Alex Reid: Bringing professionalism to the fitness of referees   - Ruck

Alex Reid: Bringing professionalism to the fitness of referees  

The world class match official fitness series 

Along with our partners at ACME Whistles we spoke to the RFU’s Match Officials Strength & Conditioning Coach, Alex Reid, whose career has taken her from Harrods to Spurs to the RFU. Alex is passionate about high-performance sport. 

In this interview, third in the series, interviews Alex tells us about her current role and how she has brought professionalism and focus to the fitness of the match officials.  

“I think my background of knowing what it takes to compete physically at the highest level personally and in football, and trying to educate the match officials to create those behaviours is really important. 

“In football I’m in with the players day in, day out, for 11 months of the year, so you can really affect them.  

“Now, we’ve got 10 full-timers, and the rest of the group are part-time, with other jobs. But I still need to make sure they’re available and fit for selection week in, week out, even though they also work nine to five jobs. 

“So a big part of my job is to educate. To help the match officials fulfil their physical potential and be fit to be selected for the premiership, championship, Europe – whatever they are selected for – and make sure that they’re robust and ready physically. 

“What is really obvious is that match officials now recognise that they can’t just rock up and officiate on a weekend and get away with not being physically capable or ready. They might get away with it on occasion, but they won’t perform at the highest level as they could be late to a break down or not be in position to make a call.  

“They’re likely to not keep up with play or sprint for a breakaway and may be more likely to pull their hamstring or they may end up having, you know, some chronic injury through overuse because they’re not robust and conditioned well.” 

The team went onto discuss how match official fitness has changed since 2009, to which Alex replied: 

I think that’s a really good question. 

“Today I think people are fit and they happen to want to be a match official, whereas before they were probably match officials – and then recognised that they needed to be fit.  

“I think we’ve got good athletes who are also good match officials and I think that’s perhaps the difference. 

“I look at our full-time match officials now at the RFU and they are good athletes, who move well and understand their bodies.  

“When I first started at the RFU, conditioning and fitness wasn’t as much of a focus for the match officials, now it is part of their performance reviews, and they need to reach certain performance targets. 

“You look at the group at the World Cup and they are lean; they’re athletic and they’re moving well; they’re keeping up with play; and they’re talking to the TMO or to whoever and they’re not out of breath.  

“They’re capable, they’re fit, and they’re well-conditioned.  

“I think they’ve recognised that to be at the highest level, which is where many of our group want to be, then it’s not about maybe training two or three times a week – it’s part of their job, they need to do this. 

“You know, obviously they’ve got to be technically gifted. They’ve got to know the laws of the game and be right on point. But their physical capacity to keep up with play, make decisions whilst under fatigue, is really crucial to their success. 

“Because the players are fitter now as well – so the officials need to keep up! 

“So it’s not just the fact that the referees are fitter, it’s the fact that everybody’s raised their game. The World Cup is an eight-week tournament; my goal is always for my English referees to be in the final. 

“When Wayne walked out for the World Cup final, he knew he’d done everything he could to be the best, both through his physical preparation and technical preparation, and that’s why he’s been such delight to work with. They all are. 

“He’s a great example of the work that needs to be put in place to be the best in the world, and for me, I’m absolutely overflowing with pride seeing him and our English contingent involved in the Rugby World Cup Final.  

“To see five Englishmen in the final like that. I mean I’ve seen Barnsey through four World Cups and was desperate for him to be rewarded, it’s just such a deserved accolade for him, a credit to his dedication to the sport. 

“It’s also great to see ex-players like Karl out there. What a great advert for ex-players.  

“Karl is a great example of how he’s really got on board with being a match official. He was an athlete before and is now maintaining that professional approach to fitness as he continues in the sport as an official.” 

In the next feature of the series, Alex takes us through the new approach to match official fitness and how it is adding to the game. 

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