Sport psychologists look at sports officials – and invite them in

Bente Ovèdie Skogvang
Hedmark University of Applied Sciences, Norway

Clare MacMahon & et al Sports Officials and Officiating: Science and Practice 162 pages, hft. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-0-415-83575-6
Clare MacMahon et al
Sports Officials and Officiating: Science and Practice
162 pages, paperback.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2015
ISBN 978-0-415-83575-6

The authors’ aim of the book is to increase knowledge about sports officials (umpires, referees, judges), a subject which is less focused in sport science. Sport scientists and top level officials examine the science and practice of officiating in sport to bring knowledge and understanding of skills, techniques and physical requirements of successful refereeing. The authors’ definition of sports officials has taken into account the many different types of officials, varying from the football (soccer) referee to the gymnastics judge to the linesperson in tennis. They use the Sport and Recreation New Zealand’s (SPARC) definition of an official: ‘any person who controls the actual play of a competition by using the rules and laws of the sport to make judgements on rule infringement, performance, time and score. Officials play a key role in ensuring that the spirit of the game and/or event is observed by all.’ Here the authors underline that sports officials’ roles are a manifold of duties, like to be able to bring control to chaos, understand fairness, promote safety, and encourage good sportsmanship at the same time. They summarize that a sports official must have the positive characteristics of a police officer, lawyer, judge, accountant, reporter, athlete and diplomat.

In the introduction in chapter 1 the authors correctly argue that there is far more research on athletes than there is on officials, and they bring new insight into an area with limited research. They explain their concept ‘official’ and the different types of officials, and they give an overview of the book. The book covers a wide range of key components of the officials’ role, including training and career development, fitness and physical preparation, visual processing, judgement and decision-making, communication and game management, psychological demands and skills, using technology, performance evaluation, and it also reflects upon researching and studying of officials in sport. The book gives insight into officiating in the manifold forms existing across different sports. But, as sport officiating differ a lot from sport to sport, to address sports officials as a collective can be experienced both as strength and a weakness with the book. To cover all these different areas across different sport types and different sports officials is not an easy task, which also the authors are aware of.

In chapter 2 the development of officials in a broader perspective is addressed. Here three types of officials are identified: the interactors, with high interaction and physical movement demands and often a large number of cues to process (i.e. football referee); sport monitors, with medium interaction and physical demands and medium to large number of cues to monitor (i.e. gymnastics judge); and reactors, with low interaction and movement demands and low to medium number of cues to track (i.e. tennis line judge). These types are to referred throughout the book, and are in my opinion a very useful tool also when the authors propose an adapted model of the different developmental pathways and provide labels for officials at the different stages.

Chapter 3 addresses the fact that many officials work with high physical demands and evaluations, and use the research on football referees as examples. The chapter presents data from activity patterns, type of activity and how to develop training programmes. From my own referee career, I know that this research has been crucial for football referees. In contrast I remember from Atlanta Olympics 1996, that we did the fitness test outdoors, in the middle of the day with +45 degrees Celsius and 80 per cent humidity, which never would happen today. The link between physical demands and decision-making is also addressed, which for many referees especially in team sports, like ice hockey, handball and football is crucial. The examples from research in football can in my opinion also be applied to other officials with high interaction and physical demands.

The three officials’ voices from football, squash and basketball give a good overview of the variety in the field of officiating.

Chapter 4 focuses on visual perception, which is the basis of all officiating judgements. Also here the research presented is from football, but the authors give good examples from other team sports like basketball.

Judgement and decision-making tasks for officials depend heavily on the rule book for each sport. Chapter 5 discusses biases that can arise from context and the underlying processes in memory and information processes, i.e. ‘the home advantage’, and it’s followed by chapter 6, ‘Interaction and game management’, which pinpoints that an essential skill in decision-making and communication is knowledge about and use of the context. The authors discuss three components of game management, which includes organization, contextual judgement and communication, i.e. the referee’s philosophy, personality, communication skills, body language is focused. At the end the referee gives even deeper insights into the themes addressed in the chapter.

Psychological skills and demands of officiating are well illuminated in chapter 7, where mental skills such as self-talk, imagery and pre-event routines are described. In addition, the chapter gives good guidance on appropriate features of successful goal-setting, ending with the two officials’ experiences from their practice in skating and rugby.

Use of technology in officiating is discussed in chapter 8, where it often looks like spectators’ trust in technology is too high. Most common technical aids used by sports officials are presented and their pros and cons are discussed.

In chapter 9, work that addresses selection, training and evaluation of officials’ performance is reviewed. For instance coping with stress, the use of video-based training, and methods and models used in the evaluation of performance is touched upon and discussed. The three officials’ voices from netball, squash and basketball give a good overview of the variety in the field of officiating.

In the last chapter, the authors present their overall conclusions, and invite to broader research in the area of sport officiating. The authors have brought together a lot of different studies of officials, and show a good overview of the field. However, since football (soccer) referees are the most frequently studied area, many of the examples are from football. Many of these examples can be applied on other sports, but this also underlines the need of more research both in other team sports, and in individual sports.

One of the outstanding strengths of the book is the ‘Official’s call’ at the end of each chapter, which brings up the officials’ voices from their own perspective and practice. Normally when you grasp a wide range of themes and perspectives, you may lose the nuances in the different sports, but in this book they manage to show both similarities and differences through categorizing the officials in three types, the interactors, the sport monitors and the reactors. Moreover, the book is well-written and comprehensible and gives a lot of new insights both for people with experiences from officiating and for researchers, students, coaches, leaders and others without personal experiences from refereeing.

I warmly recommend this book for sport scientist, sport coaches, leaders, administrators and officials as well as for students in sport sciences, because it addresses an central area of sport studies that is definitely under researched.

Copyright @ Bente Ovèdie Skogvang 2016


Table of Content

1. Introduction
2. Development of Officials Official’s Call (Janie Frampton- former National Referee Manager, the Football Association (FA), England)
3. Physical Demands Official’s Call (Bill Mildenhall, Referee Development Officer, Basketball Victoria and Victorian Basketball Referees Association, Australia)
4. Visual Perception
5. Judgment and Decision Making Official’s Call (Ralf Brand, referee and member of Referee’s Advisory Board, Basketball Bundesliga (BEKO BBL), Germany)
6. Interaction and Game Management Official’s Call (Wayne Barnes, International Rugby Board (IRB) referee, England)
7. Psychological Demands and Skills Official’s Call (Marika Humphreys-Baranova, International Skating Union (ISU) judge, ISU trainer and examiner of Technical Specialists, England; Chris White, Rugby Football Union (RFU) Referee Academy Manager, England)
8. Technology Official’s Call (Holger Albrecht, Federation International de Gymnastique (FIG) technical committee member for men’s artistic gymnastics, Germany; Graham Hughes, International Rugby Board (IRB) Television Match Official (TMO), England)
9. Selection, Training, and Evaluation of Performance Official’s Call (Jacqui Jashari, International Netball Umpire; Umpire coach and mentor, Australia; Tony Parker, International Squash Official, England; Tom Lopes, Executive Director of International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO), USA)10. Conclusion

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