August 2, 2015

Psychology for Referees - Performance Management (1/4): Goal-Setting

One of the focal questions that should drive ambitious referees at all levels is: "How can I become better?" For sure, this question similarly concerns those who manage these referees: "How can I make this referee better?".  

There is even a scientific approach called Performance Improvement, which can be located in the field of Consulting and Human Resource Management and which is interested in these issues. Given the considerable amount of overlaps between management and refereeing, it is applicable for refereeing in quite a good and valid way. Based on this approach, I am going to present you a short series of posts, investigating four steps to answer the questions placed above and showing the relevance for referees (like you) themselves, referee observers and referee managers.

photo by becomeablogger

Part 1 of the Performance Management Series: Goal-Setting

1. Goal Setting

3. Performance Evaluation

4. Incentive Systems

The first part is about how to set adequate goals. Why to set them at all? Well, practically all 'athletes' in sports, but even in business contexts, do set goals. Goals have the power and ability to provide you with a long-term vision (where you want to be in ... weeks/months/years) and short-term-motivation (I want it, so I work hard now).

What kind of goals can be relevant for referees?

Referees are athletes on and off the field of play, which means a huge impact on the everyday organization including training / workout, nutrition, lifestyle etc.

Thus, goals can be set in any of these areas. For example, referees can be interested in set goals and become better in terms of...
- ...their on-field-performance (work on your weaknesses, stabilize your strengths)
- ...their career (define career milestones, promotions, appointments...)
- ...their fitness (body fat values, stamina, yoyo-test running time...)
- ...their lifestyle (nutrition values such as kcal, composition and frequency of nutrition etc.)

How to proceed?

First of all, you should conduct a Performance-Gap-Analysis (also known as Distance Analysis). Where are your gaps between the actual and desired performance level? In form of a target-actual-comparison, you should identify positive gaps (your actual level is above the expectations) and strive for stabilizing them, while negative gaps (you are not yet meeting the requirements) should be closed. On the basis of that, formulate reasonable goals and prioritize them! What is most urgent? What is not that urgent?

How do goals affect performance?

Generally, some studies were able to show that goal setting processes are valuable as they are intensifying learning processes (e.g., Asmus, Karl, Mohnen & Reinhart, 2015).
Locke and Latham (1990) found an answer on that in one of the most influential papers on that topic. They defined the so-called High Performance Cycle which explains the impact of goals and their characteristics on performance as well as conditions that need to be fulfilled to make this effect possible. This Goal-Setting-Theory is shown in the following image:

As visible in the illustration, the critical arrow from goals to performance is influenced by moderators (factors that influence the strength of the relation) and mediators (how exactly the effect works). 

Goals lead to performance via the focus of action, the extent of effort you are investing into pursuing the goal and the degree of persistence shown as well as developing clear strategies and plans how to achieve these goals. This means that goals e.g. lead to higher performance because your effort is higher, or because your attention is intensely focussing this one goal. Moreover, the strength of the relation Goals-Performance depend on the feedback you get, on your level of commitment to the goal (and organization, in our case e.g. UEFA or any other association) and your self-efficacy (= the level of task-related self-confidence you are feeling). 

However, to reach a long-term effect, higher performance needs to be evaluated, rewarded and has to lead to satisfaction. Otherwise, the cycle would end here and, actually, would be no cycle anymore. If satisfaction and attractive rewards, e.g. in form of incentives, are perceived, willingness to accept new challenges and to increase your commitment to a goal or the organization will be given. 

Locke and Latham also postulated some characteristics that good goals should have:

1. The more specific and the more precise, the better! 

This means that objectives need to be measurable and concrete on the one hand (what quality?, what quantity?) and time-bound on the other hand (how much time available?, is there any deadline?).

Referee Managers should therefore keep in mind that it is essentially important to inform their referees about what precise level of performance is expected from them. Instructions like "Give your best!" are too vague, lead to worse performance (Bipp & Kleingeld, 2008) and should be avoided. Instead, better formulate expectations that are qualifiable and quantifiable (a certain mark average, certain fitness values, passing tests in a specific manner...).

2. Difficult goals lead to better performance!

Goals should be demanding. Easy goals are simple to fulfill, but do not pull you to better performance and are not motivating at all (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). However, goals should stay achievable. A referee must be able to reach his goal. Hence, the difficulty of goals and tasks must be well-dosed, both in terms of their quality and of their quantity. Pay attention to the fit of demands and resources.

Examples with regards to refereeing:

2.1 Goals are, in this case, equivalent to tasks which are equivalent to referee appointments. Too challenging appointments and matches not (yet) meeting the resources and capabilities of a referee can have fatal consequences.

2.2 As said, goals should not be too easy to attain either though. Sending a very experienced referee, who once was even a candidate for higher categories, into too easy matches makes no sense and could even be demotivating. UEFA e.g. only appoints Elite and First Group Referees for their EURO qualifiers including matches like Croatia-Malta or England-San Marino which could be even done by an ambitious Second Group Referee. Of course, same goes for lower amateur league appointments.   

3. Design goals in a corporate, participative manner!

Referee Managers should pay attention to that. If there are mentor or godfather systems, such as the programme UEFA has started some months ago for some former First Group Referees, or what many domestic associations do for newbies or aspiring talents, goals should be defined corporately and as a result of a partner-like process. But of course every referee can set individual goals for him-/herself, too.

Define SMARTER Goals!

This is a quite eye-catching formula you can easy keep in mind and use for yourself: You have probably already come across the SMART terminology once. The starting letters of some of the previously mentioned characteristics of good goals are hiding behind this abbreviation. There are multiple forms of the SMART technology, I propose this form of SMARTER goals:

Specific: Formulate them as precise and concrete as possible.
Measurable: Goals and their attainment must be measurable.
Attractive: Only attractive goals (e.g. due to rewards in sight) pull you.
Reachable: Goals must be demanding, but achievable.
Time-Bound: Set clear deadlines by when you want to have achieved the goal.
Encouraging: Good goals motivate you.
Response during Goal-Attainment-Process: Ask for feedback, monitor yourself.

Recommendations for Referees

1. Analyze your gaps! Where are you good in? Where could you do better? Identify and prioritize them!
2. Set goals in different areas to become better (performance, career, fitness, lifestyle...)!
3. Formulate them in a SMARTER way!
4. Insist on feedback during your goal-attainment-process! A frequent problem is that most referees do not have a referee observer in their matches, specially at amateur level. In this case: Monitor yourself. Continuously check the process of goal attainment. This document might support you in that - I use it for my own matches in another form. It could look like that.
5. Show commitment to your goals, e.g. make written contracts with yourself which binds yourself to them!

Recommendations for Referee Observers or Mentors

1. If you are mentoring a referee, define corporate goals in line with the SMARTER formula and findings of the theories described above.
2. Always observe referees in the light of this question: What can I give this referee to take along? What are systematical gaps he is showing? How can I make him better in the long run? 
(Referees know their mistakes. In referee reports, never write something like "Missed Penalty" as a point for improvement. Instead focus on the cause of the mistake and preventive rooms for improvement - make a root-cause-analysis)
3. Provide him with sufficient information on his performance - give him good feedback (next part of this series!)! As circumscribed in point 2.: Use the points for improvement in your referee observation report to provide the referee with systematical recommendations.
4. But: Don't overload referees. 3, maybe maximum 4 points for improvement are enough for the next time. You don't digest more, as you otherwise lose the focus for what you should actually focus on in your next matches.

Recommendations for Referee Managers

1. When it comes to referee appointments, promotions, career planning etc.: Always pay attention to providing referees with challenging, but achievable goals. Ensure the fit of the referee's existing resources and demands of a task (= match)!
2. Make clear what precisely you expect from your officials. Define performance standards, refrain from formulating vague expectations!
3. Involve your referees into their career planning, development analysis etc.


Bakker, A.B. & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22, 309-328
Bipp, T. & Kleingeld, A. (2011). Goal-setting in practice – the effects of personality and perceptions of the goal-setting process on job satisfaction and goal commitment. Personnel Review, 40(3), 306-323
Locke, E.A. & Latham, G.P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation. American Psychologist, 57, 705-717


  1. Great article Niclas, I look forward to the next parts

  2. Is the next section of this article to be posted soon?

  3. Yeah, great article. We're waiting for more ;)


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