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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't blame the Referee

I love sport! I love competition, whether it be me competing or someone else, I love the thrill of winning!

My favourite team sport is rugby league, followed closely and in descending order of preference, by Australian Rules football, soccer, rugby union and cricket.

Everyone loves a good, competitive game.  Whilst thrashing an opponent is great for stroking the ego, the thrill and satisfaction of winning in a close, hard fought match is unparalleled.

The disappointment when we lose of course, is devastating so we often look for excuses.  One of the most common is to blame the referee or umpire instead of placing responsibility for the loss squarely at the feet of the team.

The ref may have a shocker by incorrectly awarding penalties, or not awarding penalties, incorrectly awarding tries, or not awarding tries and so on; tailor it to your chosen sport.  These decisions may affect the game, but can we really blame the outcome on the ref? After all, the team is out there for the duration of the game.  For rugby league that is 80 minutes or more of brutal conflict. Technically, it is 160 minutes because both teams are supposed to play a full 80 minutes concurrently - there's no point taking turns in playing. Both teams must turn up and play in defence and attack.  For cricket it could be a day, it could be 5 days.  The team has to compete.  The team has to accept that refs and umpires do get decisions wrong.

A good example of futilely blaming the ref occurred in the local derby between the Brisbane Broncos and the North Queensland Cowboys on 9 March 2012.  I think both sides would say that many of the ref's decisions were suspect.  However, it wasn't the refs fault that either side missed tackles, most notably when Brisbane (leading by 4 points with 2 minutes to go) failed to tackle Matty Bowen who ran out of a scrum, where he had packed in at lock, bolted through the Brisbane line and scored under the posts. Brisbane had that game in the bag if they had maintained their defence. Yes, they could argue that in the 12th minute, they should have been awarded the chance for an 8 point try after Bowen appeared to go into a tackle with his knees.  However, the Cowboys could also have argued about some dubious calls with missed knock-ons and forward passes.  Both teams had their chances regardless of the refereeing.  Either way, both teams had played well enough to win the game. Had Broncos not blinked, the game would have been their's.

Some years ago I was listening to a match being called on the radio.  The North Queensland Cowboys were playing and the referee had made a number of incorrect calls against them.  The commentator stated "with the poor refereeing no-one could blame the Cowboys if they shut down during the second half". Was the commentator serious?  These are professional footballers.  They are paid a motza to not "shut-down" regardless of how disappointed they may be with a referee.  Their intense training surely includes how to stay motivated in the face of extreme adversity.  I have seen teams, even the mighty Broncos, up by 18 points with 10 minutes to go and still lose.  Conversely, I have seen the Broncos down by around 20 points, score 24 points in the final 12 minutes or so of the game to win.  Motivation is something that these players are paid to maintain.

And then there is the "equal opportunist": the fan who argues that the penalty count was one sided.  Since when did equal opportunity apply to penalties?  If your team infringes the rules, they have to expect to be penalised.  If the other team is playing by the rules and your team isn't, then it isn't fair to penalise the other team.  Certainly, it might be frustrating if the referee isn't applying the rules consistently to both teams, however, that doesn't mean that a team should shut down; they just need to play smarter and maybe change their tactics.  Fans pay very good money to watch their team compete, not to watch them carry on like spoilt school kids who give up because the ref "wasn't fair".

At the end of a game, we can always argue the "ifs and buts", however, the teams are there for the duration of the game and can win regardless of the refereeing.  Referees are a soft target and the scapegoat for many an athlete who isn't professional enough to admit their own short-comings.

Rather than blaming referees, teams must take responsibility for their performances.  They can't expect the ref to win the game for them.  In fact, relying on the referee to win the game is not a sustainable strategy.

Closely related to, and often a product of, criticising the referee are the claims around whether or a not team deserved to win. The winner deserves to win - simple as that. If they had the most points at the end of the game, then they deserved the win. The other team, for whatever reason, obviously wasn't good enough. Blame the ref, blame whoever, but the team who wins has done enough to deserve the win.

Fans have the luxury of criticising all aspects of the game without having to perform on the field. This is a luxury that the coaches and players do not have; they need to be professional enough to accept the decision and get over it.  If they don't it can dramatically affect their ability to perform.  What is more important? Winning the game or proving the ref got it wrong?

For example, in the lead up to the 2008 grand final, Melbourne Storm player Cameron Smith, was suspended for a grapple tackle on Bribane's Sam Thaiday.  Pundits argued the merits of the suspension.  Melbourne coach, Craig Bellamy, was highly critical of the NRL judiciary and was fined $50,000 for his disparaging comments.  This, in my opinion, had a dramatic effect on the Storm's preparation for the grand final.  Instead of focussing on the biggest game of the season, the Storm were embroiled in arguments over the judiciary's decision.  Bellamy should have accepted the decision and got on with preparing his team for the game.  Instead, he spent the week criticising and complaining at the expense of training.  It wasn't the suspension of Smith that caused the Storm to be thrashed 40-0 by Manly in that grand final, it was the focus on the fairness of the decision.  The fans had the luxury of complaining about the NRL, Bellamy didn't, and it cost Melbourne dearly. Manly took the field and played like a well-oiled machine. Melbourne played like fodder thrown to the wolves, they had no focus, no game plan and seemed to be still wallowing in their self-pity over Smith's suspension.  Whether the suspension was correct or not is of no consequence.  Melbourne had a team of champions who had played well all year.  They didn't need Smith to win that day.  It wasn't the judiciary's fault they lost, it was the Storm's fault alone.

Of course, we can take this approach into all areas of our lives, not just sport.  One thing we can be certain of in life, is that people will disappoint us.  Things that others do may cost us money, opportunity and so on.  But ultimately, we are still responsible for how we react to any situation in our life.  If we refuse to fight for the important things, fail to set goals or to keep focussed on our goals, then we set ourselves up to fail. We may need to reevaluate our strategies and goals, but we should not give up.  We have power over our own lives and the choices that WE make dictate how our lives play out.  The more we focus on the behaviour of others, the less control we have over our own lives and the more power that we give them to control our lives.

Whether it is in sport or our daily lives, do NOT blame the referee, the other team, the boss, the government or other people, but take responsibility ourselves; understand the laws, the rules, the obstacles, the opponent, evaluate what is needed to be successful and do it!

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