Referee in Focus – Ryan Shepheard

Ryan Shepheard is a current F-league referee and has been an FIFA listed Futsal referee since 2009. In addition to the F-League, Ryan has refereed at a range of international tournaments, including the recent OFC Futsal Championships held in Fiji.

He shares some of his insights on being an elite Futsal referee.

How did you become involved in refereeing?

I had an involvement in the game of football from a young age as a player and had also started to do some coaching. The refereeing course became available through my local branch, Manly Warringah, and I decided to attend to further my involvement in the sport.

For a couple of years, I continued to play whilst also refereeing morning games and then running lines in the afternoon. From the age of about 16, I chose to focus on developing my skills as a referee. After many years involved in the game of football, I commenced refereeing futsal as well and have been grateful to reach the highest level. 

Can you describe a week in the life of a Futsal referee?

The competition schedule for the national competition, F-League and also state-based fixtures, requires a year round commitment to officiating. International matches and competitions also form part of the yearly calendar.

A standard training week involves a couple of gym sessions of weights and cardio, combined with a specific session focused on game related training drills. Matches are usually held each weekend with the state competition having you officiate multiple fixtures.   

Ryan Shepheard

What do you do to keep a balance between your personal, professional and refereeing life?

For any referee, being at the elite level provides many challenges with balancing refereeing, family, work and a social life. Over the years you make many sacrifices to be at the elite level and remain committed to refereeing, and at times, it isn’t also possible to do it all.

I’ve been fortunate to have plenty of support throughout my refereeing years which has enabled me to dedicate so much time to what I enjoy. I also feel that you certainly need to have interests outside of the game, where you have the chance to relax and to mentally switch off. You need to take a break at times to recharge.  

How do you keep focused during a match and not let emotions influence decisions?

With experience, and doing a large number of matches, you develop techniques that work for you when the pressure is applied and the intensity of matches is at the highest level.

Personally, positive self-talk is important as you work through the key moments in a match whilst reminding yourself of the key areas you want to focus on. I also feel you need to find times when you can mentally relax during a game. A moment to keep everything in perspective and not concentrate too hard is important, as this can have an adverse impact.

In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in Futsal in recent years?

The establishment of the national F-League competition has provided the game with the opportunity for the winning team to compete in the AFC Club Competition. This is a great chance for an Australian club to mix with some of the best teams across Asia, so the challenge has been to lift the sport to a new level to be competitive on the bigger stage.

Referees have also benefited from the F-League; as it has given more games to officiate that bring a sort after prize at the end, so match intensity and skill level has increased. 

What is the key to building positive relationships with players and coaches?

As a referee you are always trying to develop a level of mutual respect with players and coaches. You know that it isn’t possible to always agree, but you can still interact in a manner of dignity and respect.

I think that there should always be an initial positive relationship between all parties, but the level of that relationship is built over time. It grows as players and coaches see the consistency in your performance, not only within a match but between games as well. And, that you’re open and honest in your interactions when a mistake is made. 

What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of an elite referee?

For me it’s about attitude. You will have access to the resources and people to support you on your journey to be an elite referee; however, the way you present yourself is critical.

Your attitude is shown in your physical preparation, your interactions with people and the manner in which you conduct yourself. You can build your profile as an elite referee over time but the wrong attitude will stop you from progressing to the highest levels.  

What match or moment stands out as a highlight in your refereeing career?

Over my career I have been very fortunate to referee games that have held some personal significance for many different reasons.

A stand out in football was a Hyundai A-League fixture between Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory on the Adelaide Oval. In futsal, a highlight was my selection on the AFC elite panel, where I’ve refereed many quality fixtures and had the chance to travel and see parts of the world.