Performance Characteristics of Champions League Referee, Howard Webb

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I recently came across a research study from 2011 which used Howard Webb’s physiological data to assess training load, physical match performance and physiological fitness over an eight year period. I found a number of interesting insights within the article which I will share below. To read the full research study see the link below.

Study Design

The researchers collected data from seven full soccer seasons (2003/04 to 2009/10). Sessions were also broken down into various categories:

  • matches
  • high-intensity aerobic
  • speed endurance
  • low intensity aerobic
  • on-field speed development including agility, assisted and resisted sprinting as well as plyometrics
  • and gym based strength
Training Load

The researchers looked also accounted for training load. Training load is used to quantify the difficulty of sessions and can be calculated by multiplying session duration by perceived difficulty on a 1-10 scale. For example- a 90-minute game that felt light or easy (5/10) would equal 450. (90 x 5)


Frequency of high-intensity aerobic and speed endurance training sessions decreased over the duration of the study

what this means: Howard Webb likely felt confident regarding his level of game fitness. While there are numerous benefits from this method of training, high-intensity aerobic and speed endurance sessions can be highly taxing and take some time to recover from. We could assume that as he had already built a solid base of endurance due to his previous years of training he simply shifted focus.

Decrease was offset by an increase in gym-based strength training and on-field speed development

what this means: Professional soccer referees are often 10+ years older than the average professional player yet they are expected to cover similar distances and run at similar intensities throughout a 90 minute period. Power output or the ability to sustain repeated maximum intensity efforts decline as we age so it seems like it was a smart idea for Howard Webb to adjust his training to reflect this reality. By working on field speed development and increasing strength and power in the gym, Webb was able to continue to meet game demands over an extended period of time.

There was a tendency for reduced total match distance, along with increased match high-speed running distances, total number of sprints and top sprinting speeds

What this means: This one can be difficult to comprehend but I have two thoughts:

The game changed: The majority of games that Webb officiated throughout this period were games in the English Premier League. Perhaps the flow of games changed due to different philosophies from coaches. For instance, a referee will run less total distance in a game with two possession based sides who rely primarily upon short passing versus fast counter-attacks or long ball tactics.

Webb’s performance/awareness increased: Webb’s anticipation for where the ball would be next, his knowledge of each teams style of soccer as well as his overall decision making likely led to changes in running distance, sprints etc. The decision to sprint versus jog or walk versus running is one that can take hundreds of games to develop. Within the US soccer system I know that referee programs always try to teach anticipation tactics and awareness skills for all young referees.

An increase in running speed at the lactate threshold and an improved running economy were observed in 2010

What this means: By 2010 Webb was at the absolute peak of his career. This was also the year in which he officiated the Champions League Final. An improved running economy can likely be attributed to Webb’s increased frequency of strength training while the increase in running speed at lactate threshold is a direct training adaptation from his switch to more of a focus on on-field speed development. In addition, we learned that his total sprints as well as sprinting speed and high intensity runs in games increased throughout an eight year period.

Key Takeaways

  • Start by building a foundational, aerobic base in your training
  • Vary training methods: Look to match the demands of your games- train slowly, train moderately and train explosively throughout the season.
  • To get to the top you need to stay injury-free: Howard Webb missed just 1 game over an eight year period due to injury. This maximized his opportunity to get assessed by the top European soccer assessors.
  • Train specifically for power and speed as you enter your late thirties and early forties.


Link to full PDF of study:

6 Week Training Plan for the FIFA Referee Fitness Test

FIFA Fitness Test for Football Referees

How to Pass the USSF Referee Fitness Test