Hurdles for new and old Referee's

Hey Polo players,

I would love to hear from both experienced and newer players what you find are some of the hurdles to either Refereeing games or things stopping you from putting your hand up to volunteer.

This could be anything including:

Knowledge/understanding of the ruleset or specific rules.
Intimidation due to the stakes of the outcome of the game or player behaviour towards referees.
Lack of incentive.
No experience eg. not refereeing pickup but expected to during tournaments.
Other community driven factors.

If you have any suggestions how to remedy these issues that would be great as well :slight_smile:

Hopefully this can lead to more positive learning outcomes and player engagement in an important but lacking part in our sport.

Looking forward to your responses!


Biggest discouragement is the amount of shit you have to eat at any time in your ref career. No matter how much time you spend reading rules, discussing rules, understanding the games, recognizing patterns, getting more efficient, getting less distracted, knowing where to look and when, asking experienced refs to assist so you can learn and have more certainty, questioning your calls, watching videos of games you reffed, thinking about controversial calls, contributing to past and future rules, learning from your mistakes, giving and asking for feedback… there will always be somebody who comes along and spoils it, questions your worthiness to ref any game ever, and what is by far the worst accuses you of being biased. This happens at any level and regardless how important an event is.

One has to be mentally very strong to deal with this shit, playing the game, critizisingand dumping your emotions on the ref is trivial, reffing consistently and keeping a cool head is hard and there is no glory in it. Sometimes you get thanked. Sometimes.

It is not surprising there are not too many volunteers. Nobody gives a shit how invested you are, how high your standards are, how flawless your last 5 games were, make 1 bad call (here “bad” refers to the perspective of the accuser, while it may actually be the correct call) and you are the worst person alive. :smiley:


I totally understand where you are coming from and thanks for sharing.

Is there anything you can think of that would resolves this.

I might answer this in reverse and in the case of a new referee.

I have to say I think the best way for new people to get into reffing, is to sit alongside another more experienced person and ref a game in real life. Talk back and forth about what they are seeing and give that social permission to step up.
Communicate to the players on the court before the game, say what you’re looking for, explain your calls, say the time and score at stoppages, apologise if you mess up, and thank the players for playing nice at the end of the game.

I agree reffing is not for everyone. there is the fear that you are going to ruin the game for others if you aren’t a good enough ref. (This is me for another sport I play a lot and reffed once)

So I guess un-reversing my answer. The biggest barrier would be anything that stops new people from having a go and having someone to assist them through this process.


I do not see a direct way to resolve it. When a lot is at stake some players get very emotional, stressed and may be easily triggered by the pure subjective feeling of being disadvantaged. I get this, this is human behavior. However, a few wrong words in an emotional outburst can easily end a ref’s career. It happened in the past and it will happen again. It adds to the problem of not having enough good and passionate refs.

What definitely helps is to force every team (every member!) to contribute to main, assistant and goal reffing, especially in low level events without exceptions. This is the best that can be done to make people realize it is not so easy, you need to pay 100% attention 100% of the time, people can be really mean and personal in the heat of the moment, often they don’t actually mean it, though you will not too often get an apology regardless of who was actually correct. By being forced to ref you may develop more empathy with refs tasks in general.

And those showing a talent and interest in reffing need to be supported and encouraged as much as possible by more expert refs and players.


I actually want to learn how to get better in reffing…
I am still too slow but I think that would get better with experience. Also I think reffing is quite tiring after the second-third game in a row.

I don’t have problems with being the main ref If there is someone assisting who has more routine…


Before the joust (podcast) discusses the reffing topic in episode 3 (after 30min. Or something)

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I enjoy reffing lesser intensity games. I don’t know if I smoked too much weed in my life or what but I feel like I have a really slow processing and response time for penalties.

The solutions are the previously named of shadowing other refs and ref workshops.
Another hurdle is being a wtf player. One, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a tournament where the organizers ask wtf players to ref. In my experience they always go to the same guys they know already ref. I have to offer my support to be able to be considered a ref, because no one ever assumes it’s a goal I have, but they do assume ref experience or desire to learn for players that aren’t women or genderqueer. Even wtf tournaments I’ve been to (dames, crown classic, interpolas), the refs tend to be men. I appreciate all that energy from those refs, don’t get me wrong, but I just think we can do better in bringing more people into this important role. The solution is cultural. For players and organizers to be more open and inclusive to wtf players wanting to ref. To offer support, to engage us in conversations, and to move away from assumptions of who is or wants to be a ref.

Another cultural shift we need is talking back to the ref. It’s cringy, it’s disrespectful, and it’s unnecessary. It’s up to the team captain to have a respectful discussion with the ref. Most of the time refs are putting so much love and energy into their role, and they deserve our respect even when we don’t like their call or the way they ref.

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i did a few tournaments this sunmer and here is a few key things to consider.

  • split the tournament in two groups. shuffle some of the morning teams to ref the evening group and vice versa. depending on the importance of the tournament , the HEAD ref could do turns in between each first shifts to make sure each teams reffing is up to standards.

  • by appointing a whole 3 player team you automatically have a main ref and two goal ref. the team can takes turn at main reffing. the team has their ref shifts together which is better for planning / food but also team building by watching other teams play.

  • give them 1 round of games to ref rather than an hour if possible. keep the reffing shifts minimal , dont let the same people ref for hours.

  • the mistake ive seen in a few tourney is to leave all the reffing to a couple people only who feel like they can take on 80 games per day. its a hit and miss and you could have one bad ref on one of your courts all day.

Berlin MIX did very well with the whole orga and schedule but one mistake for me was to plain write “no goal ref” until the last sunday rounds. this allowed for a few bad calls from the lonely refs like :
wrong call on fouls ( giving the wrong team the advantage)
not being able to see if its a goal or not ( even very obvious no goals off the pole)
wrong call due to partial understanding of one rule( ruleset so complex and baddly spelled that even a great ref might forget a thing or two, which could have been avoid if he had his whole team reffing with him)
just not seeing what is happening once stuff happen on the other side of their point of view.

as a main ref i dont need an assisstant ref right near to me, with the same point of view.
i do need someone on the other sides tho.

i do need one person assissting me to take the time and flip the score boards, but that can be found pretty much instantly around any polo game(i got eddy s son taking the time in dublin and he was perfect even tho we couldnt comunicate in any language :sweat_smile:)

i do really want to make the point that this 3 player ref team is very achievable , not complicated to have in any tournament and will benefit greatly the orga as well as having more consistantly reffed games, it also remove most ref hating.
shuffling the reffing teams might also adress the issue @Manu had with favoritism . in the end having good ref on site is always an asset and it will always be used : you could be coordinating the reffing teams, making rounds on each courts to ensure everything goes smoothly or being available on talkie walkie to be summoned and asked about a particular rule or situation.

some teams might be completely unable to ref due to a gap of experience or a language barrier but you could find someone to help them during their ref shifts quite easily


I think we should do more at the beginning of the game,

  • having a chat with both teams, letting them know you will do your best but you will make incorrect calls because you cannot see everything
  • selecting a captain to speak to the ref (exclusively)
  • letting the teams know that if anyone else speaks to the ref then penalties will be handed out
    This can help with the intimidation factor that can happen when lots of players are speaking at the ref
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Reffing still lacks consistency. Some refs are more lenient, while others quite strict.
Quick heads up before games makes life easier, e.g. “I´ll be strict on slashing”, “I´ll be strict on high sticking”, “Watch out for the crease”, “Watch the scooping” … :smiley:

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Seriously appreciate the experienced input above. ^

I am new to reffing and am looking to improve my skills and help maintain a future of reliable refs in our small community as some inevitably retire or are unavailable.

I had the chance to put my hand up to ref as much as i’d liked to recently at one of our more relaxed events “Polo Camp” in the shuffle tourney and thoroughly enjoyed the “low stakes” opportunities at testing out my new knowledge (thanks Peers for the workshops!).

To me the desire to ref comes naturally in part of simply being very passionate about the sport. I’m sure that may not apply to all passionate players, but the ones I do recognise taking Polo seriously are the ones I will look to to enthuse putting their hands up to ref more often at our local events.

The greatest improvements I found were very similar to being self aware of your errors as a player in game. Consistently reffing a couple games in a row and recognising from myself in hindsight or from the audience or players what I may have missed, allowed me an opportunity to focus on my weaker reffing skills in the next game.

By the end of the event, I found myself much more confident making difficult “game changing” decisions and I think the players some very experienced, knowing that I was new to reffing and trying to improve and help out, were very receptive of my efforts (or so I felt anyway).

Overall, as a relatively new player who speaks to other new players, we typically agree fhat the fear is borne of ridicule from those who don’t ref and understand. Our most decorated refs in the club are incredibly fair to calls they wouldnt personally make and are typically very kind in correcting or discussing with you after a match because they know what it’s like, especially for a new ref. I genuinely believe that reffing pick up games is the key out of these fears and to improve new ref confidence and involvement overall.

Additionally: if you are an experienced ref and you see an audience member or player giving shit to a new ref who’s is doing their best, call it out and pitch in, however you find fair and professional in your own experience. It really makes a difference.


"Additionally : if you are an experienced ref and you see an audience member or player giving shit to a new ref who’s is doing their best, call it out and pitch in, however you find fair and professional in your own experience. It really makes a difference. "

im not sure if Peers and Dave philosophy are still “no goal refs are needed” but my best take on reffing is to always get a good team of goal ref with you, then having someone take the time , and very importantly , attend the score board ( some are badly designed and can flip with the wind )

this allow to never "take shit as ref " cuz you are able to make decisions based on 3 x poi t of views rather than just your own

Absolutely. Strength in numbers, especially if it’s supporting a new ref who is showing enthusiasm - knowing the decision you’ve called out is backed up really counts for something.

I can’t speak for those guys but I assume if it’s a finals game, the more help on the goal-line the better.