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Roles of officials

Roles of officials

20 May 2014

Sports officials must be able to bring control to chaos, understand fairness, promote safety and encourage good sportsmanship. A sports official must have the positive characteristics of a police officer, lawyer, judge, accountant, reporter, athlete and diplomat. They are also someone who can be put in a position of authority and handle the responsibility without being overbearing.

Along with the rules of the game you must fully understand your role before, during and after the game has ended.

What's expected of you as an official?

Being an official is an extremely important role in any sport. Without officials giving up their time, most sporting competitions would be unable to function. Officiating can be challenging, and unfortunately some officials are subjected to hostile behaviour by participants, spectators and others. They need to be able to perform their role in a positive manner and block out the verbal comments from spectators.

Officials need to ensure that their approach towards officiating is in line with the aims of the competition, for example, junior competitions are usually aimed at fun and skill development rather than winning. Officials should be aware that their approach to officiating can influence the participants' experience and enjoyment of the sport.

Each official becomes the 'face' of officiating at competitions. People often judge all officials by how an individual official behaves, which means that they need to behave in a professional and responsible way. It is important that officials present in a manner that portrays officiating in a positive and respected manner.

Officials undertake an important role in the staging of competitions. They provide leadership and guidance to participants, ensuring that the competition is conducted in a safe and fair manner. Qualities such as integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and respect are integral to the role of the official. This includes how they behave and relate to others prior to, during and after competition, how they present themselves as an official, and how they go about their role. Officials are responsible for their actions and attitudes. People expect the official to be a person they can trust to control the competition.

There are a number of expectations of officials including:

  • Trustworthy - honest and impartial
  • Responsible - have integrity and take the role seriously
  • Prepared for their role - prepared physically and mentally for the task
  • Competent - have and are further developing the skills for the task

It is important to remember that the competition in which the official is officiating is the most important competition that day to those participating in it.

The physical requirements of an official will vary from sport to sport and within a sport. Some sports require officials to be very active (rugby, basketball, netball), while others less so (volleyball, athletics, rowing). Adopting a healthy lifestyle will contribute to all officials being in appropriate physical condition.

Officiating in some sports will require additional physical preparation that is appropriate for the particular sport. The more active officiating roles require a level of physical fitness that will allow the official to achieve correct positioning throughout the competition, make good decisions, and officiate the competition in a non-distressed physical state.

At the end of the day, it's all about the players and athletes. You'e there to ensure everyone sticks to the rules and ethics of the game so everyone gets the most out of it. It's not about you – without the participants there would be nothing to officiate.

Improving your performance

A big part of improving your performance as a sports official is reflecting on your last performance – so you know what to build on or avoid in the future. Reflecting on your performance requires a systematic approach. Three common methods include:

  1. Using a logbook or diary.
  2. Recording the main calls or judgements you made during a sporting event that you controlled.
  3. Reflecting on what you did and areas for improvement. Make a plan to practise and follow it up regularly.


Speak to other officials, coaches and/or players to see what they think of your performance and what they feel your areas for improvement are. Use a mentor in a structured way – ask them if they are willing to work with you over time to improve your performance.

Video review

Record and review your performance so you can see what others see. Look for areas of success and for improvement and then make a plan to work through any issues raised.

Post-game review

Have a basic questionnaire ready to hand out to players, coaches and spectators who you think might be able to give you honest and practical feedback. Ask them to rate your performance from 1 to 10 using questions such as:

  • How was my performance overall?
  • How was my judgement and decision-making?
  • How was my signalling and communication?
  • Was I positioned on the field correctly?
  • Were my decisions consistent?
  • Did I handle conflict well?
  • Did I handle external factors such as pitch conditions, weather and spectators well?
  • Please provide general comments on today's performance.

Official's code of conduct

I will:

  • place the safety and welfare of players above all else
  • show concern and caution towards sick and injured players
  • be impartial, consistent, objective and courteous when making decisions
  • accept responsibility for my actions and decisions
  • condemn unsporting behaviour and promote respect for the individuality of players
  • avoid any situations which may lead to or be construed as a conflict of interest
  • be a positive role model in behaviour and personal appearance and ensure my comments are positive and supportive
  • be a good sport as I understand that actions speak louder than words
  • always respect, remain loyal to and support other officials
  • keep up to date with the latest 'laws of the game', trends and principles of their application
  • refrain from any form of personal abuse towards players or other officials
  • respect the rights, dignity and worth of all people involved in the game regardless of their gender, ability or cultural background.

I will not:

  • arrive at the venue intoxicated or drink alcohol at junior matches.

Disciplinary procedures

All NSOs in New Zealand and their members have an obligation to follow all of the policies, procedures and code of conduct of that sport. Disciplinary action may result from failure to follow the code of conduct and expectations of that sport. As a sports official it is part of your responsibility to uphold the code of conduct for your sport and manage the game effectively. For more serious infringements contact your NSO or club to discuss the disciplinary process so you can fulfil your obligation as a sports official.

Seven simple steps to success

  1. Keep your perspective: Right now your most important goal is being a good official for whatever sport you are officiating. By studying, observing and practising you will improve, just as the players do when they practise. Remember, it's a game for the players. Help them have fun.
  2. Prepare for the unexpected: Take time before each game to talk with your partners about responsibilities. Meet at least 15 minutes before the start of your game and go over the local ground rules and any special interpretations or concerns that might exist concerning the teams involved. Don't leave any doubts unresolved with your partners.
  3. Remember, you're in charge: When dealing with coaches or parents who can't control themselves in front of the players, you do not have to 'take it' as much as officials at other levels. There are ways to handle verbally abusive coaches, players and spectators. See the 'Game management' learning area for more information. Remember that being disrespectful to an official is not part of the learning curve! Remember too that you're out there to control the game first and foremost, and to administer it within the framework of the rules.
  4. Legal responsibilities and risk management: As an official, you have a responsibility to ensure that all games are conducted in a safe environment. Do not let a coach intimidate you into beginning or continuing a game when rain, fog, lightning, wet floors, leaking roofs or other problem conditions exist. When in doubt, use common sense and err on the side of safety.
  5. Climb the ladder at your own pace: Sports need officials. If you become a good official with younger players and athletes there will be opportunities for you to move up the age grades – if you want. It's up to you just how far you want to go. Just go at a pace that makes you comfortable.
  6. Keep your focus: Remember, with each age level increase the games become more competitive and the skill levels improve. Still, kids will be kids and mistakes of every kind can happen. You must be able to concentrate. Know that if you're not focused you risk losing control of the game.
  7. Humble thyself: No matter how good you think you are, you're only as good as your last call. Once your game is over, it's history. You should learn from it and take those lessons with you into the next game.


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