The physical and mental toll on NRL referees
NRL referees high performance coach Matt Jeffries says getting whistleblowers into the right head space is just as important as implementing the rules and controlling the 26 players on the field each week.
Speaking during an annual exchange program featuring NRL and English Premier League referees in Sydney on Monday, Jeffries told NRL.com about the many pressures that comes with being referee.
With a full-time training load and constant scrutiny from the media and fans, Jeffries said it was vital the high performance team managed the referees' mental and physical well-being.
"A lot of these guys have been refereeing for 20-plus years so all that pressure that comes with just refereeing they're accustomed to," Jeffries said.
"If they do have a bad performance and they are dropped down to the next tier it does affect them quite a bit but that's why we are there to help them.
"The majority of them won't buy into the media talk and a lot of them don't have social media because of the negativity that comes out of it.
"And then there's the physical aspect of it – our referees are on a full-time training load with two field sessions and three strength session a week, with one or sometimes two matches over the weekend."
The English referees are staying in Sydney for two weeks and will train and share ideas with the NRL referees.
"For our guys we're always looking at new innovations and ways of training them, and their skill level and what they are producing each week is getting better and better," Jeffries said.
"And as sports officials across the world face the same sort of challenges during their stay here we aim to bounce ideas off each other and coping strategies."
One thing that Jeffries wants to bring on board for NRL referees is a sports psychologist.
"I think sports psychology is an area that we should push into," Jeffries said.
"We do have a wellness officer here but I feel we would definitely reap the benefits of a professional psychologists given what our guys do."
Referees have come under fire this season after some controversial decisions and also for blowing the whistle more than in previous years.
Jeffries said people needed to understand that referees were only implementing the directives that had been handed down by the league.
"We can be targeted pretty heavily and a lot of the stuff that is published isn't factual and that can really get to people," Jeffries said.
"The competition committee really highlighted that they wanted to game to be more stringent around enforcing the 10-metres and some of the ruck penalties that we have seen at the start of the year.
"That directive has been given down to us and then we're really just enforcing the rule as the game wants it to happen.
"The public can get a bit disillusioned thinking it's the referees that are pushing that but it's what the game wants so we are doing what we are mandated to do."