Leeds Beckett research explores match performance of rugby league referees
Commissioned by the Rugby Football League (RFL), the Leeds Beckett research study aimed to identify referee decision-making accuracy, the physiological and movement demands of refereeing during Super League match play, as well as exploring the influence of referee age, experience and fitness on performance.
Led by Dr Stacey Emmonds, Senior Lecturer in the School of Sport at Leeds Beckett, the research reveals the average accuracy of referees during match play across an entire season was observed to be between 69% and 79%, higher than reported for rugby union referees (54%) and similar to that observed in top flight football (72-87%).
Findings from the research also suggests that both referee fitness and their experience level are two key elements in the attainment of successful match performance of elite rugby league referees. The study also explored the influence physical demands of refereeing impose on decision-making capabilities of rugby league referees during match-play, examining the link between acute and accumulative fatigue and incorrect decision-making.
One of the unique elements of the research project was that the researchers analysed the accuracy of rugby league referees during competitive match-play, as opposed to the other sports which have mostly been analysed using retrospective video footage.
Based on the findings of this research the RFL have looked to develop their current fitness testing protocols for referees and have worked with the sports scientists at Leeds Beckett to create new training protocols for rugby league referees. These include the training and assessment of referee decision-making accuracy under various levels of physical fatigue. The protocols have been developed based on the movement demands of referees during match-play and also include the assessment of referee decision-making accuracy using naturalistic viewing angle clips taken from match-play. This is a new approach to training referees, with referee fitness and decision-making often trained in isolation.
Speaking about the findings, Dr Stacey Emmonds, Leeds Beckett University, said: “As rugby league continues to develop and grow, players are becoming fitter, fast and stronger, which is changing the dynamics and pace of the game. This increase in high intensity running has also placed increased demands on rugby league referees.
“This research set out to explore the decision making demands of refereeing in the Super League. The key findings of this research have allowed us to work in conjunction with the refereeing department at the RFL to develop innovative training methods that are based on the demands of refereeing during match-play. This has allowed us to make training more specific to match-play, developing training protocols that concurrently train both develop fitness and decision-making capabilities.
Steve Ganson, the Rugby Football League’s Head of Match Officials, added: “These are impressive results. Our referees are dedicated to improving accuracy and high levels of performance. We have a relatively inexperienced group at this moment in time but as the study shows, with experience the accuracy should get even better. This is great for the game of rugby league moving forward.”