Extreme Ownership: Navy Seals & Referees, what do we share?

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Extreme Ownership: Navy Seals & Referees, what do we share?

I recently stumbled upon a leadership book "Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin". Two Navy seals mapping out 12 leadership principles based on their experiences in combat (Battle of Ramadi, Iraq war) and how those can be applied to any business.
8 of those principles resonated with my refereeing experience and while some I have been following, others I can improve in. Here are potential takeaways for any referee.

Principles(I have kept the original number of the principle from the book)

#1 - Extreme Ownership
A leader must own everything in his or her world. Both his mistakes and mistakes of his team are his fault. Every mistake, every failure or shortfall - own it.

As being correct in our decisions as referees is our raison d'etre, it requires extraordinary humility and courage to take total responsibility for our mistakes. Only extreme ownership will allow us to start learning from our failures and force us to consider first and foremost -"What am I going to differently next time?"
This does not only apply to one game but to our whole season and career. There are so many things we can get better at, so if we are not making the progress we want - who is to blame but ourselves?

#2 - Not Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
High standards start with the individual and then spread outward to each member of the team. Do not make excuses for your mistakes or others will start to do the same. Instead figure out a way to get it done the next time.

After a game at least I had (and still have to an extent) the tendency to try to find excuses for my mistakes:"It was impossible to see; I was unlucky; player was unreasonable; it was the assistant's responsibility etc." This attitude of victimization prevents us from looking inwardly at where we have the ability to improve.

#4: Check the Ego
Extreme ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Our ego doesn't like to accept blame.

For a referee, our ego can prevent us from conducting and honest, realistic assessment of our performance and performance of the team. It is much easier to curb your ego when you see that mistakes are a common part of refereeing life, and everyone makes them. In RefPal each week you see all the incidents of all the games in your league - both the correct and the incorrect solutions of all of your peers, which helps greatly to check your ego.

#5 Cover and Move
This means teamwork and understanding that each member is critical to success, but to be effective the responsibilities of each member need to be clearly identified.

Self-explanatory when it comes to refereeing, but not always as easy as you will see when you read the next principle.

#6 Simple
Teamwork is crucial but plans and orders need to be simplified as much as possible or they might not be understood. When things go wrong as they most often do, complexity compounds issues.

We have always prided ourselves that we work as a cohesive unit, as a real team. The way there has been difficult though as we have over complicated things to a X degree. There have been times where the referee (me) gets lost on the field as he is expecting too much help, there have been times were the process of passing information has been too complex and lead to freezing of assistants. Golden truth of refereeing - KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid).

#7 Prioritize and Execute
Relax. Look around. Make a call. If you try to do everything at once, you will fail.

What this most reminds me is trying to get the correct decisions from corner kicks. You have can have 10 to 18 players in the area and you have to know where and on which players to concentrate and how to involve your team to help you out.

#9 Plan
Leaders must identify clear directives for their team. If the plan is broad and ambiguous, it can lead to a lack of focus and inefficiency. The plan must mitigate identified risks were possible.

Each game we referee is different, each team plays in a different way and might be fighting for different things. Referee needs to study the teams, the tactics, the set-pieces, the troublemakers for each game his is about to referee and plan a strategy for his team in that certain game. For our team it usually means analysing 3-4 previous games for both teams we are about to encounter. In RefPal you can greatly lessen the effort with using the Teams module in your home league.

#11: Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
Leaders cannot be paralyzed by fear. You must make the best decision based on the immediate information available, the picture is never complete. You must be prepared to make an educated guess based on previous experience, knowledge of the enemy, likely outcomes and what you have seen.

As referees we cannot see everything, yet if we only whistle what we see, there will be too many things missed during a game. So we must build up our knowledgebase (RefPal video library) and experience to be able to know when we can guess and under which circumstances we should never do so. Now with VAR this has become even more crucial as they can help us if we miss something and cannot help us for example if we give a soft penalty. At the same time our performances are still judged based on how many correct decisions we make before VAR. A great dichotomy of refereeing. Interestingly enough Willink and Babin's next book is titled "Dichotomy of Leadership"

If you read through the whole post, I recommend checking out both of those books mentioned. Quality!
Kristo Tohver
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