The Role of an Official/Referee


Wrestling officials must be able to bring control to chaos, understand fairness, promote safety and encourage good sportsmanship. A sports official should also have the following 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 that responsibility without being overbearing.

Along with the rules of wrestling, as an official you must fully understand your role before, during and after the match has ended.

What is 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 all officials 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, and ensure 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 match in which the official is officiating is the most important match 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 ( wrestling, rugby, basketball), while others less so (volleyball, athletics, rowing). Adopting a healthy lifestyle will contribute to all officials being in an appropriate physical condition.

Officiating in wrestling will require additional physical preparation that is appropriate for our 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.

A competition or match is all about the wrestlers and athletes. You are there to ensure everyone abides by the rules and ethics of the match so that everyone gets the most out of it. Although an integral role, it’s not about you – without the participants there would be nothing to officiate.

Improving your performance

Reflective Practice

A big part of improving your performance as a wrestling official is reflecting on your last performance – so that 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 practice and follow it up regularly.

Recruit a Mentor

Speak to other officials, coaches and/or wrestlers to see what they think of your performance and what suggestions they may have for areas for improvement. 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 that you can see what others see. Look for areas of success and areas for improvement and then make a plan to work through any issues identified.

Post-match review

Have a basic questionnaire ready to hand out to coaches and spectators who you think would give you honest and practical feedback. Ask them to rate your performance from 1 (low) to 10 (high) using questions such as:

  • How was my performance overall?
  • How was my judgement and decision-making?
  • How was my judgement and decision-making?
  • Was I positioned on the mat correctly?
  • Were my decisions consistent?
  • Did I handle conflict well?
  • Did I handle external factors such as spectators well?
  • Please provide some general comments on today’s performance.

Official's code of conduct

I will:

  • Place the safety and welfare of wrestlers above all else
  • Show concern and caution towards sick or injured wrestlers
  • 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 wrestlers
  • 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 wrestlers 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 matches or tournaments.
  • Drink alcohol at the venue of any competitive matches.

Disciplinary procedures

All IAWA officials have an obligation to follow all of the policies, procedures and code of conduct of our sport. Disciplinary action may result from failure in not following the code of conduct and expectations of wrestling official. As a wrestling official, it is your responsibility to uphold the code of ethics and conduct of the IAWA and officiate effectively. For more serious infringements contact the IAWA or your club to discuss the disciplinary process so you can fulfil your obligation as a wrestling official.

Seven simple steps to success

  1. Keep your perspective: Your most important goal is being a good official for the sport you are officiating. By studying, observing and practicing you will continue to improve, just as the wrestlers do when they practice. Remember, it’s a game, help them to have fun.
  2. Prepare for the unexpected: Take time before each game to talk with your partner officials about your individual responsibilities. Meet at least 15 minutes before the start of the tournament and go over the ground rules and any special interpretations or concerns that might exist concerning the teams involved. Do not leave doubts unresolved with the other officials.
  3. Remember, you’re in charge: When dealing with coaches or parents who can’t control themselves in front of the wrestlers, you do not have to accept this behaviour. There are ways to handle verbally abusive coaches, wrestlers and spectators. Remember that being disrespectful to an official is not part of the learning curve! Remember too that you are out there to control the match first and foremost, and to officiate within the framework of the rules.
  4. Legal responsibilities and risk management: As an official, you have a responsibility to ensure that all matches are conducted in a safe environment. Do not let a coach intimidate you into beginning or continuing a match when lightning, wet floors, badly assembled s mats, leaking roofs or other problem conditions exist. When in doubt, use common sense and always prioritise the safety of the competitors.
  5. Climb the ladder at your own pace: Sports need officials. If you become a good official with younger wrestlers and athletes there will be opportunities for you to move up the age grades if you want to. It’s up to you just how far you want to go, but always progress at a pace that you are comfortable with.
  6. Keep your focus: Remember, with each age level increase the games become more competitive and the skill levels improve. However, regardless of age or skill level mistakes of every kind can happen. You must be able to concentrate, know if you do not maintain your focus you risk losing control of the match.
  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.