Football fans across Australia are looking forward to seeing their favourite football players and teams return to the pitch.
But, there’s another team in Australia that is raring get back on the pitch when football returns. A team that is sometimes an afterthought – a team that carry whistles and flags. Yes, that’s right – our referees.
In Australia there are thousands of females who referee football. Some are our teammates, all are our friends.
One such referee is Katie Patterson, a current member on the A-league’s fourth official panel. In 2015 Katie became the first female to referee in the FFA Cup, building a path for other female referees to follow.
So, just how are Australia’s elite referees handling the COVID-19 inspired lockdown?
For Katie, who refereed her first football match 16 years ago, it meant regular individual fitness sessions and plenty of Zoom calls with her fellow referees.
“Initially [when COVID-19 hit] I took the opportunity to reduce the intensity of my in-season training, before resuming my regular routine," she said.
"The benefit of working from home meant I could reassess when and where I train. With greater flexibility in my day, I was able to dedicate more time to developing my soft skills – knowledge, communication and resilience. These skills are critical to effectively facilitating a game and are often forgotten.” she said.
For Katie, a 15-kilometre weekend run is supported by agility, speed and strength sessions during the week, in addition to a weekly Zoom coaching call.
Now, football is returning and like players and supporters, referees like Katie will soon be back doing what they do best. Katie herself will be back in the middle officiating in the NSW Men’s and Women’s NPL1 competition.
“I was really excited to hear about the return of football and I can’t wait to get back on the field. Nothing can compare to match day – the atmosphere and adrenaline. As well as the referees, this is exciting for the players and coaches too so it’s an environment I can’t wait to be part of again,” Katie said.
And, the advice she has for the thousands of female referees who are refereeing matches for the first time?
“The more you immerse yourself in refereeing the better outcome you will have. Develop a strong support network and engage in your training groups. And have fun!”
Come match day there’s another team that will be itching to get onto the football pitch – the only difference is that this team is made up of three.