For the second year running, two colleagues from the LINCS Department at Heriot-Watt’s School of Social Sciences (SoSS), Dr Maggie Sargeant and Dr Pedro Jesús Castillo Ortiz, were involved in the SCORE (Scottish Centre of Refereeing Excellence) course for football referees (2015) and assistant referees (2016), in partnership with the Scottish Football Association and Oriam: Scotland’s Sports Performance Centre, based at Heriot-Watt University. The course aims to provide a pathway for up-and-coming match officials to develop skills relevant to refereeing at the highest level of the game. In this regard, public communication skills and intercultural awareness are key in bringing Scottish referees into the international arena.
Building on existing research in communication and leadership in sport, Sargeant and Castillo delivered the first communications workshop of its kind in Scottish football. Neil Gibson (Director of Sport, Performance and Health at Oriam, Scotland’s Sport Performance Centre) was delighted that participants had the opportunity to develop the kind of skills that will take their careers beyond the national context.
In the first edition (2015-2016), 9 referees attended the course, learning how to deliver clear, concise and coherent messages when communicating both on and off the pitch. Best practices in dealing with how to explain the rules of the game both to players during football matches and to the media when required were highlighted as having been particularly useful by the participants in their workshop feedback.
In the second edition, this season, 10 assistant referees took part in a series of role plays, communicating with match officials in international matches where issues such as racism and sexism have to be handled sensitively. They also engaged in public dialogue around the offside rule, a game-changing situation in football, where assistant referees play a key role during matches.
In both editions, Dr Sargeant and Dr Castillo presented real and hypothetical scenarios for group discussion, in which referees and assistant referees have to face a diverse linguistic and cultural environment on and off the field (players, coaches, tournaments, media). Although the promising future referees and assistant referees were well aware of what is at stake in the international football sphere, this module of the course made them aware that knowledge of foreign languages, intercultural communication and dealing with a complex global media landscape are also crucial in achieving and providing excellence in refereeing.
To some extent, football referees share skills and challenges with interpreters, hence Dr Sargeant and Dr Castillo’s involvement in the course, with the conviction that transferable skills can be at the heart of courses such as this taught to up-and-coming SFA referees.
“If public communication skills, face-to-face interaction in multilingual environments, fast decision making and dealing with potentially conflicting parties is at the core of the training of future interpreters in LINCS, and we can successfully achieve it, why wouldn’t we apply it to football referees and other sports professionals?” Dr Sargeant and Dr Castillo explained.
With positive feedback from the SFA organisers and the participants of the course, the involvement in training opportunities such as SCORE evidence the potential impact that key skills we research on and teach in LINCS can have, bringing other professions and industries to the top level of international excellence.
We are looking forward to next year’s SCORE course and we hope to see these referees and assistant referees in the next Euros and World Cup.