Respect the Ref Q&A with Justyn Leonard
As a part of the England Football’s new “Respect the Ref” campaign, Hampshire FA caught up with one of our hard-working Hampshire FA referees, Justyn Leonard, for a quick Q&A about his experiences...
Why did you become a referee?
In 2013, my son was 6 and just starting to get into playing football. I couldn't commit to helping with coaching and training for the team due to my work schedule, but wanted to give something back. I was also pretty unfit and wanted to do something that would give me motivation to get fitter and refereeing was the prefect way to do that.
How many hours did it take to become a referee?
I think there were 2 or 3 full day sessions run on a Sunday, that were a mix of of classroom and practical learning, followed by a Laws of the Game exam to qualify, I'd say that even 8 years later, I'm still training and learning!
What have been your favourite refereeing experiences?
There's been quite a few:
Assistant Referee at St Marys in the Southampton Senior Cup final, in front of a crowd of 1250 was really great. Also, since getting promoted to Level 4, I've run the line on the Premier League U18's competition, which has included Aston Villa, who went on to win last seasons FA Youth Cup.
Probably the biggest highlight has been being in the middle for an FA Cup Tie, its such an iconic competition, to be part of that competition fills me with a lot of pride. I've also refereed in the Womens FA Cup, The FA Vase and The FA Youth Cup.
At a more day to day level, I always love a situation where I play an advantage that leads to a goal, at any level of the game, as a referee there are few better feelings!
What is the best thing about refereeing?
The ability to be part of the game and as I've gone up through the levels, working with and leading a team of 3 officials. I've have been able to officiate at grounds that I'd never have visited otherwise and made some amazing friends through refereeing. Its not just about having the big games, I get as much enjoyment from refereeing some of the younger age groups and helping them to learn and enjoy playing football.
What have been your toughest moments as a referee?
I think every referee has had moments in their career where they think 'Why do I bother?' and that can be after a bad game or just where there has been really bad behaviour. I've had a few times when I've seriously thought about quitting due to how I've felt in the aftermath of games, but after a little bit of time and reflection I've decided to carry on.
Probably the toughest thing now as I've gone through the ranks is the amount of social media coverage, video highlights and interviews. You have to be strong mentally not to react when someone is saying that you were terrible, even if its not been the case. On the flip side, the ease of getting video footage really helps to improve.
What has being a referee given you?
Its given me a healthier lifestyle in terms of fitness, nutrition and weight, I look back at how unfit I was when I first started refereeing and I'm a completely different person now than I was then.
Its also helped me outside of football, as a referee, you are making decisions, based on the information you have and in pressurised situations, those are skills that in any walk of life outside of football that are valuable to have.
Most importantly, its given me a group of friends that I'd never have met, if it weren't for refereeing. Refereeing is difficult and once you qualify you become part of a very special family. Building a close circle of friends really helps flatten out the natural highs and lows, as well as providing objective advice on how to continue improving.
What does refereeing mean to you?
It's an important part of my life and something that I enjoy very much. I get a lot of satisfaction from games where I've made a positive difference to those participating and as I've progressed up the ranks I enjoy the fact that I'm still challenging myself and learning. I've recently started to observe up-and-coming referees on the promotion scheme and that's hugely enjoyable in a different way. Being able to support and help develop referees in the earlier stages of their careers and pass on some of the tips and tricks I've learned gives me a great deal of satisfaction and I can see myself focusing more on that as an when my career in the middle comes to an end.