Striving for excellence: talent identification and development in English football refereeing

Tom Webb, Jimmy O’Gorman, Lee Markham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Research question: The purpose of this study was to examine the talent identification and talent development experiences of referees in England. We explored with referees what they perceived to be the relevant strengths and weaknesses of the talent identification and development mechanisms utilised by football governing and development bodies in England. Currently, no research on the talent identification and development of football referees exists anywhere in the world. Research methods: The paper employs a qualitative approach using thematic analysis. Semi-structured interviews with 28 participants across four different County Football Associations (CFAs) in England were conducted. Referees on the development pathway and Referee Development Officers were interviewed. Results and findings: Three overarching themes were identified; recruitment processes, talent identification and development, and support mechanisms. Opportunities for progression were affected by age, provision and quality of training, knowledge of the progression pathways, regional and national differences in both the recruitment and delivery of information regarding talent identification and development, and variability in the formalised support networks. Implications: Organisations who identify and develop referees at varying levels should understand the barriers associated with maximising referee progression. FIFA, UEFA, national football associations, and regional referee organisations are aware of the diminishing refereeing numbers across football, and therefore effective identification and development of referees becomes even more essential. Governing bodies should recognise that the progression pathways in place have a significant impact on referee development and therefore a successful standardised approach is essential both nationally and internationally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Sport Management Quarterly
Early online date7 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jan 2021


  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Strategy and Management
  • talent identification
  • Sports match officials
  • football
  • referee
  • talent development


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