Empathise from the off
“Referees have a hell of a job to do in the modern game, so anything you do to make their role easier could work in your favour,” says Dr Paul Morris, psychologist at Portsmouth University, who identified the ‘archer’s bow’ technique adopted by players drawing attention to a foul. “Controlling your emotions and those of your team-mates from the start, as well as following the current guidelines and emphasis on respecting the ref, are sensible moves that can ensure you’re on at least a level playing field at the start of the game.”
“Good call, ref”
“Referees, like all of us, respond better to compliments than criticism,” says Tina Lamb, senior training consultant in influencing skills courses at business consultancy impactfactory.com. “If he’s made a good call – be it for your team or the opposition, even – give him a nod and say so as you jog past him,” says Lamb. “Remember that even at Sunday league level refs work in a small world, so you’ll come across the same officials again and again.”
Stay out of his grill
“No one wants to be barked at or feel threatened, though referees do expect their decisions to be questioned – it’s part of the game,” says Lamb. “You won’t be able to change his mind but you’ll reduce the risk of incurring his wrath by asking questions and not shouting insults. Think about your body language too – you could even do exercises on the training ground that work on asking the referee questions without invading his personal space.”
Aim for appeasement
“Just as in social situations, players will often adopt ‘appeasement gestures’ in a bid to calm down any conflict,” explains Morris. The experts suggest that, when faced with a card-toting ref, assuming the appeasement pose could take the sting out of things. “Start by relaxing your body stance,” says Robert Phipps, author of Body Language: It’s What You Don’t Say That Matters. “A single open palm out to the ref is a gesture that shows contrition. Try not to show body language that the referee will read as aggression, like gritting your teeth. And don’t forget to blink, as this has a pacifying effect.”
Hold your hands up
If you have a good disciplinary record it could work in your favour when you do commit an offence that would merit a card. “Players who commit a foul shouldn’t protest, but instead raise a hand in acknowledgement, apologise to the player and walk away,” suggests Phipps. “If the referee knows that it’s an ‘out of character’ foul then a swift acknowledgement that you’ve done wrong could get you off with just a caution.”
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