Mental game for referees

by Jimmy Yoo

When I am right, no one remembers. When I am wrong, no one forgets.” – Doug Harvey, Hall of Fame Umpire

During competition, referees decision-making is always subject to public opinion. As a result, referees find that they are often criticized and questioned on their decision-making and game-management skills. Good referees can make sporting events flow well and they are able to create a positive environment that is focused on sportsmanship and competition. On the other hand, inefficient referees can make a sporting event seem to drag on because play is constantly being interrupted by fouls or penalties being called, which can also lead to angry coaches and athletes, and unruly fans.

To be successful as a referee, it is important to be proficient in the following areas: game knowledge, decision-makings skills, psychological skills, strategic skills, communication or control of the game, and physical fitness (Guillen & Feltz, 2011).

Game knowledge includes knowing the rules, understanding proper officiating mechanics, and understanding the basic strategy of the game.

Decision-making skills are defined by how quickly and accurately a referee is able to make decisions that include making accurate judgment calls and being firm in one’s decisions.

Psychological skills are defined as focusing attention and concentration, staying cool under pressure, and recovering quickly from making a bad call.  These are almost identical to the psychological skills athletes need, and therefore sport psychology can be beneficial to referees too.

Strategic skills tend to focus on making the right interpretation of the game and its rules. Strategic skills include being able to stay up with the play, being at the proper angles for decisions, and anticipating game actions.

Communication means being able to communicate effectively with players, coaches, and co-officials. Effective communication equates to maintaining control of the game and resolving disputes.

Physical fitness or being in good physical shape allows the referee to stay up with the play.
Even if referees are well versed in these six categories, challenges faced during competition can interfere with performance. For referees, on field obstacles include: working with an uncooperative officiating partner(s), inclement weather, intense coaches and athletes, and unruly fans. With the start of the spring sports season, here are some helpful tips for referees:

Goal Setting: This can help you to identify obstacles or distractions that prevent you from staying focused. By goal setting, you can identify potential challenges and create a plan on how to deal with those challenges.

Communication: The most respected referees not only know the rules and make the right calls, they also communicate well with the athletes, coaches, and the other referees managing the game. The following information was taken from the January 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine:

#1. Understand that coaches can be passionate and sometimes overbearing. Listen beyond their tone of voice to hear and understand their underlying questions or concerns, and remember to be polite in your response.

#2. Know the rules like the back of your hand. This allows you to listen to coaches and decipher the meaning in their comments. It also leads to better consistency with the other referees managing the game. Most of all have the rulebook onsite.

#3. During timeouts, between quarters, or at halftime, be available to listen to coaches with an open mind. Answer rules-related questions using specific language of the rules.

Staying calm and relaxed under pressure: One aspect of staying calm under pressure is to understand what is in your control. For example, a referee cannot control how coaches or the fans are going to respond to a penalty that is called, but you are in control of being objective when calling a penalty and not letting your emotions, the coaches, or the athletes influence your decision.

Motivation and Enjoyment: Successful referees enjoy what they are doing. Like athletes, success is based off of hard work, dedication, and practical experience. The more work you put into something, the easier it becomes; and the easier it becomes, the more fun you tend to have. Likewise, it is important to understand why you enjoy it. If you are having fun, then you are motivated to work harder and improve your skills.

If you are interested in learning more about mental tools of the trade for referees, or just have questions that have come up while reading this article, please feel free to contact SPINw. We work with referees individually or in a group setting. Let us help you to unlock your potential so that you can consistently perform with confidence, focus, and joy for the game!

Helpful Articles:

Confidence versus arrogance:

The Psychological Qualities of a Good Referee:

Trust and Respect:

Avoiding Distractions:


Guillen, F., and Feltz, D. L. (2011). A conceptual model of referee efficacy. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(25), 1-5.

Clark, L. P., (2014, January 14). Why can’t we be friends? Lacrosse Magazine, 38 (1), 68.


Goal Setting: Making your own Syllabus

by Brian Baxter, MA Sport Psychology

Most of the athletes I see come through SPINw are high achievers. They are high level athletes who are dedicated, self-coaches, and know how to push themselves. They don’t accept mediocrity. It’s these quality that get them to a high level in sports. but it’s also this quality that can make the overwhelmed and frustrated.

More often than not, these high level athletes are also high achievers in the classroom. Early in my career it was amazing to me how many 4.0 students come in to seek mental game training; now it’s just commonplace.

A collegiate cross country runner I worked with not to long ago was one of these high achievers in the classroom and on the field. A 4.0 student and talented runner on scholarship, she’d been struggling in her running for about a year, culminating in her refusal to run in an important event due to stress and anxiety. After a strong freshman season, she struggled with injury and sub-standard performances. She was beginning to question her abilities, her training, and herself as a runner.

I asked her to explain the difference to me between sports and academics. She said basically, for school, everything is spelled out for her: the professor gives a syllabus at the beginning of the year, and all she has to do is work hard, follow the steps, ask for extra help if needed, and do well on tests. But for athletics, there were too many factors she couldn’t control: injury, pressure from her teammates and coaches, and not meeting her own standards (“I’ve always been kind of a perfectionist,” she told me).

Goal setting is a great way to get the athlete to focus in on the small steps. For this athlete, I had her create her own “syllabus”; a goal setting plan she could use to feel more in control. At first she had trouble defining her long term goals outside of “I just want to do the best I can… run up to my potential.” So we started her “syllabus” by defining the long term goals – to be consistently on varsity and make a national event. Then we laid out the steps to get there, including Monthly Goals (to see the trainer twice a week for to prevent injury), Weekly Goals (run a set number of miles), and Daily Goals (keep a running log with positive focus, and use circle breathing for relaxation).

Now her focus is to trust in the process – her “Syllabus” – to regain her confidence and run up to her potential.

How the Seahawks Integrate Sport Psychology Into Team Practices

It is often asked, how do teams fit mental skills sessions into the practice setting? What are some things that sport psychologists work on during these sessions?

With the start of the NFL season, the Seattle Seahawks uncover their recipe for success. First off, success starts with the head coach. Fundamentally, the head coach needs to create an environment tailored for success. For Pete Carroll (head coach of the Seahawks) success starts by supporting the players by showing that the coaches and the organization care about them. Carroll feels that “happy players make for better players.” His mantra with the team is “Do your job better than it has ever been done before,” through the use of positivity of thought, words, and actions.

How does a sport psychologist fit into this culture? Since 2011, sport psychologist Mike Gervais has worked with the team at practice and has also been spotted on the sidelines during games. Sessions with Gervais include meditation, visualization, and neurotopia brain-performance testing that includes neurofeedback (brainwave testing), and status profiling that identifies: “what is going on in their lives, how much sleep they are getting, their goals, and how they are dealing with stressors.”

How does this help the athletes? Russell Wilson (starting quarterback for the Seahawks) states that his work with Gervais helps him prepare for competition and high-pressure situations by “being in the moment and increasing chaos throughout practice, so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed.”

To read more about how Pete Carroll and his innovative staff are changing the environment of professional football, click on the following link:

by Jimmy Yoo, SPINw consultant

The Speed of the Game is in the Mind

Whether I work with a tennis player or a golfer, a runner, a baseball player or a soccer player, certain themes tend to arise frequently. One of them is the way that anxiety and pressure negatively effect an athlete’s performance by causing the mind to speed up.

When the mind speeds up, breathing speeds up and shallows, athletes forget to complete pre-performance routines, muscle tension increases, and athletes begin to second-guess themselves.

sport psychology portland football

For confident athletes, as the quote above says, can slow the game down. In sport psychology, we teach the athlete to “control the controllables”: Attitude, Effort, and Preparation. By having better pre-performance routines and sticking to them, by having defined and well-practiced re-focusing cues, and through positive self talk, athletes can ‘slow the game down’ and perform up to their ability more consistently.

Need help slowing the game down? Contact SPINw today! / 866-300-1515
Portland, Oregon – Sport Psychology Institute Northwest

How can sport psychology add value to your organization?

Sport Psychology Institute Northwest director Brian Baxter will be presenting to the soccer parents/coaches for Tualatin Hills Junior Soccer League this weekend, as part of an all-around coaches education workshop. 

portland sport psychology soccer coaches
Would you like to add value to your organization’s training day?  Give us a call 1-866-300-1515 or email

The Importance of the Mental Game

**The following article was published in the summer 2013 edition of the Washington Coach Magazine**

“The mental part is the hardest part, and I think that’s what separates the good players from the great players.” – Michael Jordan

Sport Psychology, Mental Skills Training, a strong Mental Game, Mental Conditioning, Mental Toughness, being in the zone… These are some of the buzz words these days in sports. But what do they mean exactly? Isn’t sport psychology for crazy people or athletes who are weak and just can’t hack it? Unfortunately, that tends to be the perception “either you’re born mentally strong or you’re not.” Portland Timbers ex-coach John Spencer infamously stated. “You can’t teach mental toughness.” just weeks before being fired because his team could not hold a lead or win on the road.

Sport psychology and the mental game is the next evolution in reaching peak performance in sports. A strong mental game is something that a player can learn, grow, and improve on. It’s this decade’s Strength and Conditioning or Sports Nutrition piece of the well-rounded athletic puzzle. As coaches of young athletes, we wear many hats both on and off the field. There are typically four main on-field areas that athletes must be strong in to be able to compete:

-Technical – (Skills)

           -Tactical – (Strategy)

           -Physical – (Athleticism)

           -Mental – (Confidence)


For the most part, this list is in the order of importance, at least in regards to time spent by coaches. The mental part of the game is often underserved, because the others are so important, especially at a young age. As players get older and older, the mental game begins to separate the good players from the great, as Michael Jordan metioned in the quote above.


But if coaches are expected to teach all four of these categories, and mental skills are the least taught, what does that mean for our young athletes, who are developing at vastly different rates?

Ex-NFL coach and current analyst Eric Mangini puts it this way:


“All the time, we talk to our athletes about ‘move on to the next play,’  ‘make sure you envision this,’  ‘be in a zone,’ all those different things.  We always talk about it, but nobody teaches it.  Nobody teaches the athlete how to move on to the next play, nobody teaches the athlete how to get in a zone, and there’s a whole new field based on mental training…”


Coaches must make an effort to make sure their athletes have not only the tools to catch the ball, jump higher, and read the defense, but also to maintain focus, confidence, and a positive mindset. Here are some of the best strategies for coaches to keep in mind to keep the mental game at the forefront:


-Set team and individual goals, and check on them regularly

           -Set team expectations and rules, and be consistent with them

           -Create ways to allow players to have ownership in team decisions

           -Consistent and clear communication

           -Be positive in approach, tell players what ‘to do’ instead of what ‘not to do’

           -Encourage ‘process’ over ‘results’


You can also consider bringing a sport psychology professional in to talk to your team. At SPINw we work with teams and athletic organizations in a number of ways to help improve performance. (

Having worked with athletes for over 10 years now, the majority of my clients have been high school aged. And a majority of those athletes are high-end athletes, looking to play in college or maybe even professionally. So why do athletes come seek out help with their mental game?


            -Lack or loss of self-confidence

            -Having trouble dealing with pressure (from peers, coaches, parents, and even themselves)

            -Tentative in returing from an injury

            -Problem with coach or teammates

            -Time management, lack of direction or focus

            -No real issue, just want to get the edge over the competition


As a coach in my younger days, I would have loved to have had this list, to help me in the right direction as far as motivating my players and getting the best out of them, and making sure their athletic experience was the best it could possibly be. I hope this will help you in the same way!


For more information, go to, email, or call 1-866-300-1515

Interview with SPINw’s Michael Wilson

Lacrosse team gets dose of mental toughess training during a championship season.

*UPDATE* July 30, 2014 – We are happy to report that Mike is now a consultant with Evolving Concepts in Santa Barbara, CA.  Please check out his website at  Mike was a great part of our team at SPINw, and we can’t endorse his knowledge, passion, and integrity enough!


Meet Mike Wilson:

For the past two years, Mike Wilson has interned with the Sport Psychology Institute Northwest.  He is currently finishing up his Masterss Degree in Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University.

Over the course of the 2012-13 winter and spring seasons, Mike worked with Westview High School’s freshman boy’s basketball team and Sunset High School’s junior varsity boy’s lacrosse team.  He discussed sport psychology techniques and mental skills concepts like, goal setting, mental toughness, focus, and team cohesion.

SPINw consultant Jimmy Yoo had a chance to sit down with Mike to identify frequently asked questions by the high school athletes he worked with.

Q:  What is Mental Toughness?

Mike: Mental toughness is part of your belief system.  It is an adopted/learned behavior created by the environment (i.e., sport) in which an athlete performs.

Mental toughness is made up of several different traits that include resilience, persistence, aggressiveness, confidence, and pride.  It is something an athlete uses to overcome his or her fear, anxiety, or stress that is related to competition.


A quote from Bill Belichick, Head Coach of the New England Patriots, on being mentally tough:

“In the end, our ability to perform under pressure is critical.  In that light, it really comes down to two things.  No. 1, the team process, all of us being able to work together and perform productively in the way that we need to do to win.  We use the term ‘mental toughness’ a lot, and to me that term means doing the right thing for the team when things aren’t right for you — maybe a guy that’s not getting the playing time he hoped for, maybe he isn’t getting as many opportunities to do whatever it is he’d like to do.  We all have to give up a little bit of something in this sport, and mental toughness is going out there and doing what’s best for the team even though everything isn’t going exactly the way you want it to. That’s what defines mental toughness in my mind.”

Q:  When I am not performing well during practices and competitions, what can I do to perform better?

Mike: Performance has so many factors and athletes experience so many highs and lows throughout a game/competition and during practice.  Look at building consistency in what you do each day.  It is important to assess things one day at a time, rather than only judging your performance after a game/competition.

Q:  What kind of goals should I be setting for myself?

Mike: Set a goal you can accomplish right now.  In order to create a goal that you can accomplish it has to be first and foremost realistic, then specific, and measurable.  We all have the end-goal in mind, that is called the dream at this point and it is the easiest goal to think about.  However, if we want to make that dream come true we have to pave a way to get there.  This is why setting goals for the here and now, the moment, is essential to achieving the end-goal.  For example, as a lacrosse player, if you want to score 20 goals in a season, at the next practice you could work on taking at least 20 shots on goal where you focus on hitting corners with an over hand shot.  Or as a basketball player, if you want lead the league in free throw percentage, at the next practice, you could focus on your form when shooting free throws.

Q:  What characteristics does an athlete need to be a leader on the team or to be the captain of the team?

Mike: One of the defining characteristics of a leader is the unquestionable desire for responsibility.  Leaders take the opportunity and tasks upon themselves, and sometimes, they aren’t even aware that they are doing so.  Leaders are a funny breed because most of the time they have no clue anyone is following them.

Q: Our team captain was recently promoted to the varsity squad, who will lead us now?

Mike: If you want to know who is going to be the leader, start looking for who is following who and who does everyone talk about the most.  At times like this, when unexpected movements happen, it is essential for coaches and players to designate a leader with whom they trust and respect.


Q: Is it beneficial to identify your role on a team?

Mike: Identity breeds clarity. Establishing what your role is on a team allows you to focus on you.  When everyone on a team is on the same page, it is amazing how teams perform.  Understanding the person’s role to your right, left, front, and behind produces trust and therefore confidence.  If your role is to be a captain, reflect on what the responsibilities of a captain are and carry them out.  If your role is to come off the bench, then focus on the expectations of that role and do them.  Your role is to be the go-to shooter, then focus on shooting.


Q:  What does it mean to be a team player?

Mike: To be a team player is to no longer seek personal glory.   When a team player performs, he or she shows the necessity for their teammates.  A team player not only depends on their teammates, but also extends themselves for their teammates. This behavior ranges from cleaning up gear after practice to helping your teammate double-team on defense. A team player flies under the radar, often going unnoticed because of their constant assistance ensuring that teammates can perform their responsibility.


sport psychology portland or lacrosse

Sports Mindset Gameplan Interview

Here are some excerpts from SPINw’s Brian Baxter’s interview with…

I was told years and years ago that skateboarding is 90 percent mental. It sounds like you guys have something of a similar outlook! Just how important IS the mental and psychological piece when it comes to skating?

In sports, the mental game becomes more and more important the older the athlete becomes, and the higher the level they have achieved. I see no difference for skaters. You want to approach each run, each practice, each competition with strong confidence and sharp focus. Improving the mental game is all about identifying what factors distract you from this. For most athletes it’s pressure, nerves, anxiety, stress or basically fear: fear of failing (“What if I’m not good enough”), fear of making a mistake (“What if everyone laughs at me?”), fear of getting hurt (“What if I fall and get injured?”), or sometimes even fear of success (“If I succeed, I’ll be expected to succeed even more next time.”) Once these factors are identified, it is important to have strategies in place to alleviate the pressure, and just focus on the task at hand.

In a nutshell, what IS the “Sports Mindset Gameplan”?

The Sports Mindset Gameplan is a workbook for athletes to help build and maintain confidence. The athletes goes through the book, answering questions and completing action steps to personalize the mental game to their specific situation. They will learn strategies to improve focus, relax, motivate, and cultivate a positive mindset, among others.

You say that going through the workbook personalizes the athlete’s psychology techniques – can you give me some examples of how this works?

Click here to read the full article.

BaxterSports Summer Camps named Portland’s Best

Last year, SPINw began providing mental game training for BaxterSports Soccer and Sports Camps.  We gave the young players an introduction to mental game techniques such as goal setting, positive self-talk, and focus. 

BaxterSports’ addition of sport psychology and sports nutrition has given it a unique edge over the other Portland area camps, which helped them to be named Portland’s Best Summer Sports Camp by NW Kids Magazine.

Check out BaxterSports’ offerings here.


Workshop Series’ for Athletes and Coaches starting in February 2013

Are you a high school or collegiate athlete who is looking for an edge going into the spring season?

– Looking to improve your confidence, focus, and ability to perform under pressure?

Are you a competitive coach continually looking to improve your coaching?

 – Looking to hone your leadership skills, better motivate your athletes, and learn from other coaches?

If so, check out SPINw’s new class series starting in February!

Click here for more information or to register!