Touch referee coaching goes online due to COVID-19

June 21, 2021 @ 11:00 UTC

With international Touch in forced hiatus, FIT's Referees Commission has used the time wisely to implement plenty of new training hacks that will support the global growth of the game for years to come.

One of the most outstanding developments in the sport of Touch during the Covid-19 pandemic has been the pivot to online referee coaching. Worldwide lockdowns and travel bans, which prevented face to face training, meant that a change in the delivery of referee coaching was required. 

The Federation of International Touch (FIT) Referees Commission, under the leadership of Chair Ian (Matto) Matthew, have brought about this revolution in the training of referees all around the world. He joined Adam Collins from FIT to discuss this transformation in a recent episode of “Set of Six,” along with Touch New Zealand National Director of Referees Darrin Sykes, Bianca Arco from FIT Member Relations (Asia) and European Referees Director Sylvain Charras. 

Asian Touch nations attend online coaching in record numbers

The largest online training course in the history of FIT was a beginners referee course facilitated by Ian Matthew for the Asian National Touch Organisations (NTO) earlier this year. According to Bianca Arco, “We hit 230 participants in one afternoon across 12 nations. Each of the 12 FIT Asian members were represented in that course and we could not have done that if it was a traditional offline course. With the video playback learning is a lot faster. There’s definitely nothing lost in transitioning the referee accreditation to online because if anything you are able to reach a wider audience.”

More online support coming for referees

Referees Commission Chair Ian Matthew gave details of the next online referees course due to be launched very soon. This will be an Intermediate course that will come with accreditation upon completion. This course will involve even more video analysis content. 

Ian also explained a number of other online tools to be rolled out to support referees. Referees will be able to send footage of a match they officiated to a panel of refereeing experts at FIT. Having analysed the performance of the referee a zoom call will be conducted with the referee. Video of the match will then be played back to the referee. The screen will be able to be annotated with arrows to assist in pointing out how the referee could make a different decision in a given situation. “It’s almost like being there because we’re able to play it back to the refs involved and stop a video and say here is the area we need to improve,” said Ian. 

The FIT Refs Commission are also working on a livestream concept according to Ian, “You could have a game for example in Fiji. We can be watching on our computer at home and actually give the ref feedback after the game.”

Yet another method of assisting referees could be voice over coaching. With this concept the footage of the match could be sent back to the referee with the coach talking over the video giving advice and suggestions on improvements.

Online referee training being adopted globally

National Director of Referees for Touch New Zealand (TNZ) Darrin Sykes said, “To see the development of the FIT online ref courses has helped open our eyes from a NZ perspective on how we need to change.” Darrin spoke of the need to appeal to a younger demographic of budding referees, “We have to be more innovative to be able to capture a volunteer for as long as we can. We have to use all the tools available and certainly online education and support is part of that.” This new perspective will see a move away from face-to-face referee coaching in New Zealand in favour of online coaching.

European Director of Referees Sylvain Charras said the trend away from face-to-face training has also occurred in his part of the Touch world during the pandemic induced hiatus, “We decided to deliver Level 1 & 2 European Referee courses online. That is something we haven’t done before. A lot of video was included in this training.” 

Another European innovation mentioned by Sylvain has been the development of apps that enable the referee accreditation exams to be conducted online and in multiple languages. 

Shift online especially valuable for new Touch nations

The use of online technology is going to be a crucial element in the expansion of Touch. Online referee coaching has demonstrated the advantages of this mode of training and communication. Bianca Arco from FIT Member Relations (Asia) recognizes the importance of online technology for Touch NTOs, “Touch is a relatively new sport for a lot of Asian countries. Shifting online and getting access to a lot of people from FIT and the different commissions is a step in the right direction for developing the sport in the region.”