Best Practices For Working And Interacting With Referees

by Dr. Tim Baghurst

Referees: the word evokes a variety of images and feelings for many. To some, they can be a second opponent. But to others, they are a support, and an assurance that the best player will emerge the winner, and not the one who complained the most.

Years ago, I was a FIFA certified soccer referee. As one might imagine, I endured plenty of challenges in that role. However, in 2010 that I became involved in refereeing international racquetball. Since then, I have continued to serve as an international referee, and these experiences have allowed me to see and deal with all kinds of situations. The purpose of this article is not to share my stories, but to explain how these experiences can be used to develop best practices for athletes and coaches when interacting with officials.

Trained Versus Untrained Officials

Although a generalization, trained and qualified referees are much easier to work and communicate with. It is expected that those with some form of training (there are different kinds) have a basic understanding of the rules and care enough about officiating that they have taken the time to get training. That is a good start. Therefore, you can and should have greater trust in their knowledge of the rules.


Often in local tournaments, racquetball players are expected to referee. Usually the referee will be the previous match’s loser, who find themselves doubly punished by being required to referee following the defeat. Unfortunately, most of them will be untrained, have a limited knowledge of the rules, and lack any motivation whatsoever to do a “professional” job. Many times, there is little to be done in this situation, but when players are refereeing, some negotiation with the Tournament Director is still possible. In situations where you believe a strong referee is necessary, politely ask the Tournament Director in advance of your match for a qualified official or one with a good reputation.

Qualified officials can be great referees, but great referees are not always qualified. What if an official has poor eyesight, or what if they do not know how to handle difficult situations? What if they have problems concentrating for a long period of time? These are not always tested in certification. Therefore, it is important to recognize that an official who is certified should have a fundamental knowledge of the rules, but it does not mean that they are a good referee.

Reputations Matter


A good official is one who has an in-depth knowledge of the rules, handles themselves in a professional manner at all times, frequently makes the correct decision, is humble enough to accept they will not always make the correct call, is ambivalent to who wins, respects the players and the sport, and seeks to improve their own skills. It should be noted that referees that meet these criteria are rare.

In time, officials will develop a reputation, and it is valuable to learn what that reputation is. In international events, officials are assigned based on their ranking/reputation and the match being played. Better referees are assigned to matches that are more important or those that might be perceived as potentially being difficult. However, in other tournaments referees may be randomly assigned or end up being a player, as mentioned previously. A good suggestion is to learn who is refereeing in advance to allow you to (if necessary) request line judges (if available) or ask the Tournament Director for a different referee if desired. Not doing so may result in you being stuck with a referee who might not be interested in the match or want to be there, and therefore the calls cannot be trusted.

Poor officials can lead to serious problems on the court. An official who does not meet the standards of a good official, as outlined earlier, can create problems for players, coaches, and other officials. For example, an official who is inconsistent on avoidable (penalty) hinder calls, who wants to be the star of the show, or who does not know the rules, can create frustration and anger. Understand that even though they should not, poor officials can influence the outcome of a match.

Working with Officials


Keep in mind that officials can influence the outcome of the match, but only if the athlete allows the official to influence them. For example, a poor call is made by the official and the athlete loses their self-control feeling cheated by the decision. Unable to let the bad decision go, they allow it to simmer and affect their mental focus. Consequently, they make mental errors over the next few minutes because their focus is not on their task.

How can this be overcome? First, recognize that officials will make mistakes. Errors will happen and decisions will not always go in your favor. However, also recognize that some other calls may go in your favor, and generally calls even out over time.


Second, learn to let bad decisions go. This is an easy thing to say but a very difficult thing to put into practice. Being able to deflect poor decisions when they happen requires training. Practicing a behavior modification and transitioning it from practice into a match scenario takes time, especially if an athlete has been responding this way for a long time.

Third, respect the official. Being an official is not an easy task and mistakes happen to even the best. Little looks, comments, refusing to shake their hand, and other disrespectful behaviors are remembered by officials. Although referees may develop reputations for being “good” or “bad,” so do athletes in their behavior toward referees. An athlete should remember they represent more than just themselves when on (and off) the court. They represent what is on the front and back of the shirt, which may include their family, their sponsors, their country, and even RYDF. How athletes react to and interact with officials is seen and remembered, and can positively or negatively impact current and future outcomes.

About RYDF
Please support the mission of RYDF in assisting young athletes from around the world with needed resources to achieve success both on and off the court, and to develop successful careers in sports and life. RYDF accomplishes this through three related programs:
Dream It – Fitness Forever Program
Empowers communities by providing opportunities for youth & families to experience fun, friendship, and lifetime health and fitness through participation in racquet sports. 
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Provides emerging professional racquet sport athletes with financial support, mentoring, and career
development opportunities to achieve success on the court and in their life.
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