It doesn’t matter if you’re refereeing the World Series or making the calls at an intramural softball game, the truth is referees are under a great deal of pressure to perform well. Making calls during games is already a stressful job, but when you’re balancing your game knowledge with managing athletes, coaches, and even fans, it can become overwhelming for even the most easygoing person.

Referees must be able to manage their anxiety in high-pressure situations well. The authors of Psychology of Officiating, Robert Steven Weinberg and Peggy A. Richardson, offer anxiety management solutions that we at ArbiterSports think are worth sharing.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a physiological response designed to protect us from danger, both perceived and actual. Our adrenal glands release hormones that prep our mind and body for emergencies, which can result in symptoms like breathing and heart rate increases, panting, and tightened muscles. While this is a good response that gets the body ready to respond to threats, it becomes a problem when anxiety happens in response to everyday problems, like our refereeing jobs.

This is because anxiety has an impact on our mental skills as well. The physical responses can be distracting, which can lead to an improper focus on worries and feelings than the job at hand. This impairment of decision-making can lead to bad calls and premature decisions rather than calm, calculated judgment.

Sources of Referee Anxiety

Weinberg and Richardson cite three potential sources of anxiety that referees are likely to run into in their careers. Part of combating your anxiety involves knowing what part of your job gives you the hardest time, so think about which of these situations stresses you out the most:

  • Fear of failure: Worrying about making a bad call, playing a bad game, or otherwise making major mistakes cause you to doubt your skills and worry about someone else noticing
  • Fear of inadequacy: The feeling that something is wrong with you or that you are incompetent or ill-prepared for your job
  • Loss of control: There’s a lot that’s outside of your hands on the field or court, including the crowd, your officiating crew, the press, and players or coaches

Anxiety Management for Game Officials

Getting pumped before a game is one thing, but anxiety can be debilitating. It takes practice to know where your correct energy level is and to be aware of your emotional state, but the work is more than worth it. Here are some tips for managing your pre-game anxiety physically and cognitively.

Physical Tips

Increased heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, and other physical changes can be a hindrance and affect how you perform. Feeling better physically will help you feel better mentally. Practice breath control in and out of the game by making yourself take smooth, deep, and rhythmical breaths from your diaphragm and slowly releasing them. Also try progressive relaxation by tensing up different muscle groups and releasing the tension

Mental Tips

When something goes wrong, you might start thinking negative thoughts, which can lead to anxiety. You can beat this source of anxiety by thinking positive thoughts that make you feel more confident and focused. Pay attention to what you say to yourself during different game situations and make substitutions where necessary. For example, when you could be thinking “That was a terrible call,” instead think “That’s ok, no one’s perfect.” You can also force thoughts to stop before they become a hindrance.

Resources for Referees

One of the tools you can use to beat your referee anxiety is your game knowledge. When it comes to making you a better, more confident game official, ArbiterSports can provide the tools that you need. We can arm you with the knowledge to make each game run smoothly and the resources you need to keep your career on track so you can focus on the game.

Whether you’re a veteran or a rookie, we have a tool to help you work more effectively. For more information or a demo of any of the products in our suite, call 800.576.2799 or email

Weinberg, Robert Steven, and Peggy A. Richardson. Psychology of Officiating. Champaign (III.): Leisure Press, 1990, pp. 75-103. Print.