Communicate for Consistency

Posted on 18 March 2012 by Josh Bryan

You may have read my recent three part blog revealing my experiences with creating a Referee Communication Forum for rugby union referees (Click here for Part 1) . These blogs were focussed on how the forum was created and delivered to the specific community in focus, however, I didn’t provide you with examples of why a lot of the sporting community is essentially screaming out for these types of communication platforms. Hence, the Communicate for Consistency blog!

You can’t deny that we all blame the referee first when we lose something we were expected to win, although some of us have the control to keep these instinctive thoughts to ourselves! We know we should look for other reasons rather than instantly shifting the blame, but occasionally, the ventures down these thought paths just lead us straight back to the starting point, the referee.

For example, in Rugby Union, the area of the game which requires consistency and clarity is the breakdown. At lower levels, this part of the game seems to be refereed differently week by week dependent on the referee, leading to players never knowing what they can and can’t do. If the higher levels of the game had consistency week in week out at this area then the lower levels would be in even more uproar, however, the breakdown is a major focus for the elite levels that can annoy both players and coaches alike (Click here) . This area was the major driving force for the Referee Communication Forum, because if at the least all the referees and assessors involved could review clips and communicate around them in one central place, then players and coaches could be assured that the referees at the very top of the game would consistently referee in the same manner. This in turn would provide a model of good practice for all the referees right down to the grass roots of rugby.

Football is a sport where you could argue that the person with the most pressure upon them is not a player, coach or manager, but the referee. One minute, thousands of fans will agree with you and congratulate your decisions when you reward their side, but as soon as you go against them, you become the focus of their anger. An anger which is often dealt out directly by the players on the pitch, I wont go into this as I may take up all the storage the World Wide Web has to offer! After the game, a manager will always have something to say about the refereeing (Eg. Arsene Wenger) if they felt decisions were incorrect and the biggest theme that seems to arise is consistency (Click here) . One week, a tackle may be fine, the next it’s a yellow card and the week after it is a red. There is a lack of consistency between referees and also a lack of consistency with one referee from game to game. Understandably, this would lead anybody to feel hard done by if they don’t seem to be playing to the same rules as others. I recently came across a good website called “Rate The Ref” , a place where anyone can rate the referee from football competitions and also see an average rating for these referees over a large sample of games (Website , Twitter @RateTheRef) . It would be interesting to know how many of the low ratings were due to inconsistency…

Other sports such as cricket and tennis for example, have taken out this element of consistency in areas of the game by implementing technology. By using HawkEye, there is no longer a lack of consistency in decisions when players choose to “go upstairs” as the method for checking is programmed to have as little error as possible. We know that their is ongoing debate about goal-line technology in football, with Fifa finally making a decision in July this year, but the rugby and football examples described above cannot be solved by technology. It seems that the most powerful tool we can use to solve the lacks of consistency is communication.

If referees are reviewing footage together and finally deciding on how they will referee each area, then consistency can surely be improved. If these discussions and reviews were happening in a central place that assessors could administrate, then players, coaches, managers and fans could be assured that referees were working together to improve consistency and avoid frustration and confusion for all involved. As all sports people will know, communication is a major skill that can improve performance. So let’s promote positive communication and learning environments for referees from the top down and encourage them to…

Communicate for Consistency!


1 Comments For This Post

  1. Hai-Binh Ly Says:

    Nice article. I find the problems with consistent referee decisions runs parallel to operational definitions: the rules can be defined with precision but it can always be interpreted differently. The solutions to both are probably similar also and alluding in the article: find video clips of the refereeing decisions, particularly those difficult ones, and for those in charge to say the decision should be this for these reasons. Or a solution as provided by Josh Bryan where a community can help shape how decisions can and should be made.

    I am also a huge proponent of the challenge system and video replays. In every match there is normally a big refereeing decision that goes wrong which could have been a turning point in a match. Challenge and see whether it really did cross the goal line, whether it was really a penalty and any off the ball incidents. It may take a minute or two but getting the decision right is certainly better than getting the decision wrong but quickly. I am sure the how, when and what situations to be challenged can be decided by smarter people than I.

    Communication is stated as important in the article. Another way I feel referee communication can be implemented is via referee interviews after a match. Referees can explain how and why they decided those (normally) controversial decisions. It will give managers, players and fans the workings of how the decision was made. They still might not agree but at least it would give a platform for communication rather than the ranting and raving that normally goes on.


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