Education is paramount for referees, and the UEFA winter referee courses in Cyprus brought a wealth of technical and instruction sessions with a view to helping referees learn and progress.
Educating and instructing referees is high on the list of UEFA's priorities within its programme for match officials, in particular the young referees just setting out on an international career.
UEFA refereeing officer Hugh Dallas and his Referees Committee colleague Vladimir Sajn have been hard at work in Cyprus this week, conducting a series of education sessions at the European body's winter courses. The aim is to help the match officials achieve the standards of quality that have made European referees respected across the game.
"There is much more instruction for the young introductory course referees, because they have to know what UEFA expects from them, and owing to the importance of having a consistent application and interpretation of the Laws of the Game," said Dallas, a former top international referee himself. There is less instruction but more discussion on the advanced course, as the elite referees prepare for the second half of the club competition season. "We are seeing the young referees for the first time," said Dallas, "so we pay considerable attention to them on and off the field of play.
"We not only emphasise the need for consistency in the laws but also give advice on match management, because the top referees must be good man managers. We ask them to use their personality on the field, as well as how to manage specific incidents and the manner in which they should communicate with the players.
"In addition, while they should be themselves, they can also learn a great amount from our elite referees, so we demonstrate and give examples of how the top referees would act and react in given situations. This is achieved not only in the classroom but also on the field of play, where we had the young referees participating in practical exercises with players."
A significant examination for referees at UEFA courses involves checking their knowledge of the Laws of the Game. "If unusual incidents take place on the field, then our officials must be ready to arrive at the correct decision," Dallas explained. "We also must ensure that the referees are up to date with the competition regulations as well. The young referees are tested on the basic Laws of the Game, and we also appreciate their national associations testing the referees on these laws in preparation for our courses."
Dedication is the key word for Dallas and Sajn in producing hundreds of match incidents that are shown to the referees to analyse and arrive at the correct decisions, which includes highlighting any changing trends that the match officials need to be aware of.
"We have a network of TV spotters around Europe," said Dallas. "Their role is to highlight interesting match incidents from our top competitions, which are identified for educational purposes and forwarded to UEFA, where I and my colleague Vlado Sajn select the most interesting ones. These incidents are then used for our various courses throughout the year. This material is also produced for the national associations for their own needs, so it's a top-down educational programme.
"We will also produce material for the competing teams in the EURO 2016 final tournament in France, and prior to the commencement of the competition, every team will be visited by members of our Referees Committee to ensure that the players and coaches are aware of what guidelines our referees have been given. We did this prior to the EURO final tournaments in 2008 and 2012 with huge success, and I must say that the players responded excellently."
Dallas, like his colleagues within the UEFA refereeing structure, derives great pleasure from helping the young referees set off on their career path which, in some instances, takes them to the very top to officiate at major finals.
"It's very rewarding," he reflected. "For example, when I came on to the Referees Committee, I was appointed to coach Howard Webb and Alberto Undiano from Spain, among others. I had the pleasure of working with them in their early years and it was great to witness them progress to the very top level.
"I feel you can always offer advice which can improve not only the individual referee but also the overall standards, and I think it is so important to have former experienced top referees passing on their wisdom and knowledge to new generations of young match officials."