Europe's leading referees have been told at a UEFA seminar that the correct use of body language will enhance their performance in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a major match.
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The élite and premier referees attending their latest UEFA summer gathering in Nyon, Switzerland, were given various invaluable pointers by Swiss sports psychologist Mattia Piffaretti as to how to improve and refine their on-field demeanour. Piffaretti identified four key reasons why referees' body language was a crucial part of their armoury. Firstly, body language can transcend language barriers while it is doubly useful in a noisy match environment where verbal communication can be difficult. Body language can also have an immediate effect, reducing the need for a referee to stop a match to address an issue verbally. Finally, it is sometimes difficult to address players' emotions in words, so gestures can be used instead.
Quantity and quality
"Body language should be changed to suit the situation. It is a form of communication, it needs to be natural and kept fluent," said Piffaretti. "You have to use the right quantity and quality of body language - otherwise you will force yourself into a character which you were not, and players will perceive this."
Mastery of awareness
"The use of body language demands great mastery of awareness, cultural and emotional intelligence," he added. "It allows you to express thoughts, intentions and your state of mind through signs which mean that you will be understood when you share them. However, [body language] can be tricky, because you mix different levels and complexity. Body language is a very powerful tool - but you have to be careful in using it. Certain body language is linked to a certain culture and can lead to different interpretations. You might be misunderstood. You have to be aware of cultural differences."
Piffaretti explained to the match officials that a referee's use of body language can establish relationships on the field with the players, while also remaining in control of a match. It can show confidence, calmness, firmness, authority, or even the referee's human side if a player is injured, for example. "But you have to make reasonable use of body language, because players might start to perceive you more as a friend than as a leader," he added. "[Referees] use body language to enhance performance, show leadership, enhance game management skills such as mediating and creating a connection, and to win trust and respect from players. But you don't have to show off or exaggerate. You have to remain yourself."
The UEFA gathering - which has also been attended by Europe's leading assistant referees - has been looking back at UEFA EURO 2008™ and previewing the new season from a refereeing point of view. Training sessions have taken place under the team led by Belgian referee fitness expert Werner Helsen. UEFA will now examine the discussions held and feedback given at the course and draw up a set of conclusions to instruct and guide the referees and assistant referees through the 2008/09 campaign.