A preliminary, multidisciplinary investigation into the performance of professional referees in the Australian National Rugby League

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2020
Full metadata record
Sports officials are critical constituents to team sports competition, of which professional rugby league is no exception. Successful performance in sports officiating involves a complex interplay of components including, but not limited to; physical, technical, and perceptual-cognitive factors. When comparing literature on sports officiating there is a clear paucity of research investigating the performance of rugby league referees. As a result, there is a deficiency in evidence–based practice when evaluating and training rugby league referees. This is of concern given the prominence of the elite rugby league competition has on the Australian sporting landscape. Given the scarcity of research into rugby league referees this thesis adapted a conceptual model rugby union referee performance as a framework for a preliminary, multi-disciplinary investigation into factors that affect performance of elite rugby league referees. This thesis contains four studies with the aims of; (1) improving understanding of the physiological demands of the current 2-referee model utilised in the elite rugby league competition in Australia, and, (2) the contextual factors that affect physical performance of the referees in the 2-referee model. It is widely reported in the literature that the physical aspect of refereeing is only one component of referee performance, therefore, in addition to physical performance, the thesis also aimed to (3) examine to what extent other measurable referee performance variables, including technical psychological and perceptual-cognitive, contributed to rugby league referee performance evaluation. Finally, the thesis aimed to (4) create an ecologically valid decision-making task for referee decision making performance, and examine perceptual cognitive mechanisms underpinning elite referee decision making. Study One identified between-role differences for match-activity profiles for the two on-field referees (head vs. assist) under the current referee model. Study Two expanded on this research to investigate how contextual factors, specifically referee match experience and referee fitness effect the match-activity profiles of elite rugby league referees. The findings highlighted the importance of cardio-vascular fitness for elite rugby league referees and the effects of referee match experience on movement and positioning. Combined, these studies further the understanding of how the referee roles differ and provide supporting evidence to suggest the development of role specific training programs. Study Three identified that no movement characterises positively factor into the evaluation of referee performance. Rather, referee penalty accuracy was found to contribute most to evaluation score. This highlights the importance of decision making to referee on-field performance. Finally, the Study Four created a valid, reliable, domain specific decision-making test for rugby league referees. Additionally, this study found that although referees outperformance non-referees on the decision-making task, they do not employ different gaze strategies to the control group when making decisions. Results suggest referee have greater ability to process visual information and have increase procedural knowledge when applying the rules of rugby league. In combination, the studies within the thesis provide insights into multi-factorial nature of rugby league referee performance. The results give evidence for development of appropriate physical training programs, while highlighting the importance of non-physical factors, such as perceptual cognitive skills, on referee performance. Furthermore, the thesis suggests that referee performance may be improved by the deliberate practice of referee domain-specific, perceptual-cognitive tasks in conjunction to role specific physical training programs. The unique, ecologically valid decision-making task had the potential to be utilised and future research investigations into factors affecting decision making of elite rugby league referees for talent identification purposes.
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