After this weekend’s SPFL fixtures, Scotland’s referees will embark on their mid-season training camp in La Manga. Now in its ninth year, the week will include intense physical training, recovery sessions, video analysis, team bonding and group discussion sessions as the referees prepare for the second half the season.
On that trip the Scottish FA’s Head of Football Science and Medicine, Graeme Jones, will join them in Spain. Formerly a Sport Scientist at the Hampden Sports Clinic, his job covers a wide spectrum, including sports medicine, physiotherapy and sport science across the Scotland National Teams, the Scottish FA’s Performance Department, Performance Schools and Coach Education.

Working with the Scottish FA’s Head of Referee Operations, John Fleming, and John McQuade, (Fitness Coach and Scottish FA representative on the UEFA Refereeing Assistance Programme) both Jones and McQuade are responsible for the fitness aspects of the camp.

Speaking to the Scottish FA website, Jones explained that specificity and relevance to refereeing are the key elements to the week’s training.

He said: “We will begin with a recovery session at the start of the week (most referees will have been in action on Saturday). Then John and I will implement sessions incorporating different aspects of fitness needed for refereeing, including endurance, speed, agility, reaction and strength training. The focus, however, is always specifically related to the needs of referees, with an emphasis on decision-making throughout these demanding sessions. For this reason, we work closely with our referee coaches to ensure both physical and technical elements are developed in every session.”

Referees in Scotland, in almost all cases, are entirely responsible for their own fitness training whilst working full-time jobs. This is particularly challenging with unfavourable weather, particularly on wet and wild winter nights.

These factors, Jones believes, make the winter training camp the perfect time for reflection on the season so far and a chance to train collectively.

“This time of year is ideal for this sort of training,” Jones elaborated. 

“The referees and assistant referees have had an extremely busy schedule over the six weeks, as the amount of fixtures increases substantially over the festive period. Unlike their training back in Scotland, over the five days they train together as a team. It’s not only good for a positive mentality, it also pushes the boundaries of training sessions.” 

For Jones, who has been a regular feature of the mid-season training camps for a number of years, the improvement in the athleticism of Scottish referees has been vast. 

As a Fitness Coach for the UEFA Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE), he has seen Scottish referees overcome barriers to reach the upper echelons of the European refereeing community.

“The change in the physical condition and fitness of referees in Scotland over the last decade has been remarkable. There are a number of reasons for this, of course; the general demographic of referees has changed a lot, with the average age of match officials falling playing a part. However the professionalism, dedication and work ethic stands out as the main contributor by far.”

“I’ve been involved with UEFA’s CORE for a number of years now, and I have to say that in terms of physical attributes, Scottish officials are up there with the best in Europe at every level.”