In safe hands

Select Group assistant referee John Brooks has a clear career goal – to take charge of a Premier League match. Passion, dedication and the PGMOL support structure will help him on his journey.

Already a Select Group assistant referee, John Brooks’ number one goal is to take charge of a Premier League match. To achieve that, he will have to graduate from refereeing in the Conference and rise through the Football League. As John explains here, he is hoping his passion for the game, dedication to learning and the support structure of Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), will help him achieve his ambition.

The question I’m asked most as a referee is: ‘Why do we do it? Why expose ourselves to the scrutiny of being the unpopular guy?’ The simple answer is ‘We love football’. And, having that passion for the game, you want to get to the highest stage of English football, which is the Premier League. I'm fortunate that as Select Group Assistant Referee I get to experience that, but my goal is to referee in the Premier League.

John Brooks with Steve Dunn and Mike Riley John Brooks with PGMOL Panel 2A coach Steve Dunn (left) and General Manager Mike Riley (right)

One thing is for sure, the right people are available to get me there. The support structure created by PGMOL General Manager Mike Riley means that everything is there for me to succeed. As a Select Group assistant referee I have a full-time coach. Adam Watts and his team are the ones who help us reach that 99% accuracy on offside decisions. At Premier League matches I have the best learning environment in the world. I see the strategies our Select Group referees use on the field: their man management, decision-making, positioning and communication with players are second to none.

Select Group referees show a mental toughness on a par with elite athletes.John Brooks, Assistant Referee

Exposure to that has certainly made me a better referee in the Conference. But so has the support of PGMOL. I have another coach, Steve Dunn, at Conference level to talk to before and after games. I send him assessments, reflections and summaries and clips if he can’t attend a match. He’s fantastic at giving the right advice and that gives you the confidence to go out and perform to the best of your ability. All 400 PGMOL officials, from the Premier League to the Conference, have access to our in-house psychologist, Liam Slack. Two years ago he published a PhD thesis explaining how Select Group referees show a mental toughness on a par with elite athletes. He has developed a training programme for all those of us that aspire to be Premier League referees.

As the referee, you come under pressure at all levels of the game, and dealing with that is key. One of the things Liam works with us on is moving on after we’ve made decisions. There may be a big call to make in the first 30 seconds of a match. Once you have made it, you need to stay switched on and focused for the next 89 minutes and not worry whether it was right.

All the training we do is designed to help us make the right decisions. When I explain that and the time and effort we put in, people understand why we do it. As for being the ‘unpopular guy’, certain situations on the pitch demand it. If you’re uncomfortable with that then you’re probably in the wrong job. I know I’m not.

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