At our recent event at the St Pierre Marriot Hotel and Country Club, Malcolm Miller gave us a good insight into the life of a society referee as well as some thought provoking insight into how his rugby crosses over into his daily business life.

In his ‘day job’ Malcolm is managing director of RTS Group, a learning and development training agency based in Wiltshire. An expanding business, it directly employs a team of 55, and also works with another couple of hundred freelance associates around the world. The business keeps Malcolm busy and it is currently expanding into China, so where exactly does he see the parallels in his life on and off the field?

To explain this Malcolm pulled a small booklet from his pocket – the law book. 26 Laws and the code of the game, which is the playing charter. “When I look at that and I look at my business” he said “And ask is there a parallel? Absolutely! Integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect. If you can deliver that in a business and deliver it to your customers and your team, then you’re off to a flying start”

So let’s take a look at those parallels in a little more detail.

Malcolm is used to managing, whether it’s on the field or off. When he’s reffing he always has a team of people to manage; assistant referees, 4th officials, sometimes assessors are present too. That’s in addition to the 30 players on the field and the subs bench that will come and go too. So as a referee you have to facilitate, yes, we used a modern training type word, but it fits. You have to facilitate to achieve a game of rugby. So, the first of 3 things to cover is temperament.

Whether you’re facilitating a game of rugby, a board meeting or dealing with staff, patience, tolerance and empathy are all skills that are going to have to be practised. It’s just on a rugby field there are only 80 minutes to do it in, and with 30 players who just want to get on. And you do have to have empathy with players; as referees we understand their frustrations. Malcolm’s view is that some of the best matches are when you come off the pitch after 80 minutes and the players realise, ‘ah, there’s the ref’. The game has happened and it’s flowed. “I call it a temperament scale” said Malcolm “And as refs we work hard on that. That’s where leadership and management styles come in.”

He went on to say that you have to get the balance right. At one end of the scale a ref can do absolutely nothing and that can be a terrible reffing experience. If you are not communicating and are not involved, you won’t see things and players will soon take things into their own hands, which then causes more problems. The other end of the scale is the opposite. A referee that is always blowing the whistle, not letting things flow and always seems to be talking to, or worse still,talking down to players. It’s about finding the sweet spot in the middle. Facilitating the game so that 30+ players enjoy a great game of rugby and certainly at club level, are also able to get to work on a Monday morning. Safety is paramount. So getting your temperament right is key and that comes through management skills. Knowing what to say and when to say it prevents things from happening. Being able to read a situation means you can take action at the right time and allow the game to flow. And not just for the players. The crowd wants to enjoy the game too; they don’t want to see a stop start game that just consists of kicking penalties.

Your leadership and management skills help you know when to switch that management style. You need to know when things have gone past a certain point and a more firm approach is needed and you need to consciously switch between those management styles. “You know when you’ve had a good match because you come off and the players can’t remember your name” said Malcolm “I’m perfectly happy with that. If you’ve had a rubbish match, everyone knows who you are!”

So, when it comes to temperament, if you can keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs, chances are you’ll understand refereeing.

malcom miller on business and rugbyNumber 2 on the list to cover is decision making. Everyone in business has to make decisions, but how many do you have to make in a day? When refereeing, you get 80 minutes of decisions. Can you believe that according to analysts a rugby referee has to make a decision every 2 seconds? To illustrate this Malcolm took the room through a tackle to count up how many decisions have to be made. Whilst reading the next bit, keep in mind just how fast a tackle situation happens, which is generally about 6 seconds for the whole thing. Let’s start at the beginning and assume that there has been no forward pass and that there was no offside when the tackle was made. So, the tackle has been made and the decision making starts.

Was it a legal tackle? Did they use their arms? Are they making an attempt as the tackle progresses? Is there any attempt to lift the legs that could result in a tip tackle? Then comes the assist tackler. There’s no ruck yet but that assist tackler now comes into the equation, with the same questions. Eventually the player will go to ground. When does that tackle become a ruck? When is the tackle over? If there’s no ruck are we still in an open play tackle situation? If so are the tacklers giving the ball carrier rights to do something with it? Have they let go of him? You can say that they don’t necessarily have to, but as players arrive and they want to have a go at the ball there needs to be a clean release. If it’s now in a ruck situation, are people joining legally? Are they coming through the gate? Are they contesting for the ball legally? Are they hitting the ruck fairly (the tackle zone on a player remains the same – shoulder and below is the tackle line). Are they holding their own body weight? All of these decisions to be made while the referee is running and keeping up with the game. There’s a lot of observation and checking going on while running. When it comes to penalties there are 3 key questions to ask yourself as a referee

  1. Did you see it?
  2. Was it obvious?
  3. Did it have a material effect on the game?

In other words, are you able to play on with an advantage because you are looking to create a free flowing game?

So from a business context, I’m looking and checking; you don’t need to be involved in everything, particularly if you’re employing staff – that’s why you’re paying them. You need to be in a position to see it, understand it and know the facts, but do you really need to intervene? Do they need you to make this decision or are they handling it themselves? Often, if you stand back your team can manage things. To use a Nigel Owens phrase if you can keep your whistle in your pocket, then that’s a great thing. That’s facilitation of the game.

Finally we moved onto self confidence and this is an area where Malcolm does a lot of work. So what do we mean? Imagine, it’s the last game of the season, an important one. It’s the last 5 minutes of the game and you’ve called a penalty – it could cost one side everything and everyone in the bar has come out to see what’s going on. A lot of people are looking at you! In this situation, it’s not just an good understanding of the laws that comes into play, but your inner confidence to be able to say that’s what happened, this is what it is. All that facilitation and that self confidence that you work on to be able to manage those things absolutely comes through into my business life.

“So”, said Malcom, “that’s a bit of what I get up to on a Saturday afternoon. Players are nice and if you can get them on side, then it’s a great sense of achievement and certainly rugby brings a great sense of achievement and joy to my life.”

Malcolm finished by answering some questions and also gave us all a heads up on some of the law variations this coming season, including stiffer penalties for play acting, which is something we all want to keep out of the game. Interesting season ahead!

That was just a small insight into Malcolm’s talk for the evening, which was very entertaining and informative. We didn’t even get onto communication! If you ever get the chance to see Malcolm speak, go along. Whether you’re a player, coach, supporter or armchair watcher of rugby, his insights into the game and the parallels in business are very enlightening.

Thanks must also go to Jade and her team at the St Pierre Marriott for looking after us so well.

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