Referees learn communication skills


Hello, this is Pete Jaskulski with Verbal Defense & Influence. I recently saw examples of how soccer referees use several of our communication strategies to make them more effective on the field.

I recently presented a three hour Verbal Defense and Influence (VDI) communication workshop for the Washington Soccer Referee Academy in Ellensburg, Washington. Also presenting with me were Bill Dittmar and Tim Weyland who are both experienced professional soccer referees.

Bill is a current Major League Soccer (MLS) Official and President of Hampton Roads Executive Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia. Tim is a former MLS Official, a FIFA Instructor and a human resources director for a global tech company in San, Francisco, CA.

I was thrilled to be able to attend Bill and Tim’s training sessions.


Familiar communication strategies

In their sessions they referred to two of the VDI concepts; Showtime and listening with all of your senses.

In Tim’s session on Referee mechanics he demonstrated and spoke of the importance of proper signaling when making a call on the field. Tim talked about posture and breathing. He then made the connection to “Showtime.”

He added that this makes a difference in demonstrating confidence in the call that you have just made. This is a great example of the term, “unconscious competent.” As a professional official (and he’s professional) he understands the importance of Showtime.

After my session on Saturday morning, Bill Dittmar approached me and showed me some notes he had. He pointed out Showtime. He then told me a story about an MLS game he officiated that was televised.

After this game his wife Heidi, whom he described as watching every little thing he does on the field (and he likes the feedback), asked him if he was sure of an offside call he had made in the game. According to Heidi he looked unsure of the call.

Bill responded by saying he had it all the way. He later was able to see the call on a replay he receives from MLS. What he saw was himself with his tongue out licking the sweat off of his lip.

Bill later was on plane with a television producer that was involved in producing MLS soccer games. The producer told him that one camera is always on the Assistant Referee. What Bill took away from this is that you have to look good at all times because you never know when you will be on camera.

He took this one step further by telling this story to his trainees during his field training sessions. He demonstrated how to make the call and look good all of the time. They then had to practice the skill.

Later I walked into the middle of one of Bill’s drills.


In-game communication practice

He had a 3 on 3 soccer game in a confined (much smaller field) area. No running was allowed and all of the players had to communicate with each other. There was a lot of talking going on and the area was surrounded by the other trainees who were instructed to listen to what the players were saying. He called this the “Sounds of the Game” and was meant to be a communication drill.

The purpose of the drill was to pay attention to what is being said and done on the field during the game. It will give you a better feel for the game. In other words, “listening with all of your senses.” I was impressed.

I have used this analogy when teaching umpires. By listening to what the teams are saying and doing to each other and what the coaches are saying to the players and officials, you can prepare yourself for the inevitable conflict that will occur. This helps you to predict, prepare and justify your response to the conflict.

The weekend taught me a lot and reinforced the idea that the VDI Concepts are universal even in sports officiating. It doesn’t matter if you are umpiring a baseball game, officiating a soccer match or refereeing a football game, good communication applies to everything.



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