There is a great scene in a Ted Lasso episode, when Ted tells one of his players to "be like a gold fish." The gold fish is the happiest animal on earth per Ted, because it has a very short memory. If something bad happens, they forget about in 10 seconds or less. Sometimes, as a referee, we also need to be like a gold fish.
I LOVE being a referee, but not every match will be a good experience. Sometimes, we will a mistake. Sometimes, we won't see a foul that has occurred. Sometimes, we will make the wrong call on a foul that has occurred. Sometimes, that mistake will be a key match decision. All of the above has happened to me. Sometimes, all in one game.
Here is just a short list of the things that happen to me from time to time:
- Getting a throw-in direction wrong
- Calling something a foul that may not have been had my positioning been better
- Not playing a proper advantage
- Being slow to give a yellow card in a match
- Not giving someone a Red Card for something that probably should have been
That is just a small list. I'm sure there is more. I make mistakes. I think one of the most important things we can learn in life, is that you will never be perfect. If you aren't making mistakes, then you aren't doing anything challenging and you are playing things safe.
Even the top referees make mistakes. One study showed that Premier League refs only get about 90% of their calls correct. They have consistent training, constant assessments of their performance, 20 camera angles to review key match decisions, and yet, they still make mistakes. It happens.
To be a good ref, we need to expect and accept that mistakes happen, even if players, coaches and spectators can't. We can't change how others react, but we can control our own emotions and reactions.
I find that being humble on the pitch can be helpful. If I didn't see something, I will openly say to a player "Sorry I didn't see what you are saying happened. I'll look out for it and make sure to call it if I see it." If a coach is complaining about a throw in direction, I'll say something like, "Sorry coach. I saw it as coming off red from my position. You may have seen something else."
I try and be contrite, but not unconfident. I recognize that maybe I missed something. It's entirely possible. The important thing, is to have confidence in your abilities to call the game as you see it. Although I would say I am approachable, I never want to give the impression that coaches, players or fan reactions is going to influence my decision.
Sometimes, teams you are reffing, simply do not want to be ref'd. They complain about every call. You hear the classic "call it both ways" even when they are the team committing the majority of the fouls. If this is a youth team, they often have the worst parents. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. If the kids are complaining, you will find that that parents can be toxic and unwilling to accept defeat gracefully. It can be frustrating and emotionally draining.
As a ref, these challenging moments can get the better of us....if we lose perspective. We need to accept, that on the pitch, and in life, about 1/3 of our days will be great. A 1/3 will be OK. A 1/3 will be kind of crappy. That's life. It won't be bad all of the time and it won't be great all of the time. Will need to be like a goldfish. Forget that bad call or match and be happy. We are alive for another day, doing what we love to do.