Know When to Say When
By Brian Goodlander
When is enough of a good thing too much? Referees need to ask themselves that question on a regular basis. Have you gone from a hard-working referee to an over-worked referee? Has refereeing become an obsession with you? What are the signs of referee burnout? How can you prevent it from happening?
Physical fatigue. Your body often tells you when you are doing too much. Those aches and pains in your joints are clues that your body needs rest. If you survive on a regular dose of popular muscle relievers, you may want to turn back some games and let your body recover. One sure sign that your body needs a break is when you are tired and unproductive at work and at home. Assuming you get enough sleep, your body should be able to recover overnight sufficiently to allow you to remain alert and attentive throughout the next day. If you lack rest, and push yourself too hard, your sleep becomes fitful and you feel lethargic during the working day.
Mental fatigue. Every referee must ask the question when stepping onto the field: "Am I still having fun?" As you wear yourself down physically, your mental fitness suffers. Just as it is difficult to maintain mental focus late in a game if your physical fitness is failing, it is difficult to enjoy a game if you are physically and mentally exhausted.
As an avid soccer referee, I referee constantly. During the spring, I work recreational and USSF matches. In the summer, there is a tournament almost every weekend and holiday. In the fall, I add high school matches into a busy soccer schedule. To top it off, in the winter, I work indoor soccer matches. Last winter, I was increasingly irritable with whining coaches that I normally could just ignore or deal with in a polite but effective manner. I issued more cautions than normal and I was beginning to dread my next game.
Based on good advice from a referee friend, I took a break and whistled no games for more than a month. When the spring season returned, I found that I enjoyed my matches and was more effective as a referee.
Potential fixes. The best fix is to maintain an on-going log of games. By reviewing that log, you determine how many games you average a week or a month and compare that number to what you are currently averaging. Some people set limits. I will not accept an assignment to more than five games a week, nor will I spend more than three hours refereeing on the weekends. Get to know your limits. Become more aware of yourself. If you are beginning to show signs of physical or mental fatigue, accept fewer games. Work with your assignors and make sure they know that if you exceed your limit, your effectiveness suffers.
Balance Officiating and Family. For every obsessive referee there is a disconnected family. Your spouse, children or even pet is at home waiting for your company. Fill your own needs and goals with the rest of family by combining family time with your officiating. Spend some of the money you earn officiating on your family, take them out to dinner, go to the zoo, or even a weekend getaway. Combine an out of town tournament with a family trip. Work a few games and save some time and energy for the family.
Alternative Games. If you just can't tear yourself away from the games, back off by dropping down an age group or skill level. Sometimes it is refreshing to work a younger game and remember why you started refereeing.
Alternative Exercise. Another potential fix is to find a different way to get your exercise. Try riding a bike, taking a walk with your spouse or go for a swim. Cross training is an effective means of keeping your conditioning and provide variety. Granted, the best training is to train at the type of exercise you are trying to improve. To be a better runner, you must run. Even world class athletes vary their training regimen. Variation takes the repetition out of your days.
The biggest take-away from this whole discussion is that every official must learn to balance their work, their play, their officiating, and their family life to keep your life on and off the court/field fun and fresh.
(Brian Goodlander is a USSF, Soccer for American Youth and high school referee in the Cincinnati area. He is a board member of South West Ohio Soccer Officials Association.)