Lara Lee has been a Westfield W-League referee since 2012 and has recently been accepted into the Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship. She shares some of her insights on being an elite referee in the Westfield W-League.
How did you become involved in refereeing?
During university I was studying to be a PE teacher and at the time I was coaching and playing football. One of my friends asked me to do the refereeing course to add to my skills as a PE teacher. I actually quite enjoyed being a part of the refereeing community so I continued to referee locally as a hobby while also taking on full time teaching.
Can you describe a week in the life of a W-League referee?
Funnily enough, many people don’t realise the commitment and devotion one has to be a W-League Referee. Each night there is some form of training: Monday is speed endurance; Tuesday is high intensity; Wednesday is strength and conditioning at the gym; Thursday is agility and speed work, while Friday or Saturday, depending on Match allocation can either be recovery or another strength and conditioning session. Amongst this, we also have to reflect on our games and once a month we meet as a group to discuss and analyse incidents / decisions in games.
What do you do to keep a balance between your personal, professional and refereeing life?
I am very lucky that my husband is also a referee so refereeing is a part of our lifestyle. The balance sometimes is difficult for my family; however, they are always supportive with refereeing and encourage me to achieve my goals and aspirations. Fortunately, my profession works well with refereeing life as a lot of our skills as a referee is transferable to teaching and my employer is very supportive. This makes it easier to balance work, personal life and refereeing.
How do you keep focused during a match and not let emotions influence decisions?
We have to make decisions continuously and this can be stressful sometimes. I was given the advice about 5 years ago as a teacher to do the opposite of what your body is telling you to do. I was told to take a deep breath and let your mind become clear. Once you have taken the breath, you can reset and focus on the correct decision to make.
In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in football in recent years?
The game has changed to an attacking style where counterattacks are frequent. The teams are leaving the defence open to take a risk and score a goal. In turn, players take more of a risk with challenges to stop the counterattack making discipline and tactical fouls increase. This has changed in the way we have had to train – short and sharp sprints, speed work to cater for the counterattack and analysis of tactical fouls in the classroom.
What is the key to building positive relationships with players and coaches?
Building relationships is important to any workforce or area in life. I find that communication and consistency are the keys to building the relationships. If players and managers do not understand the decision we make or how we handle a situation, it is easy for them to become upset and frustrated. This does not have a positive effect on the game. However, I have found that if you are able to communicate and be consistent with these decisions, players and managers start to build trust in you as a referee that you will make the same decision and understand why – even when they don’t always agree.
What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of an elite referee?
Integrity. In a game where decisions influence outcomes, it is most important to call what you see; to be honest and not guess what we see. This builds trust in players and coaches.
What match or moment stands out as a highlight in your refereeing career?
This is hard to say because I have had a few highlights that have taught me significant lessons in my career. In the W-League it was my recent match at Central Coast – Canberra United versus Melbourne City. Being in the stadium with the current top team versing last year’s grand final winners was a moment for me. However, locally would have been my first Brisbane Premier League and NPL men’s game. The speed and intensity in which they play made me realise that I needed to step up my game and become a better official.