Rebecca Welch: female referee in the English Football League

Rebecca Welch recently made her debut in the English Football League as referee. In a recent webinar from the Referees Association she talked about her career, from which I distilled some very useful tips for us referees. Loving her job is crucial. “If you want to do it, give it a 100%. But you also got to enjoy it.”

Check out below the things I learned from Rebecca Welch’s webinar for the Referees’ Association. You can also become a member and get access to the full webinar and many more (online) events. Become a member.

Challenge yourself …

Rebecca Welch got asked to officiate in a men’s game, but she was hesitant. She really enjoyed it. “And it probably paved the way for the referee I am now”, she said in a webinar with the Referees Association. “It was a touch league. It definitely made me stronger.” She got more confident, learned the Laws of the Game better as they were needed to manage these games. “I’ve gotten all the laws better by making mistakes and learning from them”.

The men’s pathway was the only one available at the time. “To be honest, if ther was a women’s pathway in refereeing available at that time, I still would have stuck with the men’s leagues.”

… but don’t put too much pressure on yourself 

Rebecca Welch made a triple jump from level 7 to 4. “It was probably a little quick, as I was 27 when I’ve done it. I was absolutely delighted.” The promotion to level 2 had more challenges. “And I put a lot of pressure on myself as a referee”, she says. At the end of the season the promotion news would come by post, not the digital way yet. She was looking for the mailman every day. “I think our postman thought that I was going to propose to him,because every day for 3 weeks he was coming to the door I was eyeing him up.”

Learn from your peers

Rebecca Welch went on the national list as assistant referee as well. Because she could work with national referees then, that helped her become a better referee as well. “I’ve worked with referees who gave me ideas of what I could put into my games. Three years on the line helped me develop the skills that I have now, which has enabled me to further my career in refereeing.”

Rebecca Welch: know what you want to reach

In 2017-2018 Rebecca Welch was offered promotion as assistant referee to the football league, but also as a referee to level 2B. She had to choose, as you can’t do both roles at that level. “I was really torn between the 2, but I got a real passion for refereeing in the men’s game.” At that moment she was also a FIFA referee and going the AR route might end that. “Plus if I was honest with myself: I always back myself as being a better referee than I ever was as an assistant.”

Get experience in both male and female football

Experience in men’s football helps Rebecca Welch in her women’s games. “It definitely helps me going abroad and refereeing different females, but it’s a totally differen skill of refereeing: male vs female football. Football is the same, but the mentalities and personalities are very different. 

In the men’s game I might make a decision and he might give me a jib about it, but 5 minutes later he has totally forgotten about it. In the women’s game, and we’ve and some education on this, the women are more inquisitive, they want to know the hows, why’s the what. So they keep asking you. And to be honest I didn’t realise 

I started to understand that, because sometimes I used to feel in the women’s game the women were challenging me more.

Be open about the bad things

In 2019 Rebecca Welch was a referee at the u19 finals for Uefa. Earlier she officiated a FA Cup final at Wembley, she went to China for a big tournament as well. Which made her understood refereeing worked in other countries. She was operating with officials from countries all over the world.

Just before Christmas 2020 she got the message she was going to be an Uefa Elite referee in 2021. She’s really proud to be recognized with some of the best referees. “It’s something I’ve been working on since I got on the FIFA list.” 

But she wants to stress that not everything is plain sailing. That’s absolutely not the case. She tends to think that not everyone is happy to talk about the bad things, but she says it’s crucial even though you might want to forget your mistakes. “A lot of the bad thing have really shaped me and developed me. And I probably didn’t see it at the time, but when you look back, you see why you do this now.” 

Ask for support when needed

As a referee you never know what the media will say about your performance. And when you’re in the papers, it’s usually not because you had a good performance. For Rebecca Welch it was difficult not to bring these thoughts home and keep worrying about it. 

“I’ve worked with Liam Slack, who is our sports psychologist and kind of dealt with that. Because at a certain pint it was taking over my life, even when I wasn’t refereeing. And a big part comes from learning and evaluating.”

One of the crucial lessons in her refereeing career. “And at the end of the day we’re all going to make mistakes, but if we don’t learn from the mistakes, we don’t become any better.”

I learned this story from Rebecca Welch in a webinar from the Referees’ Association. You can also become a member and get access to the full webinar and many more (online) events. Become a member.

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