Reality-based training for referees

A reality-based training for referees was organised at the Uefa Winter Course 2023. It was the first time that such an exercise was carried by male and female referees at the same time. The general idea behind it is: “Referees run to make decisions!” So the training is combined with watching a clip of challenging match incidents. Werner Helsen, Sports Scientist & Performance Coach at UEFA, shared the details of this exercise with me for publication on Dutch Referee Blog.

Below you already get an impression of the exercices from the Winter Course 2023, used with permission of Prof. Helsen. Below you read how it works and you will learn the idea behind it.

Exercise and distances for women. Photo courtesy of Werner Helsen / Uefa.

Why reality-based learning helps

I was intrigued with Werner Helsen’s words in the article on the Uefa website about the 2023 winter camp. Because he has a role in UEFA coach education, he uses the concept of reality-based learning. This means “that any training should always have a link with the game”. An ideal session trains physical skills, technical skills and tactical skills. That’s not the case at regular physical training sessions with only running, “because in a game, they run to take decisions, they run to get into the correct position to take a correct decision.”

Experiences from top level referees

Uefa shows also a clip of referees in action. Watch the exercise from Clément Turpin and Donatas Rumsas on YouTube shorts. . They really seem to enjoy it as you can learn from their body language. 

Werner Helsen talks on about the responses from the top level referees. He compares this exercise (3.215m HI running) withthe Single-Double-Single test (2.880m HI running). “We’re finding that referees prefer to do this new exercise”, he says. “Because they now have to run to a screen in time, they are not thinking of the running.” The focus is different now. “They’re thinking more about the decision they need to take when they are in front of the screen. They’re happy with the exercise – what you now see is referees still working hard, but with a smile on their face!” (below info on repetition and times)

Image with screenshots from Uefa’s media media message (YouTube Short) about the reality-based training

How the exercise works

This is an on-field review exercise with high-intensity (HI) running and 3 changes of direction. After the HI run, referees watch a clip and have to report their technical and disciplinary decision.

Practical tips and guidelines for participating match officials:

  • Timing at the half-way point is “key”. That’s after 15 seconds, the moment of the 2nd turn.
  • To get used to this exercise, Uefa advices a practice trial at the end of the warm-up.
  • You run in pairs
  • Every 15 seconds a new pair starts

Distances for referees

  • 1 series is 12 high intensity runs
  • Repetition: 2 series of 12 runs
  • Recovery between sets: 4 min
  • Female referees run 2 x 56,5m = 113m per run. In total they run 24 laps, so x 24 = 2.712m.
  • Male referees run 2 x 67m = 134 m per run. With 24 laps that’s a total of 3.216m.
  • There are 90 seconds between the start of each run.

Image of reality-based training for referees

Below you’ll find an image of the set-up of the exercise for men. It’s slightly different from the one at the top, because men and women run different distances. The length of a run is different, but referees end up at the screen at the same moment to watch a clip. And women referees were allowed to run the men’s distances, which was done by quite a few from start till finish!

Exercise and distances for men. Photo courtesy of Werner Helsen / Uefa.

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