5 training principles for referees

These 5 training principles for referees are very important. They’re something you need to keep in mind when scheduling your training sessions. If you want to improve you need to find the right balance: don’t go to heavy on yourself. But it also means that you need to stimulate your muscles to be able to deliver more.

Check out the 5 training principles I’ve learned during my referee courses that will help you plan your fitness training schedule.

The five principles of training for referees

1. Specificity

It is very important that you train for what your do during the game. The idea of specificity is that you have to practice what you’ll need during your games. 

Firstly, train your direction. Be specific for the sport you train for. Because you run in different directions as referee, make sure you’ll have exercises where you run forward, backwards and sideways as well. 

Secondly, the speed you train at is important.  It’s easy to go out the door and run 5 to 10km, but that is not what you’ll do during your games. Refereeing is not jogging, but means sprinting at high speed, following play closely and sometimes you walk. Your pace continuously changes. 

This means that you need to train for:

  • endurance, so you’ll be able to follow play for 90 minutes
  • explosive strength, so you are able to sprint and be close to match situations

In a previous blog post I’ve shared an exercises that helps you with training at different paces.

2. Overload 

When you’re training, you want to improve your strength capacity. Overload means that you stimulate your body with a training session. You’re body is temporary out of balance due to the new demands. Your body wil work harder to adjust to this new workout. Your training will trigger your body to improve. 

3. Super-compensation

Triggering your body to improve means that your body wants to be better prepared. Your body wants to compensate and if the stimulus of a new training is at the right moment, you can achieve more every time. That’s what is called super-compensation. 

But how can you reach super-compensation? 

Two things you should NOT do:

Too much time between training sessions

As Hilco de Boer, physical trainer at KNVB’s pro referess, already pointed out in the interview. 

 “If someone has no midweek game, then I’ll advise him to do two intensive running sessions per week.” This advice is also very important for amateur referees according to him. “For amateur referees the intensity of the training session might be different compared to the pro’s. And you need to take into account you can’t do the same if you have a physically hard job. But it’s also good for amateur referees to challenge your physical condition twice a week.”

Read the full interview.

If you train once per week you’ll maintain your current fitness level, but you’ll not improve. “It might be useful during holidays or when injured, but not to get better.”

Not enough time between training sessions

You might see training schedules from professional referees or players who train every day of the week. But they didn’t do that from the start. They’ve built up their fitness schedule gradually. So don’t go crazy and think: the more I train, the fitter I’ll become. 

If you train too often you’re body has not enough time to recover. When your performance level is not back at normal before a training session, you’ll come out worse. The fitness level goes down, because it’s an unhealthy overload. The risk on getting injuries win increase.

What is a good indicator if there’s not enough time between your sessions: a lot of muscle pain (sore legs). Then you need more rest. 

Things you can do: recovery training or train your upper body and core stability

4. Adaptation

In the period of super-compensation is when you need to train. That’s when you can become better. But the more you improve, the higher the stimulus needs to be to gain effect. You need to build this up slowly. Your body needs to get used to a certain fitness level.

You can stimulate your body more by more intense training sessions or longer duration of your sessions. When you begin you might be able to run for 2 km before you have to take a break, in the end that could just be your warm-up before doing more intense training exercises. 

5. Reversibility

Sometimes stimulating your muscles during a training session is not a good idea. In summer or winter breaks it’s good to take a rest. Your level of fitness goes back, but it’s a good recovery and after that you need to get into it gradually again. And when you start again the detraining is reversed and you’ll get back at previous fitness levels again.

My referee courses are

Week 6 Laws of the Game Quiz 2019-2020

Week 6 Laws of the Game Quiz 2019-2020. Can you score 5 out of 5?

A quick recap of week 5. The most difficult question for you all was: The ball seems to go over the boundary line. A coach of team A stops the ball, but at the moment he touches the ball it has not completely crossed the boundary line. How does play need to be restarted?

The answer: a direct free kick. 

Did you know you can check all the answers and explanations straight after the quiz? There’s a link to the correct answers after submitting the form.

The questions of week 6

Training session at the Hague’s Referee Association

A training session at your own referee assocition, that’s awesome. And I don’t get one per week, but two. What does a training at the Hagues Referee Association (HSV in Dutch) look like? Check out our 1 hour session in the blog post below.


We started off with warm-up laps around our pitch for 8 minutes, followed by a dynamic warming-up. What we did is jog for 10 metres then an excercise, like lifting the knees or walking side-ways. (NB: in one of the following Fitness Friday’s I’ll focus on the warming-up)

3x a Steigerung of 50m

After doing a proper warming-up we did a Steigerung. It’s a German word we use for it, but I don’t know a proper translation. Over a length of 50 metres, there are cones every 10 metres. What you’ll notices is that the speed goes up at every cone. Between the fourth and fifth cone you’ve reached your maximum speed. Make sure there is room to slow down. Walk back to the start and totally do this exercise three times.

Exercise 1 

Our training field is about 60 metres long. We use it to the max. 

In the following exercises you’ll vary your speed constantly. For one series, you’ll follow all steps five times. After one serie, you’ll have two minutes of rest. Then do the second serie of five laps.

example of referee fitness training

Exercise 2

In exercises 2 we use the diagonals of the pitch. The diagonal is about 70 metres. 

  • We jog up to the kick-off mark for about 35m. 
  • Then we sprint to the corner of the pitch. 
  • We walk for 15m on the short side, followed by 15m of jogging. 
  • Then follows a long 70m sprint to the other corner. 
  • Back to start with a 30m walk.

Repeat for five times.

Second example of training session

Exercise 3

The third and last exercise is what we call the pyramid. You have different variations. We have 8 cones over the length of 60 metres. 

  • Jog up to cone 1 and back. 
  • Then jog up to cone 8 and back.
  • Jog up to cone 2 and back.
  • Then jog up to cone 8 and back. 
  • And so on, until you’ve had all of them.

Tip: do a cooling down after the training sessions.

How many km’s did we train?

I made a photo of one of the referee watches, because it was quite an intense session. That gives you an impression of what the hour looks like in total distance. Check out below how many km’s we ran.

Polar watch

Substitution procedure: leaving at the nearest point

The substitution procedure is new in the 2019-2020 season. The biggest change: players leave the field of play at the nearest point on the boundary line. 

But what if players refuse? Or what would be a good reason to do differently? A nice case study with video examples for you. 

Substitution procedure: referee tells player where to leave


When can a player be substituted?

First of all, the normal procedure according to the 2019-2020 Laws of the Game. To replace a player with a substitute it is important that the refreee is notified, but that’s not all. A referee gives a player permission to leave the field of play and – now comes the new part – he/she “must leave by the nearest point on the boundary line”.

And that’s this case study is all about. Ajax player Promes wants to leave near the 4th official, but referee Orsato tells him to go out othe other side. It results in a discussion between them, but the referee is correct to show a yellow card.

Check out the video and below that you’ll see reasons to handle differently.

Safety reasons or injury

Secondly, I’d like to discuss reason to handle differently. The Laws of the game also mention about leaving at the nearest point: “unless the referee indicates that the player may leave directly and immediately at the halfway line or another point”.

What are good reasons to do so?

An injury of a player for example. But also keep safety or security in mind. I saw something interesting in Belgium and their football association has also shared it on Twitter to eduacate the fans. Good job for that!

Smart move by referee Visser

They wrote: “Our referee Lawrence Visser noticed that Steven Defour’s safety wasn’t guaranteed during Anderlecht vs Antwerp. That’s why he decided to let him go off the pitch at the middle line.

The reasoning behind this: Defour is a former Anderlecht player, now at Antwerp and when substituted on the touchline, he had to run past all the Anderlecht fans. Smart move.

What if players go off on the boundary line?

Players must go immediately to the technical area or dressing room and takes no further part in the match, except where return substitutions are permitted.

And when a player refuses to leave?

If a player who is to be substituted refuses to leave, play continues.

Do you think this doesn’t happen? Check out the case study with Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa and how Jon Moss handled it.

Jon Moss talking with manager Sarri

Some other rules about the substitution procedure

The substitute only enters:

  • during a stoppage in play
  • at the halfway line
  • after the player being replaced has left
  • after receiving a signal from the referee

The substitution is completed when a substitute enters the field of play;
from that moment, the replaced player becomes a substituted player and
the substitute becomes a player and can take any restart.

All substituted players and substitutes are subject to the referee’s authority whether they play or not.

5 lessons from Simon Breivik from PGMOL

Simon Breivik from PGMOL gives fitness tips.  I’ve been reading a lot about fitness and found some interesting tips in the FA and RA’s Refereeing magazine. I’ve distilled 5 important lessons that are very useful for every referee.

Simon Breivik from PGMOL

Simon Breivik from PGMOL. Screenshot from Premier League video.

During a referee conference they asked Simon Breivik to teach about fitness. He’s the Head of Fitness & Medicine at the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the organisation for pro refs in the Premier League. He loves to “pass up an opportunity to preach the importance of tiness to the next generation of referees”, but never expected a full classroom as lots of pro referees gave workshops there as well.

Fitness is apparently a hot topic for you, refs. That’s what I’ve noticed to and it’s also the reason that I started with the Fitness Friday section on Dutch Referee Blog.

Lesson 1: Understand the importance of fitness

I love to read how Simon Breivik starts his sessions by getting the overall agreement that fitness important. You’ll see that in for example:

“First impressions are curcial because a positive body image can give the referee the edge before they’ve even left the tunnel.”

Lesson 2: No challenge means, no change

Because you want improve as a referee, things need to change. You want to get better, but how? “For training to have the disired effect, it should be challenging”, stresses Simon Breivik in the article. “If your training doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

The Head of Fitness gives a perfect example. “You will not improve your stamina by going for a gentle jog around the park once a week – incorrect medicine and incorrect dose.” His advice to achieve that goal: “you need to perform a series of high-speed runs interspersed with short recovery periods two to three times per week.”

Lesson 3: Tackle your weaknesses

First of all, don’t ignore your strenghts. When you’re a good sprinter, make sure you’ll remain good at it. But don’t forget what you want to improve. “We’re all guilty of sticking to doing what we’re best at, but by performing the training we most enjoy all the time, we will not be tackling our weaknesses.”

Make sure you know what your weaknesses are. If you’re big dream is to become a FIFA referee, that is awesome. Go for it. But make sure you know which steps you need to take to reach that goal. It’s not just “earning promotions”, things you can’t completely control. If you know your weaknesses you can set specific and measurable goals to tackle them.

Lesson 4: Make the fitness test your friend

Subsequently, making goals measurable also means you need to test your fitness. “Believe it or not”, Simon Breivik says, fitness testing is your friend.”

You might laugh, as the FIFA fitness test is the thing you look up to every year. But Simon Breivik is very serious about this. “Let’s face it, without assessments, how else ar eyou going to know what your strenghts and weaknesses are? Fitness tests are the only true way of monotoring progress – or lack thereof.”

For example: do you need to work on your start speed as your fail your sprints. Or is stamina not your best friend when you run 40 times 75m during the test.

Lesson 5: Make fitness a lifestyle

I’m personally a Youth B referee, which is the second national youth level. That’s pretty good, I get to referee youth games at high level, but it’s not the top for sure.  I won’t make it to the Eredivisie, our national senior level. “Not everyone can be a good referee, because refereeing is difficult”, says Simon Breivik. “But anyone can be fit. Fitness is easy and fitness is one hundred per cent controllable.”

I might not be at the highest level, but I’ve said to myself that I’ll have at least twice a week a proper training session. Pluse some core stability. I’m happy to run with a friend at my RA every week, one of the things Pierluigi Collina adviced  in Fitness Friday to keep you motivated to train.

Make fitness your lifestyle. And I’d like to summarize that with this quote from Simon Breivik from PGMOL: “Being fit will not make an average referee good. But a lack of fitness can make a good referee average.”