Decision-making skills and deliberate practice in elite association football referees Academic Article uri icon


  • We examined sport expertise as a function of role. In study 1, referees were better than players in a video-based decision-making task. This provides evidence that there are role-specific skills within one domain or sport. In study 2, we examined the training activities that could be influential in the development of skills in sports officials. Elite association football (soccer) referees retrospectively reported time spent in and perceptions of training activities for three periods: their first year of formal refereeing, 1998 (before formal training programmes were available), and the current year (2003). This allowed us to examine an area of skill with a limited culture of practice, where performance simulations with direct feedback are usually not feasible. The results showed that referees specialize early and, as they develop, they engage in greater volumes and types of training. Competitive match refereeing is considered a relevant activity for skill acquisition that does not fit Ericsson and colleagues' (1993) original definition of deliberate practice. Our findings indicate that actual performance is a significant activity for skill acquisition and refinement.

publication date

  • January 2007