Rachel Mitchenson has been a Westfield W-League referee since 2013. Rachel has recently been accepted into AFC’s ‘Project Future’ Referee Program and refereed the Final of the AFC Regional Football Festival in Vietnam in June 2015.
She shares some of her insights on being an elite referee in the Westfield W-League.
How did you become involved in refereeing?
Having played football as a junior on the Sunshine Coast and with a family very passionate about the game, I saw refereeing as a way to earn some pocket money whilst being involved in a game I really enjoyed. At the age of 14 I was invited to participate in a referee course and I soon realised that I wanted to pursue the opportunities that refereeing had to offer.
Can you describe a week in the life of a W-League referee?
During the W-league season my week can look pretty hectic. It involves scheduling training around my full-time employment to maintain a high standard of fitness, both physically and mentally. A typical week of training incorporates field sessions including high intensity, speed and agility drills, as well as injury prevention or core-strengthening exercises. We are provided with coaching clips including analysis of refereeing decisions from previous matches to assist our development. It is also valuable to regularly incorporate theory sessions throughout the season to be up to date with knowledge of the Laws of the Game, as well as practical training to enable referees to perform to the highest standard come match day.
What do you do to keep a balance between your personal, professional and refereeing life?
This is particularly difficult during the W-league season as the training intensifies and there is very little down time. Building a strong relationship with my employer and work colleagues enables me to take the necessary time away from work to train and referee. My family and friends have played a vital role throughout my career by being there to support me. Scheduling the occasional rest day is important to recharge physically and mentally.
How do you keep focused during a match and not let emotions influence decisions?
I believe mental preparation is a key element in keeping focused throughout matches. It’s really important to be alert and maintain a positive outlook throughout the match, from the 1 st minute to the final whistle. Being able to control unwanted thoughts and manage emotions, whilst maintaining composure, can be quite challenging at times. Keeping a clear head and calm exterior when pressure is building comes from experience in tough, highly emotional matches and having support from coaches/mentors.
In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in football in recent years?
The biggest change in football in recent years would be the pace of the game. This is reflected in our training where a strong emphasis is placed on fitness so referees at the highest level are able to meet the physical demands of the game.
What is the key to building positive relationships with players and coaches?
Being yourself - being honest, approachable and humble. Having a variety of effective tools of communication will be of great benefit to referees - not all players and managers respond to the same type of communication.
What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of an elite referee?
There are many key attributes that are important characteristics of elite referees including physical fitness, technical (applying the laws of the game, positioning and match management) and effective communication with players. However, when it comes down to the most important characteristics, for me, it’s about having the dedication and commitment towards learning and development.
What match or moment stands out as a highlight in your refereeing career?
Officiating the grand final of the U14 AFC Regional Tournament in Vietnam this year and then being selected for the AFC Project Future Selection Course in Kuala Lumpur in November 2015.