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Swedish referee Tess Olofsson on taking charge

Ahead of the UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship in Sweden, top match official Tess Olofsson shares her insights into refereeing and explains why she hopes to inspire youngsters to follow in her footsteps.

Referee Tess Olofsson during the UEFA Women's Nations League 2024 final
Referee Tess Olofsson during the UEFA Women's Nations League 2024 final Getty Images

When it comes to football, youngsters are often drawn to the glitz and glamour of being a player or a coach. That means there are now far fewer referees – particularly female referees – in Sweden and across Europe. Research has shown that among the possible explanations, a key problem is that referees feel isolated. The job is far from easy, with high stakes and scrutiny everywhere. As part of the legacy programme for this year’s Women’s Under-17 Championship, UEFA and the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) hope to create an environment where referees feel a sense of unity and focus on the positive aspects of officiating through the 'Be a Referee!' programme.

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This is a story from the official Women’s Under-17 EURO tournament programme. Access a free copy of the digital programme for tournament squads, team pictures, stats and more here.

Life as a match official

Who better to walk us through the ins and outs of life as a match official than Swedish referee Tess Olofsson? As an ambassador for this year’s tournament, she explains that there is a lot to love about the role. Having taken charge of the Women’s Nations League final and games in the Women’s World Cup, and become the first woman to oversee a Swedish men’s top-flight game as well as collecting numerous individual accolades, her knowledge of the game makes for a wonderful conversation.

"When I was 13 I played for a local football club outside Malmö, and they had a big tournament with many teams taking part. Every team was asked if they could help with volunteer referees and that’s when I got my first experience of it," Olofsson begins.

"I have a huge passion for the game and I wanted to be involved in different roles. I played as a goalkeeper initially, but due to injuries I decided to continue as a referee, and I enjoyed it a lot." Although she sometimes misses her playing days, she has made great strides forward, being named the best referee in Sweden five times. So what’s her matchday routine?

"I spend a lot of time with my team," she says. "We go on walks, have coffee breaks and I also have a power nap in the afternoon! Before the match, we have a debrief where we talk about the game, check the teams, the players and how they play to prepare. And then we just try to stay positive and get into a good mindset."

"You’re in amongst the action and share joy with all who have a passion for the game."

Tess Olofsson

Positivity is key in such a high-pressure job, but the level-headed Olofsson has learned to deal with the stress very well. "Sometimes it’s really hard because we all make mistakes at times. I speak with my colleagues, my team, and I have coaches to help me analyse everything afterwards," she explains. "Before the World Cup I was also working with a mentor, and it was very nice to have weekly contact with her to find things I can improve on to make better decisions. I also try to learn the players’ names because I think it’s much nicer to call them by their name than their number." A lovely personal touch that shows how she thinks about the job from every angle.

Olofsson with the team captains at  the UEFA Women's Nations League final
Olofsson with the team captains at the UEFA Women's Nations League finalUEFA via Getty Images

Touching upon the subject of isolation as a referee, Olofsson explains that despite all the challenges, there is a lot of support and camaraderie to be found for those who take up the role. "The talent mentor programme in Sweden was great for me," she says. "Now I’m actually one of the mentors for younger referees, but I had a one myself in Sweden initially and that’s a great way to develop and improve your skills. You get the support you need and feedback after games.

"I also speak to my referee colleagues a lot so that we can work well as a team when we share the field. We talk about the reading of the game, positioning, how to deal with set pieces and also how to deal with the players. Management and leadership is really important, so we respect each other."

Physical preparation is key

She also emphasises the importance of fitness. "If I stay healthy, it’s easier to get decisions right, so the physical aspect is very important. If you get into the best positions on the pitch, the pressure is lifted when you make the right call."

With the Be a Referee programme aiming to encourage more youngsters to take up refereeing, Olofsson hopes her experiences will also act as inspiration. "Ultimately, you are a part of the football family. You’re in amongst the action, you’re surrounded by football fans and share joy with all those who have a passion for the game.

"I hope I can be a role model for these young players, and that we can share experiences and learn from each other. Hopefully through this journey I can help younger referees and maybe even players to take this step, as I did."

Be a Referee!

In 2023, UEFA launched 'Be a Referee!', which aims to increase knowledge about refereeing, highlight the importance of referees for the game and inspire young people start a career as a match official. The target is to register around 40,000 new referees per season.

Be a Referee!
Find out about Be a Referee!