This study used qualitative methods to explore the stressors, appraisal mechanism, emotional response, and effective/ineffective coping strategies experienced by elite rugby union referees during pressurized performances. Participants included seven male rugby union referees from the United Kingdom (Mage = 27.85, SD = 4.56) who had been officiating as full-time professionals for between 1 and 16 years (M = 4.85, SD = 5.42). Data revealed that the referees encountered a number of stressors, which were appraised initially as a ‘threat’, and elicited negatively-toned emotions. The referees were able to maintain performance standards under pressure by adopting proactive, problem- and emotion-focused coping strategies which managed effectively the stressors and their emotions. However, the use of avoidance-coping, reactive control, and informal impression management were perceived as ineffective coping strategies, and associated with poor performance and choking. Recommendations are offered to inform the psychological skills training of rugby union referees.
Hill is with the Dept. of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK. Matthews is with the Dept. of Tourism, Hospitality and Events Management, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK. Senior is with the Dept. of Sport & Exercise, University of Gloucestershire, Gloucester, UK.