How ARs train and prepare for top games

How ARs train and prepare for their games is a little different than the referees. Werner Helsen, Sports Scientist & Training Expert with UEFA and professor and scientist in Performance Science at KU Leuven, gives you in this story a sneak peek into their preparation.

“On our website are a few interesting clips that show how our online application works. We use this tool for our online training”. 

What does such a training look like? “The assistant referees watch a match situation in real-time and they have to make the right decision. Afterwards they are shown image stills of the situation and they have to choose the right position of the attacker on the moment of the pass. Afterwards they get feedback with real-time slow motion on the right position of the the attacker on the moment of the pass.”

Tip: read also an interview on Euro 2020 physical preparation and statistics with Werner Helsen.

Online tool for assitant referees
Example of online tool (from story with Koen Put in 2016)

Reason to develop these training method

In the first instance, this way of training was developed  in cooperation with Uefa when goal-line referees were introduced. These additional assistant referees had to look at situations from a different angle than they were used to. “Therefore it was important to give them additional experience with that specific angle”, says Werner Helsen. \

“We’ve filmed a lot of our own material from that position on the field of play, even during European matches.” That way they create optimal match situations to learn from. “We’ve extended this to assistant referees too, because in one of the first publications, after the 2002 World Cup, we determined that 1 in 4 decisions of them was incorrect. The most important mistake: they signal offside while there is no offside.” During the World Cup in Germany the error margin due to specific on- and off-field training was more than halved, says Helsen. 

In response to this statistics FIFA financed research to flag errors, which was conducted by a research group by Werner Helsen. That led to different doctoral projects by B. Gilis, P. Catteeuw, K. Put en J. Spitz. Dutch Referee Blog spoke with Koen Put before Euro 2016

A part of the research happened on the field of play by simulating situations with players. Also difficult situations were shown online to assistant referees. “We’ve also researched if online training results transfer to the matches. We noticed an improvement of performance with 23 to 25%.” There was a positive transfer from online training to the real matches.”

Simulating real match situations

Check out all footage at Perception4Perfection.

After this we’ve researched how to improve and refine the clips. Therefore they filmed often at the u21 of OH Leuven, a partner club of Leicester City. “The players are trained for the situations”, says Werner Helsen. Near the sidelines there’s a film rail, so the camere can follow play and always show the best view. Everything is recorded in HD slow-motion.”

Moreover, standard situations that happen a lot are filmed, like corner kicks and free kicks from the sidelines. He notices as well that attackers in the Champions League start in offside position and move in the other direction. “We use the clips to make referees become familiair with this and ensure they are prepared for this.” A similar situation was described in the story of Clément Turpin’s match preparation as referee

One of the eye-openers of the online training tool thanks to HD slow-motion is the so-called back leg of a defender. With this leg the defender keeps the attacker onside. 

Causes of the errors

Werner Helsen conducts research for 20+ years on the decision-making by referees and assistant referees. Thereby they also compared refereeing with decision-making processes with pilots in a cockpit, radiologists who have to judge scans with a tumor. Research shows that on all 3 domains wrong decisions are made due to the following factors:

  1. They didn’t see it, as they were not looking for the right information (perception)
  2. Or they did see it, but interpret it wrongly (decision)
  3. Or they have seen it correctly, the decision is good, but the communication is incorrect (communication)

That also happens in a team with referees, assistant referees, 4th official, VAR and AVAR. And in a lot of other situations in life. In a lot of problem situations where people under time pressure have to make decisions, it happens. For example, also with police officers who are confronted with a dangerous situation. In all these domains you’ll see the same patterns and factors. 

One of the lessons for Werner Helsen here: “It is easy to miss something you’re not looking for”.

Desire to practise 

The top assistant referees have the desire to keep practising, in order to be better prepared and make less mistakes. They also asked for situations with goal / no goal situations, because in their national leagues they not always have VAR, plus they want to be able to make the decisions themselves as well. 

All assistant referees that are active in the Champions League and Europa League get access to the online application Perception4Perfection.  “They get sent sets of clips 6 times per year, which they have to solve before a certain deadline.” They can do this as often as they want, because the situations will be shown in a different order. National associations can show these clips with permission of Uefa to their own assistant referees via, an initiative from KU Leuven (university). “uefa says that the level rises in these countries, so Uefa then also benefits from it”. 

Development with VAR

The assistant referees scored well on these online tests. The first time they used the platform to see clips they got 76,9% correct. not just onside or offside, but also the exact position of the attacker. That’s 88,7%.

Training for VAR is used now in a similar way via the platform. Some results: first exposure to the set with 88% correct decisions, last exposure 95%. And according to Werner Helsen it’s also interesting to see that referees use it in their match preparation. “they use the clips before the game to train how to communicatie when something like this happens in their match.”

Below an example how this works, explained by Werner Helsen on his YouTube channel.

Check out all footage at Perception4Perfection.

More information

Having questions about the platform? Send them to Nico Claes via
Tip: read also an interview on Euro 2020 physical preparation and statistics with Werner Helsen.

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