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Game management for referees – tips from Howard Webb

Game management for referees is so important. It’s very important to remain confident and that you’re not going to hide when players react negatively to your whistling. That’s one of the key learnings I’ve taken with me from the keynote Howard Webb gave during the Ontario Soccer Summit.

Howard Webb stresses that you need to raise your profile as a referee these days. “To gain control of the game. You have to step up when you have to be seen and heard when the game needs you to be seen and heard.”

Howard Webb at Ontario Soccer Summit

Adapting is part of game management for referees

“Not everyone can do that”, says Webb. And it’s not easy to adapt constantly. “But they are the best referees, the ones that are able to do that. They step out and step back in again. And they allow the players to play, but they’re there when they need to be there.”

World Cup refereeing

During his speech Webb talks about his game management in the World Cup final as well. After 22 minutes and two more yellow cards Webb realises this game was not going to plan. “The yellow card did not have the effect it should have”, he says. “It’s quite a scary feeling for a ref.”

During that game he shows eight yellow cards to the Dutch team, resulting in Heitinga being send-off with his second. The Spanish players also receive five yellows. During the 2018 World Cup Webb sees a similar game with referee Mark Geiger. “That was a really, really tough game. That’s probably the hardest game I’ve seen after this one.”

How to stop awful behaviour

Because of that game between Colombia and England I asked myself the following. What do players think when they approach the referee while shouting, protesting and making crazy gestures? To answer it I wrote a blog post that this awful behaviour has to stop.

(below the image you’ll get some advice on game management)

How to manage difficult situations

Howard Webb says that every referee will try to find a good way to deal with it, but it’s always uncertain how players will react. “Because you fear that if you pull out the wrong thing, you end up losing control.”

Don’t hide yourself

“The games I’ve lost control of in my life, are the games I lost self-belief”, Webb admits. His advice is: despite all reactions you get from players, keep making your calls. “The worst thing you can do is stop blowing your whistle, going to hide. So whenever you have a tough game, don’t lose that self-confidence. It might not come out perfectly, but much better then when you hide away.”

To keep confident, you need to focus. How do you do that? Check out these tips to stay focused for 90 minutes.

Check out Howard Webb’s keynote

Check out the keynote speech from Howard Webb at the Ontario Socccer Summit.


  • Jeff Lobb

    Thanks so much for sharing! Really enjoy reading your blog posts and sharing your thoughts and content with my referee network.

  • Kay

    Hello, sir.
    Thanks for your sharing the great keynote with Howard Webb’s.
    What I want you is could you share a full version of Howard Webb’s keynote?
    please let me know whether or not.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Hi Kay, thanks for your comment. I haven’t seen the full speech by him, these are the highlights. I hope you like that and can learn some lessons from it.

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