Sport arbitration as an emergent process in a complex system: Decision-making variability is a marker of expertise in national-level football referees

RUSSELL, S, RENSHAW, I and DAVIDS, Keith (2020). Sport arbitration as an emergent process in a complex system: Decision-making variability is a marker of expertise in national-level football referees. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.

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Official URL: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10413...
Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200.2020.1831651
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    Abstract

    This study examined the experiential knowledge of eight Australian national-level football referees (3.2 yrs mean national-level experience) about the notion of consistent decision-making during competitive matches. Using a grounded theory approach, the analysis revealed that participants view “consistency” as context-dependent, rather than a rigid process of uniformly responding to isolated foul-play transgressions with putatively correct responses. Our results present two key conceptual abstractions—”referential and game dependent” and “purpose and context”—as a framework for understanding referee decision-making consistency. Results evidence that in higher level referees, consistent decision-making performance is an emergent process defined by the decision-making actions of the referee, and exploitation of specifying contextual game factors. Our discussion outlines how this process can be understood as dynamical transactions within a complex system (i.e. competitive football game), in which varying decision-making responses to superficially similar incidents is a marker of expertise, rather than inconsistency. These findings draw attention to the limitations of isolated foul-play video assessment, suggesting that training orientated toward complete uniform agreement on game incidents may reduce attention (attunement) to key contextual information that is necessary to prospectively control player behaviors and thus, the emergent trajectory of each game. Instead, findings support more representative game opportunities for referees to practice making decisions with key contextual information sources present. Future research could consider the extent context and/or variability define performance at different levels of competition and across sports with distinct cultural structures. Lay summary: Australian national-level referees consider consistent decision-making as more than just the similar identification of fouls. These higher level referees draw on contextual factors to institute a foul “standard” unique to each game, in the interests of maintaining each game’s control and integrity. Referees portray consistency as remaining faithful to the reference points they have co-developed with the players and the conditions that defined them. Training and/or assessment that views uniform agreement on fouls as optimal may work to reduce attention to contextual factors that allow referees to meet their strategic performance intentions, such as positively influencing each game’s trajectory.IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Assessment of decision-making accuracy and/or consistency should include key contextual factors. Emphasis on recognizing recurring game states and the contextual factors that define them, would ensure decision-making focusses less on “what the foul is” and more on “what the foul can offer” in terms of running the game. These findings draw attention to the limitations of isolated foul-play video assessment for training and advocate for more representative game opportunities for referees to practice making calls with key information sources present. Universal agreement between experts on match incidents may be counterproductive. Instead, modified game-based opportunities for referees to practice making decisions, shaped by “context” and at game speed, would encourage referees to explore a broad range of workable decision-making responses to superficially similar incidents.

    Item Type: Article
    Uncontrolled Keywords: Sport Sciences; 1106 Human Movement and Sports Sciences; 1701 Psychology
    Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200.2020.1831651
    SWORD Depositor: Symplectic Elements
    Depositing User: Symplectic Elements
    Date Deposited: 16 Nov 2020 14:39
    Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:18
    URI: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/27609

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