How psychology helps football referees

Football referees in Scotland have revealed they are turning to sport psychologists in a bid to boost their performance on the pitch. Speaking to the Daily Record, Craig Thomson - who will be officiating the Scottish Cup Final between Hearts and Hibernian at Hampden Park on Saturday (19 May) - revealed he and his assistants are doing all they can to ensure their showing is flawless.

Mr Thomson explained the officials are working alongside sports psychologist John Mathers, with the entire refereeing team brought together to train and participate in a number of psychology sessions.

He noted Mr Mathers places a big emphasis on imagery, relaxation and body shapes in the lessons, as these tools are vital when the pressure is on during important matches.

"John talks about imagery and you're imaging situations so when it takes place on the pitch you're aware of how to react properly," Mr Thomson observed.

He added the sessions also focus on negativity, be it during a game or in the media before or after.

Professor Craig Mahoney, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "Referees are elite performers, just like the elite players in the games they officiate over. Their personal development covering technical ability and knowledge, enhancing their physical ability and ensuring their mental approach to matches is optimised, all require careful monitoring and development.

"It is quite common for elite performers, including officials, in many sports to make use of psychologists to develop their mental skills and competition cognitive approaches. 

"This programme in Scotland for football referees follows a highly successful programme for English referees that has been running since 2001. The demands on elite football referees at the highest level of the game, can be quite extreme.

"To be properly prepared mentally, to have the skills and ability to manage the shifts in mental focus that arise during a match, can all be enhanced through structured development programmes. This is exactly the sort of support that needs to be much more visible across all sports, including the officials in those sports."