Matchday -1 session for referees

A matchday -1 fitness session is the training the day before the game. It’s your final preparation to be match-ready. But what do you do so shortly before a match? You’ll get some tips from professionals to help you be well-prepared.

In a webinar for The Referee’s Assocation Vicky Smith from PGMOL explained some training schedules. She also advises to do a session with speed and accelerations on the morning of the day before a game. 

Werner Helsen explained the training programme of a professional referee on my blog. The day before a match, also known as matchday -1, consists of speed exercises and repeated sprints. “Mostly, these MD-1 sessions take place in the stadium”, he explained to me. “Like the teams, the refereeing team has one hour to train with their colleagues on the pitch where they have their game the next day.” 

Matchday -1 session for referees with Werner Helsen and Felix Brych in the stadium.
Matchday -1 session for referees with Werner Helsen and Felix Brych

Session before a final

No exceptions for finals, because at good and balanced training the day before the game will help you prepare well. Danish top referee Jens Maae said before he officiated a youth final he also did specifc training sessions on the days before a game to be best-prepared, so he could deliver a top performance. Belgian FIFA referee Nathan Verboomen says: “I activate my muscles before the game, get that acceleration in them. 

Fine-tuning the body for peak performance

But why is this matchday -1 referee training so important? The AFC football federation hits the nail with their description in their Refereeing Fitness Training Guidelines. It’s for “fine-tuning the body for peak performance at the match”. 

The objective for such a training is: “Short type of session with slow jogging, mobility exercises and some short 15m strides or accelerations, followed by gentle stretching exercises.”

My MD-1 session

  • I did a 15-20 minute warm-up, including 15m of accelerations.
  • Then I used the sides of the penalty area to change direction, move backwards and sideways. Plus an acceleration from the edge of the penalty area, via the circle to the other end. Depending on time 2 or 3 sessions from 4-5 minutes.
  • Then a cooling down.

MD-1 session from FIFA AR Ian Bird

FIFA assistant referee Ian Bird from Wales shares his matchday minus 1 routines on the blog. Following a suitable warm-up, dynamic stretching and accelerations, he performs a speed session.

What his speed session looks like:

  • 4 X 10m sprints, 3 X 20m sprints, 2 X 30m sprints, 1 X 40m sprint (walking back to the start between each maximum speed run).
  • Then following a short rest I then replicate matchday movements by varying this to a 10m sideways run into a 40m sprint, 2 X 10m sideways run into 30m sprints, 3 X 10m sideways run into 20m sprints, 4 X 10m sideways run into 10m sprints.

I do the second set with a flag if possible and looking left into the “field of play”, he says. “This is a short session, but I find it ideal and perfect for Matchday -1”. Why? “Because there is no fatigue due to the short distance covered and it ensures my fast-twitch muscles are at optimal condition.”

How to find your motivation

One advice from Clément Turpin: “The differences between players and referees is for sure the motivations to go to the training. 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. Just remember: what is your target!”


  • Elorm

    Hi Jan, I’m Elorm in Ghana.
    Thank you think insightful presentation.

    I’m wondering if you can help us with a copy of any Refereeing Fitness Training Guideline for download.
    Thank you.

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