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Just as coaches and players are trained for what they hope will be successful future careers, today's up-and-coming referees and assistant referees are being nurtured for their own development as well as for the wider benefit of European football.
The tenth Seminar for UEFA Referee and Assistant Referee Talents and Mentors opened on Monday with the latest group of young referees and assistant referees being encouraged to look, listen and learn in their quest to emulate the modern-day crop of leading match officials who take charge of the top world and European football games. Just over 20 referees and assistant referees are attending the event.
The young referees and assistants – the talents – are fostered by their experienced mentors, who themselves are seasoned former international referees. The mentors remain in constant contact with their referees by email or phone, and by either visiting them or inviting them to the mentors' respective countries. Their discussions focus on on-field performances as well as on matters such as diet, general conduct and improving communication in English, now the common language of refereeing at UEFA level.
A total of 156 talents from 50 UEFA member associations have been through the UEFA programme over the past ten years, and seven European referees who were part of the talents and mentors scheme will be at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer.
"Everyone involved in the game sees the importance of educating referees, as the game has changed rapidly," UEFA Referees Committee second vice-chairman Geir Thorsteinsson told the young match officials in welcoming them. "This has been the aim of UEFA and the national associations in recent years. I would say that you should aim high – this is the first step towards perhaps being appointed for European finals. You have been selected because you are talents, and you could go to the top."
Assistant referees were introduced to the talents and mentors programme last year. "We felt that these days, so much depends on assistant referees that we need to identify talented assistants to support the referees," said Referees Committee member David Elleray, "because sometimes the most crucial decisions are not the decision of the referee – they are the decision of the assistants." Participants in the talents and mentors programme are selected on the basis of their displays in UEFA and domestic matches.
Both Thorsteinsson and Elleray highlighted the important role the scheme has for the development of European refereeing – and the responsibilities that the referee and assistant talents have in this development. "What you are involved in is not just development for you," said Elleray. "We expect that what you learn, you will pass on to referees and assistants in your country. You are role models in your country, and we expect you not to be greedy and keep things to yourselves.
"We want to support young referees and young assistant referees," Elleray added. "We want to help each of you achieve your maximum level. You'll only become better if you're honest with yourself and your mentors, and identify those areas where you can improve." The course topics include cooperation between referees and assistants, recent instructions to UEFA referees and a practical training session at the Colovray stadium opposite UEFA's headquarters in Nyon.
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