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Empowering referees to adapt to and handle pressure

The 12 referee pairs who will be officiating at the Women’s EHF EURO 2022 will be the most prepared of any in history.

In August they met in Vienna to ensure they know every facet of their job for the 47 matches, and there will be a new member of the EHF team helping them in their duties, world renowned sports psychologist Bojana Jelicic.

Jelicic has 15-years of elite sport psychology, and she is part of the EHF Scientific Network Group of Specialists and confident of offering significant value towards the performance of the referees at the flagship event in Slovenia, North Macedonia and Montenegro.

“We will be speaking about crisis management on the field of play, and also about increased pressure on the officials,” Jelicic said. “The way I see it, this empowers them to adapt better to the environment that they're part of, to all the pressure that they're under.

Elite Performance

“When you learn more about yourself, you become more self-aware, you fix aspects that need fixing, or you build or develop certain characteristics or traits of yours. You empower yourself from certain aspects.

“That's why I use the word empowering because by building your individual self, you actually build your professional self and you strengthen yourself personally, therefore you, directly and indirectly, strengthen your professional self. That will make them feel more ready, more capable, more confident.”

Jelicic comes from an extensive background working with top-level athletes and teams. Outside handball, she has worked in football, volleyball, basketball, shooting, judo, karate, tennis, athletics, and biathlon.

Her background in handball includes the Serbia and Montenegro women’s teams and the Croatia men’s team. On an individual level, she has worked with leading players namely Kristina Liscevic, Spanish back Mireya Gonzalez, and Croatian back Lidija Horvat.

Former Croatia player and coach Slavko Goluza spoke of how it is clear when Jelicic has been working with a team.

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Visible Results

“Watching the handball match Serbia versus Norway during the Women’s World Championship in 2013, I realized that something different and unusual was happening in the match,” he said. “This intrigued me so much I started to ask around and found out that Bojana Jelicic was working with that team.”

So, the work behind the scenes can clearly translate to be a visible presence on the court for players — how can that work for referees?

“Most of the situations these two groups come across through sport are very similar, if not the same, but may be seen or interpreted as different just because the roles are two completely different roles in the same sport,” said Jelicic.

At the August seminar in Vienna Jelicic focused on two key principles, increased pressure on officials and crisis management on the field of play, with the first presented to the entire group, while she presented crisis management to the delegates.

Jelicic is aware that there will be a diversity of approaches and understanding of psychology within the referee’s group, but it is not something that is surprising.


Diversity of Approaches

“It is something that is a part of my work and my international career, therefore, something I have come across numerous times through all sport not just handball,” Jelicic said.

“When you approach a person in peace, with effective communication skills and a professional manner and competency, many differences are erased. It becomes a moment when two human beings work together to solve one’s issues through understanding and efficient communication.

Jelicic observed that arriving at the seminar felt like joining a team and believes that the environment is very important for the referees’ success on court and for her work with them behind the scenes.

“It is a collaboration that would be accepted and that they're ready for,” she said. “It was important to have this weekend with them to meet in person and to start building a relationship because we need to have a professional relationship if we want to be efficient in November.”

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