Public Release: 

'Fear whistles along with us'

Psychological study by Goethe University on how referees experience aggression in amateur football (soccer)

Goethe University Frankfurt

This news release is available in German.

FRANKFURT. "Fear whistles along with us", "Violence every damned Sunday", "The ball is round, the hate is huge" - that's how these and similar headlines read with regard to conditions on the field in amateur football (Soccer) in Germany. A psychological study by Goethe University, based on a survey amongst over 900 referees, gets to the bottom of such aggression and its causes.

In the framework of his master's thesis at the Chair of General Psychology II, Adrian Sigel first of all interviewed referees in amateur football. On the basis of his findings, he compiled a questionnaire which was answered by over 900 referees.

"The study confirms that referees in amateur football are regularly exposed to aggression, whereby a differentiation can be made between insults, threats of violence and actual physical attacks", explains Adrian Sigel. His study was designed in such a way that he was able to show how referees think about aggressive behaviour by players, but also by fans, coaches, officials and stewards, and to what causes they attribute it. They cite, amongst others, an emotionality which is specific and inherent to football, but also a growing potential for aggression throughout the whole of society, which finds an outlet in football.

The survey also illustrated which strategies referees use to deal with aggression and what the consequences are. These cover a broad spectrum and range from critical self-reflection to becoming accustomed to aggression to withdrawing completely from the job of referee. It was also possible to show for the first time that a large number of referees experience such stressful and negative situations as a personal growth and maturing process. It shapes or strengthens their personal identity.

"The study shows a complex and at the same time clear picture of referees' experience with aggression and presents, structures and characterizes it for the first time in its context", says Professor Sabine Windmann, supervisor of Sigel's master's thesis. Of particular importance is the fact that the topic of aggression towards referees with all its contexts, consequences and causal attributions is not described by means of externally applied schemata, but instead directly through statements made by the referees in the framework of the interviews.

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