US Referee Connection is pleased to welcome FIFA Referee Fitness Instructor, Alejo Perez Leguizamon. His duties are to follow and assist with the training and preparation of elite referees worldwide, including the ones who will participate in the World Cup Brazil 2014. He also provides educational tools for the referee instructors. Alejo has experience in working with football (soccer), futsal and rugby teams, as well as some individual team sports.
Alejo, please accept a warm welcome to US Referee Connection.
Alejo Perez Leguizamon
What are the physical requirements to referee at the professional level?
- Referees officiating at the professional level are now required to cover a total distance of 10-14 kilometers (6-9 miles) within 90+ minutes. But most important than the total distance, is the amount of the distance covered at high speeds. A top referee can cover about 1,5 kilometers at 5 or more meters per second (as a reference for the reader, 5m/s (16ft/s) is the speed of the FIFA interval test while running). In addition to the demands of high speed running, there are plenty acceleration and deceleration phases and changes of direction that stress the musculoskeletal system and depletes (empty) glycogen deposits. The physical demands occur while referees have high cognitive demands that requires perception, assessment and decision making processes, many situations being complex and even multiple (several situation happening at once). In short, the physical demands are quite high, and especially considering the cognitive and environmental (stadium, crowd, etc.) demands. Another point for consideration is that top referees´ age is close to 40 years of age, so referees need to delay aging as much as possible to perform at the professional level.
What does a referee need physically if he/she wants to perform at the international level?
- A referee need to manage performance variables as any other professional athlete: Training, nutrition, rest and recovery need to be controlled by experts and ideally, under the guidance of professionals (physical coach, sports physiotherapist, sports nutritionist, etc.). In order to keep balance, personal and family circumstances need to be considered in the whole training and refereeing planning.
We have seen referees carrying a special watch when they train. Do they have to report personal fitness performance to FIFA?
- We utilizes a number of tools to monitor matches and training intensities; some of these variables provide objective data and some other variables provide subjective data.
What are the benefits for a referee to be physically and mentally prepared?
- Like in any professional activity or task: deliberate training and preparing for a task provides us tools to reach better outcomes, minimize errors and find solutions to problems.
Is there a difference between the fitness training for referees and assistant referees at the professional level?
- Absolutely. In brief, referees have higher demands for high intensity exercise, with bouts of intermittent type of exercise and incomplete periods of rest. On the other hand, assistant referees require doing more explosive type of exercise in short distances, and with longer recovery periods. Therefore, training for referees and assistant referees must be ´position specific´.
What’s the connection between good fitness and correct referee decisions?
- Good fitness allows optimal or improved distance to match situations. And optimal distance is likely to allow better assessment. From a purely fitness perspective, better fitness will result in delaying the onset of fatigue, which results on a negative effect on decision making skills. Last point, ´good overall fitness´ gives the referee authority and credibility.
How often should a referee working amateur games, train?
- At least 3 times a week.
How long should a training session be for referees at the amateur level?
- Training sessions should be based on what referees do in the match and a qualitative principle should be prioritized. A fitness session can be perfectly done within 1 hour.
What is the most challenging aspect of referee fitness training?
- Planning and peaking fitness for a full year of top level football. There are football games and top-level competitions all year round, and little opportunities to unload training.
We have a lot of young referees who want to become professional referees. What would be your suggestions to them?
- As far as fitness training, dedicate the same amount of training and (if possible) resources than the players you are refereeing. For example, if you are officiating a league where players train 4 times a week, you should aim to train 4 times a week, get specialized strength and athletic training. Moreover, look for help to get quality training for your individual needs.
We have some questions from our members:
Tom Spalding, from Orinda, California asks:
What low-impact cross-training activity best helps referees achieve match fitness?
- It may help to develop a base of good general fitness, but referees training has to be as specific and individual as possible.
Baltazar Peral, from San Antonio, Texas asks:
I would like to know what FIFA referees eat before their matches and also in the days before their games? Do they have a special diet?
Also I really wanted to know if, when running to get in shape, it is better to run a long distance a few days a week, or run a moderate distance four days a week, but at a faster pace?
- Answer/diet: Match officials are advised to start carbohydrate loading (approx. 2g/kg of body weight) 2-3 days before the match, as well as intake of (approx. 1,5g/kg of body weight) protein. There are nutritional guidelines and regular body composition monitoring of the top referees.
- Answer/training: Long distance running is not really specific for refereeing. Short distance, interval training may be a more efficient way of training for refereeing. Even in case of a need for ´base fitness´ and or weight management, long distance running may not be the best option as it is not ´movement specific´ and has rather high impact on the joints (ankles, knees, etc.). Back to the question, referee training should not only include ´aerobic training of activities´ but speed in different forms, agility, strength and injury prevention, flexibility. So do not dedicate all your training to ´running type of activities but try covering all physical aspects of refereeing.
Alejo, thank you very much for your kind and insightful contribution to our Referee Community.