Physical and Mental Health

By: Jenni Malsam, Iowa HS Athletic Assn. and Iowa Girls HS Athletic Union (30 yrs); Former HS Soccer-Basketball-Volleyball Official.

There are many kinds of knowledge, skills and attitudes that a certified NFHS Soccer Referee must master to help assure personal excellence in his or her chosen avocation of high school soccer refereeing. When we think of what is needed to be a successful Soccer Referee, it is usual to first think of such things as studying the rules, learning and practicing officiating mechanics, making discretionary decisions, and the like. However, the elements of success include far more than these important concerns. In this discussion we’ll cover two other important subjects that may not have occurred to you before this time. Both areas are critical to your success as a high school Soccer Referee.  You need to consider these carefully if your aim is to achieve personal excellence.

This article first covers information about your Physical and General Health, and then it reviews a number of key aspects of Personal Mental Health, all of which directly affect your successful performance on the high school soccer field.

To begin, we’ll tackle the broad area of the PHYSICAL ASPECTS of refereeing, and the kind of PERSONAL GENERAL HEALTH  level you should be trying to achieve.

Weight Control, Diet, and Healthy Foods

These are important because they affect your overall feeling of well being. The wrong diet and foods also negatively affects your ability to sustain rigorous activity and concentration, two requirements of competent officiating. Weight control, diet, and healthy foods are the bases for attaining good health. There are tons of information available on these three elements. The sooner you adopt a sensible dietary habit, the sooner you will raise your level of personal health.

Exercise, Aerobic and Anaerobic

These are more much more important than many Referees realize. Your ability to concentrate, to make rational decisions, and even to see critical game events accurately is directly affected by the degree to which you can hold off the inevitable negative effect of physical exhaustion while exercising. Putting it more plainly, as you get tired during exercise, you have less and less ability to concentrate, decide, or see clearly. A regular program of conditioning that includes both aerobic and anaerobic exercise can help build an endurance level that will delay the onset of physical exhaustion during physical exercise. That’s why professional athletes in all sports devote significant time and effort to a regular conditioning program. It improves athletic performance, regardless of the sport. There are usually one or more individuals in each Local Soccer Referee Chapter who can provide good guidance to you on personal training programs.  Be sure to take advantage of their expertise.

Injury Prevention

In officiating, while injury may occasionally come from an accident, it more usually comes from the physical stress of vigorous physical effort. Even in the less physically active sports than soccer refereeing, the stress of long periods of intense concentration, and even the stress of the competition, can cause injury through illness. In addition to the normally thought-of injuries such as sprains, cramps, and fractures, think of such potentials as heart attack, heat exhaustion, mental fatigue. You can help lessen their potential through proper physical conditioning programs. Also, you should always make sure you are up to date on understanding your level of physical health by getting regular checkups.

Warm up

This is a must before starting any physical exercise. The muscles need to be “loosened”, otherwise muscle tears could occur through sudden vigorous stretching during heavy exercise. Making sure you warm up right before a game helps get the body to a proper training level.

Stretching routine

Part of pre-exercise warm up is to go through a stretching routine. This loosens the muscles, tendons and ligaments before putting them under the stress of vigorous exercise, and helps avoid injury.

Cool down

Just as important as the pre-game warm up to the exercise period, the body needs to cool down to normal level after exercise. This usually takes from 5 to 10 minutes with most exercise regimens. You should not fail to do this.

Quality Equipment

Uniform is the first consideration. Make sure you obtain the proper equipment required for soccer refereeing. Uniform and a proper referee kit have been determined through long experience.


Competent soccer refereeing requires physical movement throughout the contest. Choosing the proper footwear is important. Consider the problems of bone spurs, shin splints, and ankle sprains and tears.

Protective gear

In general, soccer refereeing requires little or no protective gear. However, the NFHS Soccer Rules recognizes the possibility of the Referee needing a solid cap in some types of weather.  Your State High School Association also gives guidance on the allowed Referee uniform and gear allowed.  Another note, in severe cold, what you wear underneath your allowed Referee uniform might help ward off the effects of weather extremes. It should be considered. In those games conducted outdoors there may be provisions to allow protection from sun or extremes of heat and cold.  If so, consider the wisdom of these.


Athleticism involves training to achieve your best physical performance, and to improve your physical skills. That suggests that you need to inventory the skills needed for your sport, and your level of ability at each, in order to plan a personal training program.


Improving your physical reflexes of body and sight can be learned. They are needed where movement and accurate observation are required. Learn more about the exercises and techniques to help you improve your performance.

Body control

A regular physical training regimen is a good approach to achieving control. Most local high school Referee Chapters have one or more members who can advise on personal training programs. Also, your Local Chapter can arrange to have professional trainers discuss these matters with the membership.


This relies on your awareness of its importance, and your concentration on practicing correct posture throughout every day. It is a significant factor in your physical health.

Fatigue Prevention and Rest

The old adage applies about the day being divided into three parts, one of which is for rest. In particular, whenever you are scheduled to referee a game, you should make sure you get adequate rest before the game day so that your performance will be at its best. Lack of adequate and proper rest creates physical exhaustion. This impairs your ability to perform even the simplest tasks. Officiating is a demanding avocation and requires good physical health and conditioning for competent performance.


The more you develop a resistance to fatigue, and develop greater physical endurance, the better you will perform. This is achieved as part of a regular training program.


Most Referees remain much longer in the game than players. Many High School Soccer Referees have been able to extend their active sports participation for many years. A major aspect is their devotion to regular physical conditioning.

Energy maintenance

One of the many benefits of a regular physical conditioning program is an elevated level of energy throughout every day, even after vigorous exercise. This comes with achieving a personal “training effect”.

Substance Abuse

All NFHS Sports Rules prohibit use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs in connection with any school sports contest. These have no place in any NFHS Sport. As you know, the NFHS Soccer Rules Book specifies a penalty for use of tobacco product(s) at a game site during the period of the jurisdiction of the game officials, as an act of unsporting conduct.


While the use of caffeine is not prohibited, most health research warns against the regular or over use of caffeine products (Coffee, Tea, Soda, Chocolate, etc.). You should take this into account when developing your own physical improvement program.


The first impression of you of teams is formed when they see you arrive at the field. You must not only learn to be a competent official, but you must learn to always appear to be one.

Professional dress

The prescribed uniform, well maintained, is a must.  All State High School Associations designate the prescribed uniform for soccer games within their jurisdictions.

Personal hygiene

Personal hygiene and grooming are important aspects of your interaction with participants. An official with poor hygiene or poor grooming is viewed negatively by participants.

Next we’ll discuss the area of MENTAL ASPECTS and MENTAL HEALTH FACTORS of soccer refereeing.  In this discussion we cover the following: (a) Preparation and Training, (b) Attitude, and (c) Mental Attributes

Preparation and Training


You need to develop personal techniques to keep your concentration during all sports contests. Soccer, being a fast and dynamic game wherein tactical situations constantly change and develop, requires your absolute concentration to manage the game and its participants.


Learn and accept the fact that as Referee you are expected to make decisions and enforce the NFHS Soccer Rules. Indecisiveness exhibited by you can cause major contest problems.

Mental Reflexes

Develop personal techniques to improve your ability to concentrate on the occurrences in      a game to which you must react. Constant study of the rules and their application, study and practice of mechanics, and regular physical conditioning are of significant help.


Learn to keep a positive disposition at all times. Your positive attitude will usually receive positive responses from participants in even the most heated moments of a game.

Steady Temperament

This displays your self control and self-assurance and has a calming effect on participants. You need to set the example by your behavior.


Satisfaction with a job well done is one of the chief rewards you receive when you referee a game. The better you perform, the more personal satisfaction you will experience.

Heightened Self Esteem

There is a justifiable pride in a job well done that properly strengthens self esteem.

Low self esteem is a negative influence on the ability to officiate competently.


You should certainly enjoy refereeing, and the ability to participate in so important a role in Interscholastic Soccer. Approach your task and every game enthusiastically, and enjoy the total experience.

Mental Attributes

Confidence comes from the knowledge that you have tried in every logical way to reach personal excellence in the avocation of soccer refereeing.


Even under stress this is a must. In order to control the contest and participants you must first maintain your own poise in all situations.


This may seem hard to do in when surrounded by emotional participant who are under competitive stress. However, you must control yourself before you control others.


Not everyone performs up to your expectations all of the time. Not every situation will develop as you expect every time. Your own development of personal excellence may not come as quickly as you anticipated. Understand that patience is needed in all of these situations. Persistence in working towards goals will finally provide the results.

Self Control

Again, you cannot control others unless you learn to control yourself.


That is part of displaying mutual respect. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”.


Properly used, humor can defuse many potentially negative confrontations. However, it must be used sparingly.


This is a key to competent officiating. Develop and practice techniques to maintain concentration during a contest, and to regain concentration once lost during a contest.


Focus on the important places, events, details of ever contest. On the physical and mental preparation needed for officiating success in every contest.


This article has covered many key items of information and suggestions about improving your Physical and General Health and Personal Mental Health as an Interscholastic Soccer Referee. We also detailed the Mental Aspects and Mental Health Factors of soccer refereeing, all of which you should be trying to achieve.

All these can have a positive effect on your successful performance on the High School Soccer Field. You should study these carefully, and set about developing a personal program that will strengthen your performance as an Interscholastic Referee.