Conditioning Strategies for Field Refs (Including Basketball and Hockey Refs)

If you're a referee for any of the field sports (football, soccer, rugby, field hockey, lacrosse, basketball, and ice hockey.. etc) you're well aware that there is a fair amount of jogging, sprinting, backpedalling, and dodging players throughout the course of a game/match.

Here's some fun facts for you:

1. Elite level soccer refs, head and assistants, run on the average roughly 10km and 7km, respectively per match. Not only that, but of that total distance, roughly 2km and 1km (respectively) is sprinting. That's a lot of sprinting!

2. In that same study of soccer refs, researchers found that main refs work at about 85% of max heart rate and assistants work in the 77% range. Again, that's a pretty high demand on the cardiovascular system.

3. High level rugby referees were found to have a 2:1 work to rest ratio of sprints to jogs/stationary, for a full 90 match. That is NOT a lot of rest between plays!

I imagine that from those studies we can extrapolate physical demands would be similar for football, lacrosse, and field hockey, and ice hockey. I would even venture so far as to say that the metabolic demands of a high-level basketball ref would be close, despite having less distance to travel from one goal to another. To quote the official Hockey Officiating Handbook:

A good official needs to be in excellent physical condition. Whereas players may skate a one-minute shift and then rest for a couple of minutes, the official is called upon to skate the entire game. An official deemed to be overweight and not in shape will have a difficult time keeping up with the play and will oftentimes be out of position.

Granted, the aforementioned stats were found in elite level referees, and I imagine the physical demands diminish proportionally to the level of sport (elite, college, high school and so on.) HOwever, the quote from the hockey handbook, I think, applies for any sporting referee. Think about it: the players are typically younger, have more time to train/recover (they may not have a second job, demands of raising/supporting a family etc.), and they have the goal of winning (which could, especially in a close game, overrule any fatigue).

I would also argue that the ability to maintain a  high output throughout the game, especially towards then end when the points becomes more crucial, is essential to being a successful referee.

So, with all this information, what is the most efficient way to train? Here's how I would break it down:


2-3 days of pure strength training

2 days of conditioning


2 days of pure strength

1-2 days of conditioning (the second day really should be more of a "bonus" day, if a game gets cancelled or something)

Since today's post is about the conditioning aspect, we'll focus on that (the strength portions will be later on). However, I DO want to point out that the strength training does NOT diminish during the season. Strength is the basis of all athleticism, including being a referee. The conditioning sessions drop in-season as actually reffing games will maintain aerobic conditioning.

Once again, that is if you're a consistent reader of this blog, I'm going to direct you to the Energy Systems post I wrote a while back. Why? Because it's important to understand, that's why. Most referees will have the same metabolic demands as a power athlete, that is, they'll be required to have intermittent high-intensity sprints with periods of jogging and/or complete rest. If you don't understand that having a solid aerobic base and how to build it efficiently, you can do all the sprint-repeats you want, but you're not going to get much better at recovering between those sprints without a

 Energy Systems  (READ ME)

Here are some great options for building the aerobic base:

High Intensity Continuous Training (explained here and here)- This is a great option as the impact is pretty low, so cranky joints shouldn't complain.

Rectangle Runs- Sprint the length of a field (start at roughly 70% and work up to 85% -90% over the course of several sessions). Walk the end lines. 1 rep = sideline sprint + end line walk. Start off with 6-8 reps (depending on your current level of conditioning) and work up to 10-12 reps per session. During the first couple of sessions, make sure your heart rate gets back below 150 beats per minute. As you progress, you'll notice that your heart rate will drop sooner during the rest periods. This bit is important because a) it helps build the aerobic base via recovery and b) allows for full force production during the sprint, thus improving your strength.

If you're really snazzy, you can practice sprinting with your head facing the inside of the field, as you would during a game.

Shuttle Runs - These will help improve change-of-direction and acceleration. The possibilities are endless with the reps and distances and rest periods. Again, to help work on the aerobic base and improve sprint capacity, let your heart rate recover to under 150 bpm between shuttles. Working without full recovery will eke you into the glycolytic state during the sprints and, as we all know, glycolytic power poops out pretty quickly over the course of a lengthy training session/game.

Hill Sprints - Find a menacing hill. Run up. Walk down. Repeat anywhere from 8-15 times. It's a pretty simple one.

Circuit Training- Here's an alternative to actual running for those poopy-weather days. I wrote about it here.

Ok referees, there's now no excuse for NOT training your cardiovascular system to attain tip-top physical condition. Get movin'!