The age old theory is that behind every great man is a great woman. Now, my man is pretty great so that kind of means that I must be pretty great too, right? Anyway, not relevant. On that field, whether you are refereeing woman or men, you are that great background dancer, if you make a wrong move it sticks out like dogs balls, if you do a good job, and do it successfully than you may not be noticed at all. My secret tip to remain in the background as number 31 on that field, is to manage your men (or women). These players are like sheep, one follows the other. If one gets ruffled up than it’s more likely than not that the whole wolf pack will follow and get wound up too. As the referee, it is your job to be the sheep dog, quietly shepherding them in the right direction, only saying something when you need to in order to keep your pack going in the right direction.
All referees are different in the ways that they manage their players, for me I am a talker by nature (as I will tell you all the time!), so I use this and my smile to get my players onside and to talk them out of doing silly stuff (fights, dangerous acts, aggravating banter, etc) on the field. In order to do this I am known to talk to the players in a way that they understand, using words and phrases they use off of the field. My favourite is ‘get out of it!’ it’s not as professional as I would like, but it is a phrase that at many grades makes the players stop and listen. Often with players my age or similar I can use phrases like ‘stop doing dumb shit’ as they respond well to it as it’s how they talk off field and in the sheds. I wouldn’t use this with women or older men as they don’t always take it as well (believe me I have done this on accident once or twice…), and can end up frustrating them further (not ideal!). For these players I use more of a ‘look guys, if you don’t do something about this problem, than you will give me no option but to deal with it myself”, putting the responsibility on them (as they are big kids/adults). The management tool of talking with my players also goes into having a laugh. I love good banter on the field, and showing the players that you legit are a human after all is really helpful on getting them to understand that this is just part of the job you’ve chosen to do on your Saturday.
Rugby has fights, it’s just how it is. Disciplining people is a regular occurrence in our game, so the tone of your voice while doing so is super important. If you’re loud and angry sounding nobody is going to listen to you (because nobody likes their ‘mum’ telling them off on the field). For me, I take my voice down a few notches once I pull my captains out for a chat (to one I would use when talking to someone on a nightshift in a 6 bedded room). It’s soft and calm but stern, not high pitched or screamy, and everything has to be straight to the point (these players have the attention span of fish). Time is also your best mate, giving these people time to reflect and calm themselves is also important, or else you are going to find that the player or their whole team are going to rush further into trouble trying to get back at the player/s who wronged them. Managing these moments is always different and you will work out what tactic you need to use for each moment and the type of person you are telling to buck their ideas up. Talking like this after fights and dangerous tackles has always come naturally (even if my hands are shaking at my sides as I do so), being calm in other situations, not so much.
These past few years of refereeing has opened my eyes up to having to be a calmer person under pressure or in high stress environments on the field. If someone else is fired up on that field it is our job as referees to be the calm water to put out the fire our players are stoking. I must admit I am still putting this into practice myself, as I’m learning to find that other (calmer) place within me when someone comes at me, firing accusations, arguments or insults at me, rather than elevating myself. It doesn’t always work (and that’s when everything turns to poop), so that’s a management tactic that I have to train myself into over time, because obviously it doesn’t happen naturally for me. This is also when cards come out for me, when in reality, my management let me and the players down which means that management is an important aspect in ensuring that the players are talked down from the cliff, rather than have you push them right into the deep end off of it.
There are a billion different ways to manage players, and it all largely relates to the traits you have personally. Have a watch of how the professionals deal with stressful instances with players in games on tv, and also have a yarn with the referees at your association to see what they do also (and watch and learn, experienced referees have been through a lot of what you are going through and have learnt new tactics for dealing with people) You will work out what works for you in order to improve and your game is managed rather than out of control.
My smile has also always been a way to manage my players. If you are smiling and happy then how can someone be negative or angry towards you? So what’s your secret weapon?