Emotionless Referee – How To Avoid Most Mistakes

Howard Webb, the English top referee refused to give a red card to a player from Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of the semi final in the Champions Leage. “He was not a referee at that moment, he was a human being”, Jose Mourinho from Real Madrid said, “I talked with him (Webb), and he told me he didn’t sent the player off because he then wouldn’t have played in the final.” The handball happened 18 minutes before the final whistle with 4-1 on aggregate to the guests at Bernabeu.

Howard WebbAs usual, refs cannot comment in the press, so Mourinho was glad to be a spokesman of Webb, making the situation controversial from the point of the public. Let’s pretend Mourinho told the truth and Webb was really a human not disqualifying the player because of the finals. Just a couple of questions.

What is the correct decision?

If no red card, what would the other finalist (Bayern München) think of this decision? If red card should have been given, and Webb missed it really because of the human factor, what can we do to eliminate it?

I’ve been there many times. I am a human being in the first place. I have emotions, both good and bad, and sometimes I don’t rule them. They rule me. Emotions distort reality and lead many people to mistakes. I could quote loads of examples, I guess everyone can. If you really think about it, I’m sure you can recall situations when emotions let you make bad decisions.

So, what about a solution?

Simple, as always, on paper. Be aware of your emotions, and keep the balance on your calls. But how do you do it? How can you rule out your feelings and biased emotions?

First, you build foundation realizing that you are a referee on the games, not a human being.

Second, you need to be a robot with intelligence. Adjust to the type, participants, and environment (sometimes readjust during the game) and when done, you need to manage the game like a robot.

Third, make every call the same, emotionally. The simplest calls with the least effect are exactly the same as the huge impact decisions. You need to make those calls with the same mindset and heart rate.

Watch yourself after every call. How do you think? How do you handle different situations? What emotions arise when making an easy call right, an easy call wrong and a difficult well done and a same mistaken during the game? These emotions should be the same.

There is another dimension; the personal feelings toward participants. That’s what we better try and close out for the game. You have good friends as well as people who try to ruin your game. Be aware, and handle your emotions towards them on the court. They are only athletes playing to win, and the more detached you can be emotionally, the better job you can do.

How to get emotionally detached?

  1. Accept that your job is to call how things happen. You don’t actually commit fouls and mistakes, you only judge them.
  2. Accept that you can make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, maybe on every game. You need to accept this and make sure it doesn’t bother you at all, because your comfort is not attached to the perfect game, but to excellent concentration. If you do what it takes, that’s good enough, and you need to…
  3. …learn from your mistakes. The sooner you make them, the sooner you learn from them. Be grateful for your mistakes and free yourself from the stressful need to be perfect.
  4. Breathe. Relax and release tension taking deep breath before and during a game. You can meditate right before the game, watching only your breath for a couple of minutes.
  5. Mentally rehearse making even the most emotionally difficult calls, with the same relaxed and flexible mind. Imagine your previous mistakes called right. It can be easily done with some practice. Think only on positive experiences or make them up for yourself. If you have problems, or you want to know more, feel free to see this post on modeling excellence.
  6. Take action. Make every call with the same emotions. Watch yourself and go back to breathe if you fall out of sync. Use your expertise in meditation. React to everything with perfect equanimity.
  7. Accept mistakes and remake them instantly as learning opportunities.
  8. Build a habit on it. Feel free to practice on every game. It’s the well known “the more you do it, the easier it becomes” equation.

Meditation is the single most powerful technique for managing your emotions. You can also write about your emotions in a private journal or blog. That will help you analyze and forget sooner.

I don’t know if Webb was right or wrong on this call, and I’m not here to judge at all. I fully respect him as an official and a human being. I guess, he owns the talent of taking every opportunity to a great lesson learned.

Control your emotions! If you do it game-by-game, you definitely will rise.

Both as a human being and a referee.

What do you think about it? How should we deal with emotions? Should we deal with them at all? I appreciate every single opinion. Leave your marks in the comments.

About Peter

Peter Papp is an enthusiastic supporter of open-minded referees, international basketball referee (FIBA) and NLP Master Practitioner. Peter is the founder of RefereeMindset.com.


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