Stephen Lucas has been a Hyundai A-League referee since 2014, having made his debut replacing Peter O’Leary at half-time in a match! In addition to the Hyundai A-League, Stephen has also been a member of AFC’s Project Future referee program and is a former NSW NPL Referee of the Year. He shares some of his insights on being an elite referee.
How did you become involved in refereeing?
I began refereeing at 14 when I saw my brother play a match which was very difficult both physically and in intensity. It made me realise that I wanted to be involved in the game and take control of matches. After that, I did a course at school and began to climb the ranks as the years rolled on. I also played the game until 18 but realised I had more skill with the whistle than with my feet.
Can you describe a week in the life of an A-League referee?
The week begins on a Monday where appointments are released, followed by at night where match officials on a game over the weekend are involved in teleconferences to discuss our matches. We then train collectively as a refereeing group twice a week which involves agility and endurance drills. In addition, we are expected to train individually twice a week which involves recovery, gym or technical sessions. We must also focus for the match ahead and be prepared for match day. We must juggle all of this and continue to maintain family and professional lives.
What do you do to keep a balance between your personal, professional and refereeing life?
It can be very difficult to manage all 3 aspects, however for me, I am fortunate to have a supportive and understanding partner (and soon to be wife), an understanding family where at times you have to sacrifice family events and finally, an understanding employer that allows me to be flexible and manage my job around appointments and training. Above all, you give back what is given to you so that involves making up for lost time however I can.
How do you keep focused during a match and not let emotions influence decisions?
I break the game down into small periods throughout the match so as to maintain concentration and be fully focused to the task in front of you and always remain calm so as to have a clear frame of mind. This involves getting a gauge of the match atmosphere and continuously checking in with yourself mentally to ensure you are refereeing well above the standard of the game. Where opportunities allow you to such as deadfall situations, it is then for you to use your experience to manage situations with the players and always maintain teamwork with your match officials. In terms of emotions, we are trained to identify and maintain discipline so as not to be influenced in any way. Again, by understanding the match atmosphere, it is key for you to not let emotions from players get in your way. At the end of the day, you must back yourself and trust your instincts.
In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in football in recent years?
Whilst the speed and pace of the game continues to increase, I believe people’s awareness of team tactics has also developed with greater access to all types of resources and data to analyse team tactics. We have access to all statistics about how teams and players play from all over the world.
What is the key to building positive relationships with players and coaches?
Treat others how you wish to be treated and act with maturity. Players and managers will respect you more when you are approachable and can admit mistakes.
What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of an elite referee?
Elite referee are considered to be athletes and with that demands professionalism. Adopting this attitude encompasses a range of skills needed to succeed including fitness, nutrition, courage and continuously learning and adapting from your own performances.
What match or moment stands out as a highlight in your refereeing career?
My first HAL game between Sydney and Central Coast in 2014 is the standout for me. Unfortunately the referee (Peter O’Leary) was injured at half time and I was called upon as 4th official to referee the second half with little time to prepare.