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Be Fit to Referee, Not Referee To Be Fit

Kenneth L. Kaylor, M.D.


To be an excellent NISOA Soccer official you must master and maintain three very different skill sets: Knowledge of the rules, courage and values to make the right calls, and physical fitness. Developing and maintaining fitness may be the most challenging task. Our goal is to be so fit that we can use all of our thought processes to do the first two things.  Then, “getting to the play” is so easy that it is a subconscious act and excelling at the PPT (Physical Performance Test) test is the norm. This article is to help us master and maintain our fitness.  Let’s break it down to four areas: Warm up, Aerobic fitness, Speed/Quickness, and PPT test preparation.


Warming up is a key part of any high-level physical activity.   We have learned some techniques over the last few years to better prepare for the stress of a hard work out or a game.  Think of it as getting your body ready to do the tasks you request of it.  You need to get the motor going (your heart/lungs) along with the transmission  (your muscles and joints).  Start your training with a jog.  Just go easy.  Get your heart rate up a bit and practice some deep breathing.  A five-minute jog is a great start.  Then you should stretch.  However, static “touch your toes” stretching is no longer encouraged; dynamic stretching is now the method of choice.

Dynamic stretching is using controlled motions that simulate what you are asking your body to do during the planned activity.  For soccer officials, we can use some of the same drills used by players… high knees, butt kicks, cariocas, and backward jog.  I would also recommend adding straight leg march  (bringing the leg forward with the knee straight), knee cradle (raise one leg flexing the hip and the knee by using the arms to pull the leg (not the foot) into the body while raising up on the toe of the supporting leg), and our favorite thing…the side-step.  All of the stretches should be done slow and controlled.  A distance of 25-50 meters for each drill is the target.


Aerobic fitness for referees is about cardiovascular efficiency, developing the strength and fuel reserves in your muscles and bones, and getting used to being on your feet.  The best way to do this is to run, specifically long slow distance runs.  It is not about being fast but just going.  Chose a moderate to slow pace.  You should be able to talk to your running partner and run for a set period of time.  Try not to worry about a distance – that tends to increasing speed just to get the run done.  Initially, a 30-minute run should be doable for all of us and 60 minutes is probably the minimum to be “game-fit”.  After reaching the goal of  doing a 60-minute run comfortably, add some spice with short pace “pick ups” (Fartleks) for 1-2 minutes and then bring the pace back down to recover.  It is OK to walk to get your heart rate and breathing back under control.  It is not an all-out sprint but an increase to a 75% effort. In addition to long runs, cross training is great for base aerobic fitness.  Cycling, swimming, and racquet sports are all great cross training activities.  As you get older this can help reduce the repetitive stress issues that can develop when running is your sole aerobic fitness method.  The nice thing about a long run…you can skip the warm up and just start slow.  You can do a few dynamic stretches in the first mile or two as well.


While anticipating the play and good basic aerobic fitness will you through most games, there are times when we either need to just “get there” or just “get out of the way”.  For that, speed/quickness is another important skill to have in our fitness toolbox.  Interval training is the way to build that skill.  First, a good warm up is essential.  A 10-minute jog with a full set of dynamic stretches is needed to insure an injury-free workout.  The premise of interval training is to go at or near your aerobic threshold (95% effort) and then recover.   A good starting point is a 30- or 60-second run at a hard to very hard pace, followed by a 30-second to two-minute recovery.  Start with a set of four 30-second runs with one-minute recovery.  If you are doing fine, then continue by either lengthening the run or shortening the recovery period.  If you are not recovered, then lengthen the recovery or slow the pace.  After one set add a time of jogging and then another set of intervals.  The goal is a good hard workout of 40 minutes or so, with 20 minutes of warm up and cool down.   A key thing to remember is that the recovery time is a critical component.   It must not be skipped but can be varied to meet the desired intensity of the work out.

Another method to add speed and quickness is field drills. As always, a good warm up is required before starting the drills.  An easy to set up drill on a soccer pitch is to run the diagonal from corner flag to corner flag, and then walk the goal line.  The speed of the runs should vary in both intensity and duration.  One method is a 75% effort run on one diagonal, goal line walk or jog, a 50% effort to the center and then a sprint to the other corner flag with another goal line walk and repeat.  Start with 4 laps and work up to 10.  If the goal line recovery is not enough, just walk back to the corner along the touchline.  Another drill is to set cones at 10-meter intervals for a distance of 40 meters.  In this drill sprint to the first cone (10m) and walk back for 4 repetitions.   Repeat for each distance so that you do 4 sprints of 10m, 20m, 30m and 40m.  You can increase or decrease the number of repetition at each distance based on fitness but don’t hurry the walk.  Remember that a good recovery is an important part of interval training.    You can mix and match these drills again with a goal of 40-60 minutes total workout.


Once you have your base aerobic fitness and worked on your speed/quickness it is time get ready for the NISOA fitness test.  As in all things, practice and familiarity with the task being tested is very helpful.  First review the fitness test and how it is scored.  It has four very different activities and knowing how to do well at each portion is critical.  Each test takes either a time or distance range and converts it to points, with 5 points available for each portion of the test for a total of 20 points.  The expected goal of NISOA national referee is 16 points (Passing is 14 points).

To do well in the 12-minute run, you need two skills.  The ability to run hard for 12 minutes and to know your pace for that hard run.  To train you body to run hard for twelve minutes requires your body to be ready for that stressor.  A good technique is to add a hard 12-minute run in the middle or near the end of your long run once every other week.  You do not need to run at “test pace” but get warm and then push your self for the 12 minutes.  The key here is to build a pace you can do for 12 minutes. Then you need to know your pace in seconds per 100 meters.    Once you are comfortable with running your test pace, go to a track and time yourself for one or two laps at that test pace.  There are 400 meters in each lap and the key time for the long run is the 100-meter time.  Now divide total seconds run by 4 (1 lap) or 8 (2 laps) and that will give you your time for one length of the field.  On test day start your watch and try to hit that time each length of the field. Go out too fast and you might not score well, as it is hard to finish strong if you are exhausted halfway through.  Go out too slow and the distance covered won’t be at your best, therefore a point or two behind. Don’t get drug out too fast by the rabbits – if you stay your pace you will catch them in the end.

The other three tests are speed and agility tests.  The best way to do well is to practice.  Use your fieldwork out days and practice each test.  Set up the Pro – 40 box and do the test as described… slow at first and increase speed as you gain confidence in the changes of direction.  Same with the 50-meter phase test and 7×30-meter shuttle test.  You do not have to do all 210 meters, but get used to the 30-meter change in direction.


Stay hydrated.  On your long runs, take a water bottle.  You may want to try some other sports drink and consider some fuel as well.  However, do not try a new drink or a new gel or energy bar on the day of a game or the PPT test.   Do not get tied to a schedule.  If you miss a day its OK, just try to get back on the path as soon as possible and don’t over do it trying to catch up.  If you get a pull or a strain – stop – even in mid-workout.  Pushing through an injury can sideline you longer than listening to your body.  For the PPT test, bring different shoes – studs, turf and running shoes if you have them.  If the field is muddy or artificial turf it can save your score…and your feet.  Lastly try to find another individual or group to run and work out with.  They can make it fun and most of us work harder in a group then when alone.  But if in a group, realize you will have good days and bad… as will everyone else.  Don’t pick on your partners when they have a bad day or rub it in when you are the king for a day.  Have fun be safe.  Get and stay fit to referee. Your season will be better for it.