Today I travelled to Wembley to speak to Joanna Stimpson The FA’s women’s refereeing Manager.
Right now, we’re in the middle of an exciting women’s football world cup. But the Lionesses aren’t the only one’s on the pitch. In this interview we explore what it means to be a ref. How refereeing has changed and what the ambitions are for refereeing as the women’s game continues to grow and develop.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 1.7.19 – Ep 45. Joanna Stimpson
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
T: Welcome to a Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.
Right now we´re in the middle of an exciting women’s football World Cup, but the Lionesses aren´t the only ones on the pitch. Today I´ll be exploring what it means to be a ref, how refereeing has developed and what the ambitions are for refereeing as the women´s game continues to grow and develop. I travelled to Wembley to speak to Joanna Stimpson, the FA´s Women´s Refereeing Manager. The interview was done a few hours before England played their qualifying match against Norway, so it might be interesting first to ask her what she hoped to see from the refereeing team in that match?
R: Do you know what we always say, is that the best refereeing performance you´ll give is the one that nobody notices? So we hope that they´re out there, nobody sees them, let them get on with their job and that´s how we gauge good refereeing performance.
I: How does a referee stay mentally alert?
R: That´s a really good question because something we work so hard with all our referees, and this is men and women´s game, is fitness levels. You have to be switched on and focussed to make that key decision in the first minute and also that key decision in the 94th minute if you need to and if you´re physically tired then you´re mentally tired as well.
So fitness to make sure we´ve got a really high level of fitness is key, but there´s lots of different strategies we use for referees in terms of keeping themselves focussed in the game. So breaking the game down into bitesize pieces, giving them methods the overcome decisions. If they´ve made a decision they´re not sure of, it´s giving them the method to overcome that decision, now move away from that and more onto the next one.
So there´s lots of strategies and tips, which are very individual for different people and lots of people have lots of different skills and habits that they use to make sure that they stay focussed. But ultimately, if you´re not fit then you´re really going to struggle.
I: Do refs have to deal with a lot of abuse on the pitch?
R: It´s no secret that poor behaviour does happen around football pitches and that´s at grassroots level and that´s right up to the professional game; it does happen. I think in the big scheme of things, when you see how many games and matches are played in a week, it´s a small percentage. But again, we teach and educate our referees quite well with different skills, different tactics, different methods, within the laws of the game, that we can use, so to manage people and reduce the limit of confrontation that there is.
I: Do you think referees get the recognition they deserve?
R: Of course not. Of course not. A referee´s a really funny role in football in terms of it´s the only team there that´s impartial and it doesn´t really matter what the outcome of the game is. Your players, spectators, coaches, they´re all there and they all want one outcome and that´s for the team that they´re supporting to win. Referees are there solely to do a job and they don´t mind what the outcome is. That´s not important for them. The outcome is that they referee a fair game and everybody can see it and I think referees, we can see a game where a player has quite a poor game but then they´ll score a goal in the last five minutes, which makes them a hero. We can have a referee that has an amazing 89 minutes but makes a poor decision in the 90 minutes and they´re judged solely on that, which is a shame because they´re a really good referee, they just made one poor decision. I think on average about, say about 280 decisions a referee makes in a game, so actually anybody in any walk of life to make 280 decisions and get one wrong is not a bad piece of data.
I: Why do you do this job yourself?
R: Because I’m really passionate about refereeing.
I: Where does that passion come from?
R: I never set out, and I think many people that have got into refereeing they never set out saying I want to be a referee, I want to go and referee football matches. You fall into it and I was a player, I played with my local club. I think anybody that´s linked to a local club starts in one role and ends up with several. One of those roles became me refereeing the under-14 girls on a Saturday morning. I thought, I’m not actually confident I know what I’m doing here so I went and did the course, purely to just help out on a Saturday morning and then it gets a bit, you have a good game, you want to challenge yourself a little bit more and you challenge yourself a little bit more and challenge yourself a little bit more and I had obviously come through the men´s pathway so experienced first-hand the challenges there are about being a minority.
So I came from a county that had very few female referees. I was the only one that really progressed at the time to semi-professional game and I knew what the challenges were out there and I wanted to help people coming through. I got into refereeing a little bit later so in terms of an international career that was probably unlikely for me because of my age, so once I started delivering back a little bit of development I made the decision that actually, as much as I love being out there on the field of play, I love helping people more and I love developing people and making (inaudible 0:04:59) referees more than I do actually being out there and doing it myself.
I: So in your current role, what do you see as the biggest challenges that you face?
R: I think a lot is around perceptions in terms of recruitment. You know, it´s perception, what are girls getting themselves into, what are referees getting themselves into, they´re not really sure, so it´s definitely changing the perceptions around refereeing. Referees in general we don´t really sell the good parts about it. We don´t tell people about the countries you can visit, the relationships that you make, the skills that develop you as a person so I think really getting that message out there and letting people know what refereeing can bring to you.
I: What part of your job do you wish you did more of or less of?
R: Do you know, I love all my job, which is hard because the job is massive. I think for me, I get really excited when I see the 14 year old girls and how excited they are and I think they´re so innocent, they´re so early and I get so excited for them about where this journey could take them, but at the moment what´s happening at the top end, that´s the sort of ultimate excitement I think really, you know the change in the WFL and the opportunities that we can create female referees, for them to have a female league which is likely to be the best in the world and we can be operating on that week in, week out, that´s where I´d like to really focus on.
I: So always 100% motivated?
R: Yeah always. There´s definitely down days; naturally in any job there´s definitely down days but I think they´re the minority.
I: This podcast is about performance, it´s about the people´s different views on success. What´s success for you?
R: When Sue came in, into post, it was to change women´s football at the FA here and as I said before part of that was about refereeing and that was what I wanted to do. I want there to be a real clear structure for our girls, getting into refereeing at the age of 14, ride their way through, which is fun, which is enjoyable, which challenges them, which changes them as people; it gives them life-changing opportunities to enable them to go right through and operate at the top and ultimately I want us, I want the English FA, to represent us better than anybody else in the world does internationally.
I: Be a world leader in refereeing?
I: Just a small task ahead.
I: I’m just going to finish things up with some quickfire questions. What did you eat for breakfast?
R: Poached egg on toast, as always, as always.
I: Favourite piece of kit?
R: Whistle. Gobby.
I: I don´t need to ask why for that. Sporting hero?
R: Jess Ennis.
R: Because I just think she´s the ultimate role model and I think the ultimate leader and I think the pressure that was on her in the Olympics and then to fulfil her ambitions to be world class, which she is, and win gold medals but to inspire a generation like she really did and not singlehandedly but she played a massive part in that.
I: The greatest passion outside of sport?
R: My children, my family.
I: And how old are they?
R: My daughter´s 20, or nearly 20 and my son´s nearly 17, so grown up.
I: Do they play sport?
R: Yeah, Jay is. Tatia´s not, Jay is, so still a player though so she probably feels like she tips the scales a little bit on playing.
I: Best performance enhancer?
I: Smile? Brilliant. Well thank you very much for talking to me today. I appreciate it.
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