere they can learn from their mistakes, without those mistakes being public and open to ridicule and abuse.  The current methods of referee education have been linked to an increase in depression, anxiety, relationship problems, the inability to assume certain social roles, and in extreme cases, eating disorders, substance abuse and violence.   This causes other areas of the referee's life to be affected.  Why hasn't any research been conducted about this?    

Referees have no platform where they can be vulnerable, approachable, and collaborate with one another.  And the idea of receiving feedback from players and coaches seems absurd and unthinkable.   Why is that the case?  

We aim to change that.    

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What we are doing about it right now

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Increased access to referee-related technology for as many referees as possible

Unlike the traditional model of top-down filtering, Ignite Refereeing aims to revolutionise the field of football refereeing from the bottom up.   


This starts by equipping the lowest-level referees and newcomers with the latest innovative technologies and approaches.   


The existing elite referees are already skilled enough to be able to referee autonomously without the addition of technological aids. This isn’t to say that they wouldn’t benefit from it, but to say that the newer referees need it more.   


According to our data, novice referees improve more in four consecutive matches with a communication headset, than they otherwise would in an entire 12-month period of continuous refereeing.   


THIS IS AN EXPONENTIAL IMPROVEMENT! 


Ignite Refereeing aims to provide as many referees as possible with a headset communication solution that is flexible, reliable, and cheap to produce. 


Not only that, Ignite Refereeing aims to provide all referees with a FREE headset communication unit.   

Grassroots VAR

Ignite Refereeing is also working another project, aiming at being able to bring the benefits of VAR to grassroots levels.  We think it is wrong that only the most important matches get it.  After all, EVERY match is important!    


This will bring huge benefits to so many aspects of the grassroots game.  Referees who are forced to step out onto the field without anyone else will instantly be able to always have a second pair of eyes.  Nothing will get missed.  The project will also look at ways of being able to store match footage for educational purposes and record-keeping as well.    

Revolutionary Education Tools

Ignite Refereeing is working on revolutionary Augmented Reality training simulation software, where referees will be able to be in a simulated match, away from prying eyes, where they can train and hone their skills until mastered, without the side-effects of their mistakes being made public and leaving themselves open to ridicule and abuse.  If you get it wrong, reset the simulator and try again.  


We believe it is in everyone's best interest to make this software accessible to as many people as possible, and that is exactly what the plan is.    

Paperless refereeing

Almost all of us carry around more technology in our pockets than ever before in history.  Some of us even WEAR some of that technology too. Smartphones and smart watches already do so much for us. So why, in this day and age, are they not used for refereeing?  Why is there a stigma of it being unable to help the beautiful game?  


Ignite Refereeing is currently developing smartphone and smartwatch apps that allow referees to control every aspect of their refereeing experience with their smart-devices.  


No more lost or damaged paperwork, no more erroneous entries, no forgotten reports.  Match info can be updated on-the-fly by the referee during the match.  This can be linked to a venue scoreboard, web match ticker, or any other entity that requires updates of the match.    


Having a smart device with you on the field has added benefits as well.  When refereeing matches with little or no security, theft is far less likely, and the referee has immediate access to emergency services should he find himself in a situation where his safety is threatened.    


Our prototype testing has shown that referees can make fewer errors, faster decisions, and spend less time distracted from the match by on-field admin.  

One-stop Shop for referees, by referees

Ignite Refereeing is developing a platform in which referees can: 

•  Have an unprecedented level of access to matches 

•  Keep track of their match appointments 

•  Give and receive feedback about their refereeing 

•  Receive payments electronically 

•  Self-train and have unlimited free access to educational material 

•  Have free and unlimited access to mental health support 

•  Have continuous access to the latest technological innovation in refereeing aids 

•  Utilise all the technology they currently have in their smart devices to collect data during training and matches, and a revolutionary way to show that data for referee self-improvement 


....and many more features yet to come!  

What we plan to do in future

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Greater research into, and creation of frameworks to manage, referee mental health

Ignite Refereeing plans to be there for referees whenever they need help.  


Ignite Refereeing intends to conduct research into the causes of mental illness in referees, along with effective frameworks and remedies to combat them.  


The Ignite Refereeing platform will have material to help referees deal with stress, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, substance abuse, and will contain an avenue for affected referees to get help.  

Undertaking of academic research into best practice of refereeing, rather than dogmatic

We also plan to develop and promote standards of refereeing based on actual data that is objective and will not be force-fed to referees.  We aim to equip referees with as many tools as possible, and they then pick the best one on the field.  We do not want to force-feed referees baseless and subjective dogma.    

We have plans to conduct a myriad of psychological, scientific, anthropological, sociological, and best practice studies, using the academic scientific method, on a solid foundation of data.     


We also have plans to conduct research into the development of anything that will benefit the game and of football its referees, no matter how against tradition it is.  We will not allow rigidity to get in the way of the best possible experience.