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UEFA's comprehensive referee development work continues to help produce match officials of the highest quality – and this work begins when the important first sprouts of potential are showing, thanks to the UEFA Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE) in Nyon.
Since its inception, CORE has proved its worth as a cradle of learning for budding top referees. In every two-year cycle, each national association is invited to send to CORE a referee and two assistant referees who show potential to become FIFA officials. Under the direction of David Elleray, a member of the UEFA Referees Committee, all CORE courses comprise a ten-day introductory session followed, a few months later, by an eight-day consolidation course.
Every CORE course involves eight referee teams who work closely with four referee coaches, two assistant referee coaches and two fitness coaches. The introductory course focuses on learning, while the consolidation course centres on assessing the progress the officials have made in their refereeing, fitness and English. The referees work continually on what they have learned and have regular contact with their coaches in the period between the two courses.
A former international referee himself, Elleray is enthusiastic about the work being done within CORE. He explained: "The main aim of the CORE programme is to develop the next generation of international referees and assistant referees, by focusing on developing their technical performances, their fitness, their communication skill with English and getting them a more professional attitude, so they are more prepared for the demands of international football."
At each session in Nyon, the young referees and assistants have their physical, technical and mental skills developed in a programme dedicated to achieving excellence. Howard Webb, now one of the world's premier referees, fully understands UEFA's wish with its referees to "catch them early".
He said: "CORE is playing a really important role in ensuring that the young referees, when they do eventually get onto the international list, are better prepared to deal with some of the challenges that brings, in terms of expectations, travelling, being an ambassador for their national association, for example."
At CORE, much of the work is on the field rather than in the classroom. Practical exercises are wide-ranging and are carefully filmed so each referee can assess personal strengths and weaknesses. "Filming matches and practical exercises is one of the most important CORE works," said CORE assistant referee coach Giovanni Stevenato.
"Regarding practical exercises for offside, we created some situations like in a game (...) and they have to take a decision. After a few minutes we go to see on the screen, and sometimes they are surprised. They are sure they have done a perfect evaluation, and after, they see some mistake. At that moment, that's the key to opening [the official's] mind. And they know exactly there is always room for improvement."
"Analysing is the word ... it's not a matter of fault-finding or trying to find all their mistakes, because a lot of the referees will do a lot of good things," reflected CORE referee coach Peter Jones. "What we are trying to do is to highlight the areas, perhaps where there's some development needed. Not to just keep saying: that was fantastic, that's great – but to look at areas where they can develop."
These tools will ultimately equip referees to perform to a higher level in matches – and they have an immediate opportunity to implement what they have learned as they get the chance to take charge of games in France and Switzerland. "We need to convince our young referees how it is important to learn from what they do on the field," said UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina. "So certainly, having the chance of filming them while they are refereeing here in Switzerland or in France, is crucial to give them this kind of support."
Young referees who go through the CORE experience are in no doubts about the benefits of this innovative training. "I've learned a lot about refereeing," said Laurent Kiprowa. "I am from Luxembourg, a very small country, so I think I've learned a lot of new things here, which I cannot learn at home."
The final word goes to CORE referee coach Adrian Casha. "The last letter in CORE is 'E' for excellence, and that's the message that we try to pass across."
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