Technical and instructional sessions, and tests, at UEFA referee courses are aimed at giving match officials the best possible education for their development.
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Referee education has been a key priority for the UEFA Referees Committee at this week's UEFA winter courses in Athens.
The referees have been given invaluable advice in technical and instructional sessions and tests, all designed to help the match officials continue to achieve the standards that have made European referees respected across the world.
"We need to ensure the UEFA referees are given the best possible education for their development," said UEFA referee officer Hugh Dallas who, together with fellow Referees Committee member Vladimir Sajn, has been conducting sessions at the 23rd UEFA Advanced Course for Top Referees and 24th UEFA Introductory Course for International Referees.
A significant test that referees undertake at UEFA courses is a test of the Laws of the Game. "We think that this test is particularly important for the new referees at the introductory course because it's the first time that we have met them, and they're the custodians of the Laws of the Game on the field, so they have to know what they're doing," said Dallas. "We also encourage the national associations to test the referees on the laws, because some unusual things can certainly happen.
"The most important law is not written down – the so-called 'Law 18' – and this is about common sense. A referee may have a great knowledge and understanding of the laws, but to apply them in a correct manner is a required skill."
Assiduous work is undertaken to produce the video clips that are shown to the referees to analyse match incidents and decisions, and explain potential trends that officials need to be aware of. The referees themselves are also encouraged to give feedback in the sessions as part of the overall drive for progress.
The selected incidents come from the top competitions, the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europe League and UEFA European Championship. "We have a network of spotters all around Europe watching the matches for us and their role is to highlight the interesting incidents," Dallas explained. "The observer reports are also studied to find other incidents.
"We then select the most interesting ones which are used during the technical sessions. After our seminars, the material is distributed to the national associations for them to use in all levels of referee education with the main aim to achieve a consistent approach to the laws in domestic competitions as well."
Consistent decision-making is a major aim for the UEFA Referees Committee, and video tests help to achieve this aim. "As an example, we expect a referee from Portugal to have the same opinion when judging serious foul play as a referee from Poland," said Dallas. "It's only fair to the competing clubs and national teams that the application of the laws is consistent, no matter which part of Europe the referee comes from.
"We monitor the trends in our top competitions and we alert the referees to them. For example, we have now seen a trend appearing for arms to be used illegally to fend off an opponent. We need to make referees aware of this so that they can position themselves appropriately and identify that kind of offence." Other topics covered in the technical/education sessions in Athens have included offside, handball, playing the advantage and free-kick management.
Dallas, Sajn and colleagues take great care with the newcomers to the FIFA list who attend the winter introductory course as their UEFA refereeing baptism. They are given instructions about the work of the observers who assess them in UEFA competitions, and it is explained to them about the importance of following UEFA guidelines.
"Management skills are very important for young referees," Dallas added. "We encourage them how to communicate with the players, how to manage mass confrontation, how to deal with players without automatically reaching for a card. If you feel you can have a quiet word with a player, all the better, because people want to see players on the field of play and not sitting in the grandstand."
The young referees are also tested for their knowledge of English, UEFA's refereeing language, during informal discussions with Referees Committee members. "If a serious incident occurs during a match, it is of the utmost importance that a referee can clearly communicate with the match delegate, venue director, and possibly even later with UEFA's control and disciplinary body, so it's important they can communicate in good English."
Dallas and his colleagues derive great satisfaction from their roles in educating referees, and putting their immense experience and knowledge at the service of today's match officials. "I can remember when I sat in the room as a young referee and we were taught by former referees who you admired; people who taught you not only to be a top referee, but also a top instructor," he recalled. "You learned from them and made use of what you learned in instructing others later on.
"It does give you great satisfaction to see referees who you have accompanied at youth tournaments that go on to take charge of UEFA Champions League matches and later appear at major tournaments. You feel you've had some input into their success."