Nathan Verboomen: interview with FIFA referee from Belgian premier league

Referee Nathan Verboomen is carried by a positive flow: FIFA referee, officiating Belgium’s top-billing matches…  “It appears I have not reached my ceiling yet,” he muses in an interview with Dutch Referee Blog. In addition to offering a glimpse into Nathan’s career, this interview will spill the details of the weekly training regimen of an elite referee and share tips to help you stay motivated. 

The story was translated by Ben van Maaren, which is greatly appreciated. Ben has a great collection of refereeing books and magazines. Check it out on benbalin.libib.com or follow Ben on Twitter.

Referee Nathan Verboomen
Nathan Verboomen during UCL qualifier Legia Warsaw and Omonia Nicosia

Pre-match anticipation

“It’s the pre-match anticipation that puts the fun into refereeing,” Nathan Verboomen observes. “You have a goal to train for. Then there’s the preparations, which you do together with your assistants, and then the match itself. That’s not all, though. Taking those tough decisions during a match and knowing you were right. Playing that advantage, and just enjoying the match unfolding before your eyes, witnessing a belter of a goal. Simply being allowed to be part of football. Like: Whoa! I’m right in the middle of it. In the middle of players selected for our Red Devils [the nickname for the Belgian national squad], for example.

The higher the level, the more Nathan enjoys himself. Better football, fewer mistakes. “In the local leagues, you blow your whistle constantly.” He’s found that the pros will try and get that advantage, even after a minor offence. They also have a better understanding of the game and tend to accept decisions better, especially if you let the game flow. 

How to keep yourself motivated as a second-tier ref

In addition to reffing matches in Belgium’s top tier and international ties, Nathan Verboomen sometimes gets assigned to second-tier matches. “It’s at this level that you have to prove your worth, so you get those big-ticket matches later.” In fact, the expectations the clubs in Belgium’s second pro league have of Nathan Verboomen may be higher than they are in Europe. “Because in Belgium they know who I am, so I can’t afford any slip-ups here.” 

Although there are no UEFA Youth League ties at the moment, Nathan Verboomen does see plenty of opportunity for development and is highly motivated. “I’m in a positive flow right now, the trend is upwards. I get appointed to many top-five matches, like Anderlecht vs Genk.” He expects that while for international elite referees the Champions League may provide a stimulus, Anderlecht vs Brugge is still the top assignment in Belgium. After all, they have been the top rivals and title contenders in Belgium through the ages. 

A referee needs a challenge

Nathan Verboomen is always eager going to a match. “I have yet to reach my ceiling, which makes it easier to deal with setbacks. That positive flow is still carrying me upwards.” He does believe that it can be demotivating for young referees to be told at their early age that that road upwards is closed to them. “That puts a real damper on your motivation and ambitions.” According to Nathan, it is similar to your job. You want to develop, see how far you can grow in your position. If you reach the ceiling, you either settle for that, or you start looking for something new. 

Nathan Verboomen at the VAR screen in the Belgian top league

Manage your expectations

There are fewer than 20 referees in the Belgian top league, but once you reach that level, you immediately start at the bottom of the European ladder again. Nathan Verboomen takes his development seriously, taking one step at a time. “That another major tip I want to share with starting referees. Don’t start out by saying you want to be an international referee. Take it a step at a time. A tough match in your Saturday league may set you back already.” 

Although there’s nothing wrong with having a dream, Nathan Verboomen warns against begin overly optimistic. “The opportunities in Europe are few and far between as it is, and it’s at those very times that you have to prove your mettle. For some of us, things can develop rapidly, very rapidly, for others it’s the end of the ride after a single poor performance. I guess that’s the extra bit of pressure that comes with refereeing.” 

You need to be aware of the fact that the chances of being appointed to the World Cup final are slim. It’s a once-in-four-years tournament, with the man in charge of the final often coming from another continent. 

Continue to develop yourself

Nathan’s goalkeeper career was cut short, after he spent too much time digging balls from the net behind him. He played at too low a level for his career as a referee to benefit from it, he believes. “Many of my colleagues in the Belgian First Division played at much higher levels. Reading the game is probably my biggest weakness, they’re better at it.” But he’s working on it. “What do players expect? That “big match feeling” is something you will get, particularly if you make it to the top. As a referee, you start your run before the ball has even been kicked, you know where it will end up. That’s why they often say: the higher up you go, the easier it gets. The game makes more sense.”

Nathan Verboomen: Reffing and private life 

After ten years combining his teaching job with reffing, and two years as a FIFA referee, Nathan called quits on his time in the classroom. He was a full-time pro referee for a year and then accepted a job as nutrition expert for 6D Sports Nutrition.

“In that year as a pro referee, I found the focus on refereeing to be overbearing. You eat, sleep and drink football. Too much football is not good either. You need diversity. I got that in my personal life when my son was born, but in my working life I also need to be able to focus on different things.” 

Nutrition is key. According to Nathan, referees should put their diets under the microscope, see how nutrition can help them recover more quickly after a match, for example. “Your muscles need to recover after exercise. Sleep is one way, and you can also adapt your sports nutrition.” 

Nathan Verboomen’s week of training

Nathan has had no trouble motivating himself at any point during the pandemic. “I’m a sucker for exercise, I love to train.” He believes training is where you can set yourself apart from the others. Train now and enjoy the sweet fruit of your labour later, is his mantra. 

In January and February, there were a ton of midweek matches to catch up with the schedule. In Belgium, as in many other countries, the season started late on account of the pandemic. Physically, those midweek matches proved heavily demanding, so you adjust your training efforts accordingly. With one match a week, this is Nathan’s ideal training schedule. 

What does Nathan’s match preparation look like? “You know, you kind of slip into a pattern. It does not take super long. I activate my muscles before the game, get that acceleration in them. Stamina is not the issue. Warm up well. Active stretching to reduce muscle soreness afterwards.” Nathan also does core training and power training on top of his normal exercise. 

He remarks that there’s plenty of options for referees if they don’t have a fixture. “Even online. I noticed you had an item about Jan Boterberg.” This colleague of Nathan, from Oostende, organised online exercises, which I (Jan) was welcome to attend as a blogger on refereeing. “Excellent initiative!” 

Vary your training

“It makes no sense to train like a fanatic every day,” Nathan stresses. “Vary your training, listen to your body. Rest is just as much training as exercise. But if you train, train well. If I do High Intensity training and my schedule says 10 minutes, I try to put in 11 minutes. Just that one step extra. But on those days that you need to rest, you absolutely take your rest.” 

“As a referee, you don’t work towards one specific moment building up your training regimen. “It’s important to stay fit throughout the season. Referees like Björn Kuipers, they also work towards the Euros and will adjust their regimen accordingly. But normally, as a referee you need to make sure you’re fit from day 1 all the way to the final day. Don’t peak out or you’ll start sliding downwards. You have to be at the top of your fitness level at the start of the season and stay at that level as long as possible.”

The story was translated by Ben van Maaren, which is greatly appreciated. Ben has a great collection of refereeing books and magazines. Check it out on benbalin.libib.com or follow Ben on Twitter.

Why the SDS fitness test for referees is so important

The SDS fitness test for referees has been introduced by UEFA 3 years ago. It is part of their innovations for the physical preparation of elite referees. Following 3 test sessions during winter and summer courses, it was observed that referees showed a better standard of fitness. Referees deliver more high intensity runs than before, especially in UEFA competitions compared to domestic matches. Before, other tests were used like the FIFA fitness test or the Yo Yo test. Why does this relatively new test by Uefa help you and why has it been developed?

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Uefa referee fitness exercise

A Uefa referee fitness exercise: what does that look like? I’ve found an exercise online that was created for Uefa referees by Werner Helsen and shared by other national associations. It focuses on speed and has a long sprint in it. Curious about it? I’ll explain in the video below.

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Referee Clément Turpin: advice from a French top official

Referee Clément Turpin officiates the Europa League final in 2021 and will go to the next European Championships. In this blog post you’ll get a look into his career, plus some great insights in his fitness routines and match preparation. 

The quotes in this story come from the wonderful Uefa documentary Man in the Middle. You can also watch the tips below in the video.

Smallest details are crucial to reach the top

Turpin finds the balance in the countryside and the hectic life as football referee with games all over Europe. He became a referee at the age of 16, but he never saw himself 20+ years later as an international referee. And 2021 will be the pinnacle of his career so far, with an appointment for the Europa League final between Manchester United and Villarea. He also goes to the Euro 2020 tournament.

Reaching the top comes to the smallest details, he says. “And these details, if you don’t have persons to help you to show what are these details, then it’s very difficult.”

Roberto Rosetti was his mentor 4 years ago and he helped him with finalising these last details that made him the referee that could become an Uefa Elite referee. “It’s so important to have a person with a lot of experience and a fantastic spirit to push you to reach this target.” 

Match preparation by referee Clément Turpin

Clément Turpin organises the match preparation around 4 topics. 

  • Tactical organisation
  • Set pieces – “in modern football set pieces are so important”
  • Offside situations
  • Behaviour of the players

“Thanks to these 4 topics I try to have a perfect view of both teams.” And during the game mutual respect helps you manage the game. “I give always respect to players and coaches, so I expect respect from them as well.”

As you can see, he does a very thorough preparation. It reminds me how the Dutch referees prepare for their games. In this story with video analyst John Balvers you can read more how they analyse all the clips and teams.

Still from Uefa’s documentary Man in the Middle

Find motivation to train

Because referees and the assistants in their team don’t always live nearby, they can’t train always as a team. “The differences between players and referees is for sure the motivation to go to the training”, Turpin says. “Because when you’re alone, it is difficult to find the motivation. But when you have the target of the Champions League matches, believe me, the motivation is so easy to have.”

An advice for all of us. Although you might not officiate at international level, you also have targets as a referee and keep these in mind and you’ll be more motivated to train. 

Don’t underestimate the physical aspect

“The physical aspect is one of the most important ones for referees. The intensity of play increases season after season and the referee has to follow. That’s why we have to do training sessions every day. That is normal.” The French top referee is convinced the training intensity of players and referees is more or less the same. “We have to sprint at high intensity, we repeat this high intensity. That’s why I have to focus on the physical aspect.” 

Also amateur levels improve, so should you as a referee. During the season you get tips every #FitnessFriday on my Instagram or YouTube

Referee Riem Hussein to officiate WUCL final 2021

Referee Riem Hussein officiates the Women’s Champions League final in 2021. In this story you’ll read some tips from this German top referee, based on an interview she gave to Uefa before the final. 

A dream comes true for her and she’s happy with the support of her team. “You can’t be successful as a referee on your own. Refereeing is a team sport for me. We all need to be on the same level, to work together, speak together and help each other. There’ll be 100% concentration, especially because of the importance of the match.”

Below the image you’ll see the names of the full refereeing team, including VAR. Plus some great advice for you as a referee.

Referee Riem Hussein
Referee Riem Hussein at the Women’s World Cup in 2019

Riem Hussein’s UCL final team

Referee: Riem Hussein (Germany)
Assistants: Katrin Rafalski (Germany), Sara Telek (Austria)
Fourth Official: Katalin Kulcsár (Hungary)
VAR: Bastian Dankert (Germany)
Assistant VAR: Christian Dingert (Germany)
Reserve Assistant Referee: Julia Magnusson (Sweden)

Experience as player helps you as ref

Riem Hussein played football too, but after arguing a lot with the referee, she started to study the Laws of the Game for herself. Because she liked it, she started to officiate games on the days she was not active as a player. That helped her a lot in her career. “Referees need a feeling for football,” she says in the Uefa article. “It’s a big advantage if they’ve been players. Then you also need a good physical condition, endurance, stamina and anticipation.”

Use your personality to manage a game

According to Riem Hussein, management skills are extremely important  for referees. “It’s about using your personality at the right moment”, she says. That’s how you can show respect to players and get it back from the players as well. 

She used her management skills as referee this year during her work as pharmacist. “Every day, we have to deal with a lot of pressure as we endeavour to meet the needs and emergencies of our customers”. That’s what she said to FIFA. “There are supply bottlenecks at the moment when it comes to mouth and nose masks, disinfectant and a lot of other pharmaceutical products and that pushes us to our limits.” 

Something that helps you too: experience in a working environment and as referee is beneficial for both roles. You can only become better at your job. 

Find someone who believes in you

Riem Hussein talks very positive about former German female referee Antje Witteweg, who is a former FIFA match official.  “She was the one who told me I had talent. She accompanied me in my first year in the second division as a referee, and she helped to push me forward. I’ve so much to thank her for.” 

That’s the kind of person you need too. Someone who helps you, who can challenge you. Want to know more about mentoring? Read about the 4 types of referee mentors you need.

Work on your fitness 

Although men’s fitness is better, Riem Hussein doesn’t prepare differently for a women’s game.  “In men’s football, the speed and intensity are both higher, so it’s more demanding in physical terms.” But she notices that also the women’s game get more demanding. Teams are better organised, have more resources to help the players. That gives these teams better means to improve, which helps their development. 

“Women’s football is only going one way.” And that is up, which is what Riem Hussein also strives for. Good luck in the Women’s UCL final between Barcelona and Chelsea! 

Fitness tip by Riem Hussein’s AR Katrin Rafalski

On Fitness Friday I share fitness-related tips on both YouTube and IGTV. Make sure to follow me on Instagram too.

Below you’ll see the tip from Katrin Rafalski, a big shout-out to all women involved in refereeing. Go for it, ladies!

2021 Uefa Europa League final referee: Clément Turpin

The 2021 UEFA Europa League final referee is Clément Turpin. His French team is assisted by Slavko Vinčić as 4th official and Pol van Boekel as one of the AVARs.

Below the image the names of the full team. If quotes available, they’ll follow.

Referee: Clément Turpin (France)

Assistants: Nicolas Danos, Cyril Gringore (both France)

4th official: Slavko Vinčić (Slovenia)

VAR: François Letexier (France)

VAR Assistants: Jérôme Brisard, Benjamin Pages (both France), Pol van Boekel (Netherlands)