By Marc Goddard
At the start of last month, I visited the United Arab Emirates in order to deliver their first IMMAF Referee & Judges course under the recently affiliated UAEMMAF. As covered in my last piece for IMMAF.org, it’s really satisfying to see countries, who are still in their early development stages when it comes to mixed martial arts, striving to ensure they are receiving the best official’s training possible. The demand was so high in the UAE, I’ve been back there this week to deliver a second course!
The first trip was really good, there were 21 people, I usually limit it to 20 as I need to get around everyone and there is obviously a wide range of experience. You get some people who are not necessarily new to the sport but people who are new to the officiating side. And then those who have had a lot of experience… but it doesn’t always correlate.
It is all about finding the right people. You have a lot of people in the sport of MMA who are officials, but who have never been vetted. It is not their fault but they have just got on with it, especially in different countries, with different cultures, where the sport is portrayed and administered a little differently. With the IMMAF training, we try to offer uniformity by taking the unified rules, both professional and amateur and applying them to educate people. By and large it is very well received. Of course, for some people it is the first time they have been taught or assessed having worked for 10 years. Sometimes they think they are doing something that is correct, so when they find out it is not correct, it’s a bit of a reality check. But that is what the training is about – helping to get everyone onto a level platform.
Then you have the other side of the coin, the people who are brand new to officiating. They may not have the experience but once they have spent time on a course, they leave with the right information and sometimes, invariably, it is better. If I can get someone at the start of their journey, and come share and explain the right information, it sets them up for a better future.
There has always been this thing about MMA where some people think they know it all because they grew up around it, while others want to know it all. Each brings their own challenges.
There are two things you cannot ignore though, time and experience; and they go hand in hand. The importance of these courses, like I said, is to get people onto a level playing field. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? And that’s okay. There are a million and one things that I don’t know. I set out my stall to be a specialist in mixed martial arts and teaching other officials, so it’s a passion for me.
When we put on these seminars, clearly there is going to be an expense involved for participants but that expense is an investment in them, as individuals. You may spend 5, 10, 15 years, maybe more being an official so you can recoup that. As in every area of life, what you get out is directly proportional to what you put in. The harder you work, the ‘luckier’ you become, funny that.
There are some countries, which are much more developed in the sport than these newer nations, who could really take a leaf out of their book. I’m going to throw my own country somewhat under the bus here. The amount of messages I get week after week after week ‘when can you do an official’s course?’ ‘I want to do an official’s course’, I will announce one, in one city, and then the response will be ‘Can’t you do one in my city?’ That doesn’t show real commitment.
‘I really want to be an official!’ No you don’t. Everyone is in love with the end result, but not the work and effort it takes to get there. You have got to put in the work. I wouldn’t go to university, to be a lawyer, and expect to learn everything in 48 hours. I would spend three or four years immersing myself, learning from and talking to experts, getting all the information I need.
For the inaugural UAE refereeing and judges course I had people flying in from other countries. In the UK, If you cannot commit to driving 45 minutes or an hour to attend one of the courses, then you do not have what it takes; that’s the harsh reality of it.
It’s like people want this course, at the bottom of their road. The responsibility is on the individual and the commitment to the course, or lack thereof in some cases.
‘I want to be an MMA referee?’ Great, what are you going to do about it? Because a one day course with me doesn’t cut it. I don’t spend a day with a fireman then start running up the ladders the following Monday putting out fires.
It is an educational shift and something that can only be fully achieved through time and experience and people need to understand that if they want something, they need to invest themselves. Yes that can mean a financial investment, time investment, dedication and discipline but that is what you have to do.
MMA officiating is a serious, serious role and that requires serious, serious input from people; that is what everyone who is having half a thought about getting involved with the officiating side of the sport has got to realise.
I thoroughly enjoy imparting my knowledge and experience on to the up and coming officials and I believe the IMMAF official’s course is the perfect way to do this.