Self-directed Development Initiatives

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

Have you ever asked yourself where you are and where you want to be in trying to reach your Interscholastic Referee career goals? If you haven’t, you certainly should begin with this as a first step. You should long ago have set goals for yourself that express the level of competency and accomplishment that you want to realize as a Referee. By setting those goals in well thought out terms, and then by crafting a plan to go about reaching those goals through a long-term learning program, you can help yourself work towards becoming the best possible Referee

In short, you should take on the responsibility for your own development. Set your goals, design a plan, and work towards your goals. That way, you can then more intelligently take advantage of all the different resources that you can use to learn and develop as a Referee.

There are any number of resources that you can turn to and get help in moving towards you career goals. Some are furnished by organizations involved in helping the development of a competent Interscholastic Referees.  Some resources are available for self-help, self-learning, and self-evaluation. Most, but not all, are available for the asking.  All involve some effort on your part, whether it’s studying, extra effort, or participation in professional-development Referee groups, or trying out common-sense advice and techniques that help you learn more about your profession.

Formal Initiative – Regular Assessment.

The first, and most obvious way of finding out where you are in your competency, a program strengths, and additional needs as a Soccer Referee is to get a periodic assessment by a trained Assessor who is either certified by your State High School Association, or by NISOA, who trains and certifies Assessors for both the high school and college Referee programs. A game assessment can be made through your Local NISOA Chapter.

There is a minor expense involved, but compared to the practical advice and experienced insights you receive in the process, you’ll receive excellent value that will help you over the course of your referee career well beyond the investment. A certified NISOA Assessor is skilled, experienced, and well-trained to point out those game performance skills that are your strengths, and offer alternative practices for you to try for those skills that need strengthening that can help you become a top-performing Referee.

If you haven’t tried going through a game assessment, I urge you to do so at least once during each season.

Formal Initiative – Mentor Program.

A second way is for you to participate in a NISOA-style Mentor program. Your local High School Referee group, or your State High School Association, may also offer one. Many NISOA Chapters have established Mentor programs. A well-designed Mentor program pairs you with an experienced Interscholastic Referee over a long term. The pairing  involves careful design of long-term Referee goals, regular tracking of progress, frequent contact and discussion of progress, consideration of needs for next-step advancement, and working through specific problems that might arise.

If your local Referee group or State Association does not have an organized Mentor system in operation that you can participate in, you might want to ask them to obtain the materials available from NISOA to implement  a program for the benefit of your group. Again, this program, of which assessment is a part, is one that could be of great benefit to you. Referee mentor programs have proven to be very effective in practice.

While these first two suggestions involve formal programs, the next several suggestions involve self-development activities that you can pursue on your own, and that can help you advance.

Self-Development Initiative – The Post Game Referee Team Debriefing.

As a third initiative always conduct, and/or take an active part in, a post-game Referee Team Debriefing after every game in which you are part of the assigned Referee Team.  During this short meeting immediately after a game ends, all Referee Team members have the opportunity discuss specific game challenges, problems, and alternatives for handling by each Referee Team member. In other words, you can candidly and openly discuss how you all did as a Referee Team, and what you all might have done to better manage each situation that occurred. This is one of the most effective ways you can take advantage of to learn how to improve your refereeing.

If you do not do this regularly, after every game in which you participate as a Referee Team member, you are really missing a very great opportunity to benefit from this less-formal system of group self-assessment. Fifteen minutes post-game, spent by the Referee Team reviewing game incidents and sharing thoughts about how the Referee Team might have better handled game incidents, could be yet another very effective learning opportunity for all concerned.  All of the top referees I have known over the years regularly use this technique to strengthen their individual and Referee Team performance.

It is the immediacy of the debriefing while all game details are fresh in mind that gives this technique its greatest strength as an effective self-development technique.

Self-Development Initiative – Analyze Your Past Caution and Disqualification Reports.

Do you take even the simplest self-evaluation opportunities when they arise?  As one example, do you save copies of all of the caution and disqualification reports you write up each season. Do you take time out during the season to re-read them later on, and review in your own mind (or discuss with others) how you might have handled the incidents in a way that might have gotten a better result?

This fourth self-development initiative is to save copies of all of the Caution and Disqualification reports that you write up; review these periodically; study and analyze each incident described and the action(s) you took at the time; if necessary discuss them with other experienced Referees without divulging the names of the schools, teams or players involved; analyze each report to determine if alternate control methods might have worked better that the action(s) you took at the time.

This is a simple but potentially effective way to improve your future handling of participant behavior problems, which are important to your game control. Think about doing this, one of the simplest types of self-development.

Self-Development Initiative – Ask for Assigner Feedback.

A fifth initiative is to ask your game Assigner to share school feedback about performance, good and bad, as it comes in. Many Coaches “unload” both positive and negative feedback on the Assigner. The Assigner is normally the first person contacted by the school when either a good compliment is offered or a complaint is lodged about the quality of refereeing for a particular game.

Unfortunately, many Assigners wait until the end of a season to share the feedback with the Referees in that group, and often only communicate through general, non-specific  feedback. There is a benefit to receiving feedback as soon after it is received by the Assigner because the immediacy of the game and situations involved are still clear in your mind and you can consider whatever feedback is offered more intelligently.  If a potential performance problem is cited, you should become aware of it quickly, so that you can have the opportunity to consider what steps to correct or improve, if any, should be considered.

Self-Development Initiative– Ask to Review School Videos of Your Games.

Have you ever tried to ask a school you refereed for to let you borrow and view a tape of one or more games you refereed?  This type of self-analysis and self-assessment might be quite revealing and most helpful to you.

This sixth initiative has the advantage of being able to view a game and game situations any number of times to make sure you view all that happened and all factors concerning each incident that you should have observed in order to make the best decisions during that game. Viewing and analyzing a game using the video allows the depth of analysis that yields a good, thorough learning experience.

Self-Development Initiative – Discuss Game Situations and Problems With Other Referees.

As a seventh self-development initiative, realize that there are many Interscholastic Referee colleagues who have special capabilities to be able to offer help and suggestions about your refereeing concerns. Many of these are trained, certified Interscholastic Clinicians from NISOA or your State Association; others are experienced, successful Interscholastic Referees; while yet others are Interscholastic Administrators, Interpreters, or just plain Interscholastic Referee Colleagues who are more than happy to share what they have learned about successful refereeing with you if asked. There is a wealth of help you can realize from discussing with them any refereeing question or concern you may have.

Self-Development Initiative – Observe Your Colleagues.

As an eighth initiative, try to get to be a spectator at a high school game from time to time, so that you can study how other Referees perform on the field. Many Interscholastic Referees have developed a number of different ways to successfully handle game events or situations that need Referee intervention. Not every Referee uses the same techniques to handle game situations. There is usually more than one way to successfully handle a game situation, and by observing other Referees you may well observe a successful technique that you may want to try to see if it can be useful in your games.

Remember, because of the nature of soccer and the stress on individual and team creativity, the game and player conduct is very fluid and dynamic. The more options for handling given situations and conduct you are capable of using, the better chance that you will be able to handle these game events more easily and competently over time.

While spending a little extra time watching an occasional game officiated by a Referee colleague may seem to be questionable, the real value received from doing this can be quite helpful to you.

Self-Development Initiative – Use Other Self-Study Interscholastic Soccer Referee Resources.

As a ninth initiative, and the last suggestion in this discussion, there are many self-study resources easily available to you in pursuing your self-directed studies.

As one example, try referring to the web site.  There are three regular monthly columns of training materials for self-study on this site:  (1) the “Referee Nuts and Bolts” column, which presents short, basic technique-oriented discussions and hints for improving your performance, (2) the “For the Interscholastic Referee” column, which presents extended discussions of specific techniques and concerns for the high school soccer Referee, and (3) the “For the Intercollegiate Referee” column, that presents

in-depth discussions of specific techniques and issue relevant to college soccer refereeing.

As another example, try the relatively new NFHS Soccer Officials Education Channel that is part of the web site. They have recently begun to provide a video-based library dealing with such diverse topics and examples as: Fouls, Restarts, Play Situations, Management, and Mechanics.


All these suggestions for assuming responsibility for your own development as an Interscholastic Soccer Referee can and should be tried by you as your time and availability permit. They can all be fruitful in terms of giving you the type of information that can be the basis of your improved performance as a Referee. All of the successful Referees I have known over the years have tried combinations of these initiatives. Give them a try. You’ll like it!