Hi ref, are you in control? Self-control, ego-depletion, and performance in soccer referees

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Soccer referees are challenged by physiological, professional, and mental demands which require them to exercise self-control for optimal performance. We applied the strength model of self-control (e.g., Baumeister & Vohs, 2016; Baumeister et al., 1998) to examine the relationship between self-control strength and performance in real matches.

Design and methods:

Sixteen soccer referees (M age = 30.06 yrs, SD = 7.38) completed a trait self-control scale. Then, over 2–4 matches they completed measures of daily hassles prior to the match and state self-control prior to and after the match. Personal, situational and performance indices were also collected. Data were analyzed using several statistical procedures, including hierarchical linear modeling.


The referees exhibited higher levels of trait self-control compared with professional soccer players and the general population. Their state self-control scores were also high. A noticeable decrease (10% or more) in state self-control strength (i.e., ego depletion) was evident in almost half of the matches. Experience of daily hassles and travel time to the match were related to lower pre-match self-control. Ego depletion was associated with self-reported match difficulty and was negatively related to self-rated match performance.


The findings are in line with previous studies and the strength model of self-control, highlighting the importance of self-control strength in soccer refereeing. Practitioners and Referee Unions should support referees in planning match day routines to maintain self-control strength.

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