The Eighth Man

Dealing with the Pressures of a Head Referee

“Play hard, play safe, and good luck.”

The captains shake hands and retreat to their respective sides.  Teammates gather to make any last minute strategy adjustments.  Shouts, screams, and singing break the silence as pre-game chants commence in an attempt to inspire the troops.  The starting 14 take their positions on the starting line.  A quick scan of the field to make sure everything is in place – the balls neatly aligned at mid-field, the hoops properly organized at each end, and the assistant referees stationed at their posts.  After verifying that each team is ready, you begin the ritual.

“Brooms down, eyes closed!”

Quiet blankets the field, and your heartbeat begins to quicken.  The players are now under your command.  You suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility.  You are tasked to uphold the rules and to protect the safety of the players.  From this point on, you are responsible for everything that happens on the field.

“The snitch is loose!”

For a brief moment of comic relief, the snitch dances around to relieve the tension in the air.  The crowd is momentarily entertained as the human ball bounces around the field.  But, despite what’s happening on the pitch, the weight never leaves your shoulders.  Nothing can save you from the pressure once the snitch takes his leave – it is the longest 90 seconds of the match.

In this moment, you suddenly flashback to all of your training, to all the times you debated the rules.  Pages of the rulebook flash through your head, and you do the best you can to recall each and every one of them.  You remember all of the great games that you’ve officiated, as well as all the calls that you’ve missed.

The assistant referees glance over at you.  Their trust is placed in your hands, just like your trust is placed in theirs.  One long, last deep breath to calm the nerves.

“Brooms up!”


Whether you have been officiating quidditch for one week or one year, the pressure never completely goes away.  The only sense of relief that you feel is when you sound the final three whistle blasts.  This is due to the fact that anything can happen in quidditch, which is really the combination of many other sports.

The only way to handle this pressure is to focus on preparation and training.  The road to becoming an IQA Certified Referee can be long and difficult.  Candidates must pass both a written and field exam, and even after they are certified, referees are constantly reviewed by the Referee Development Team (RDT).  This is to insure that all referees will either continue to sustain or improve the quality of their officiating over the course of the year.  Referees who consistently underperform are reviewed and either put on probation or stripped of certification.

Before entering the program, every candidate should always ask themselves, “why do I want to become a referee?”  It seems like an obvious question at first, but everyone enters the certification process for their own reasons.  Some love being the authority figure on the pitch, while others do it to better serve their respective regions.  Whatever the reason, one thing to remember is that money shouldn’t be the main goal.  It certainly helps curtail costs, but there are plenty of jobs out there that pay way more for a fraction of the stress.  If you approach the role as a duty to the league, you will be better off in the end.  The only reward that you should focus on is that the rules are followed and the players are safe.  The $12 is simply icing on the cake.

Before opening the ever-popular IQA Rulebook, it is important to understand the mindset of a referee.  It all starts with identifying and accepting some hard truths.  Whether you like to admit it or not, you are not immune to making mistakes or having the occasional bad game or two.  Most of it can be linked to being unprepared, but a large chunk can be attributed to an aspect common in all referees: being human.

Referees cannot see everything that happens on the playing field.  Even the highest-paid referees in the world make mistakes, and they are only concentrating on one ball. This isn’t intended to be an excuse, but rather a realistic view on officiating.  In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus’ eternal punishment was to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down, forcing him to begin again.  Similarly, referees will never be perfect – setting that boulder permanently on the top of the hill – but that should not stop them from training and striving to do better.  The proper mindset of an official is to accept that you can never be perfect, but you can train to be as close to it as possible

Odds are, if you have never played sports before, let alone officiated sports, the certification process will be a lot harder.  Contrary to Mollie Lensing’s excellent article last week on first-time quidditch players, a lot of referees who have a sports background tend to perform better.  They are used the flow of the game and the role that officials play in that environment.  This includes adjusting to the physicality and emotions of all the players, while still keeping an authoritative demeanor.

Similarly, those with an officiating background have the easiest time transitioning to quidditch refereeing, especially dealing with high-pressure situations where verbal attacks are common from both players and spectators.   This should not be a deterrent to those without a sports background – it simply indicates that they will need to work harder to reach the same point.

The best way to improve confidence on the field is by knowing the rules.  The rulebook is the direct source of power for every referee.  Live, eat, and breathe the rulebook.  Keep a copy of the rulebook everywhere: the car, at work, and on your nightstand at home.  When you feel like you’ve read it a million times, read it once more.

And after you have finished with rulebook, take the time to sit down and watch quidditch.  There is no substitute for live game action. Practices are fine, but you will never get the players’ full competitive spirit.

There is so much quidditch film out there, which was almost impossible to find years ago.  Watch the games and focus on what the referees are doing right or wrong.  Observe how they handle the teams and how well the game flows.  Take note of the athleticism of the players and how you would move on the pitch to keep up with them.  Observe the tendencies of each of the positions so that you know what to expect on the field.  You can learn a lot just by taking the time to watch and learn.

And, when you’re finally ready to take the plunge, start off with refereeing games in practice.  Officiate these games just as you would in an official game.  Encourage your teammates to yell and scream at you to simulate the pressures you’d be dealing with. This is the time to practice your positioning and communication.  Figure out what works and what does not work with your officiating-style.

At the end of a game, you will receive criticism.  Remember to take both the good and the bad.  Encourage teams to rate your performance and areas that you can improve on.  Ask your regional RDT member about ways that you can become a better referee.  Do not think of criticism as a negative.  Think of it as an opportunity to improve and grow within the sport.  None of us are perfect – there is always something that you can improve on.

In the end, the butterflies never really leave your stomach.  But with enough training and preparation, you will learn to embrace the pressure.


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