Free Access
Mov Sport Sci/Sci Mot
Number 105, 2019
Emotions et régulation émotionnelle en contexte sportif interpersonnel ou intergroupe
Page(s) 17 - 26
Published online 14 June 2019

© ACAPS, 2020

1 Introduction

Crowd pressure, economical stakes, public judgment, continuous evaluation from supervisors, players’ hostility, use of video recordings… refereeing is a high stressful task (Goldsmith & Williams, 1992; Voight, 2009). Sport referees must continuously cope with different stressors that may influence their level of anxiety during competition. Refereeing can be described as an emotional experience for which Taylor and Daniel (1988) pioneered the identification of specific stressors in officiating. Specifically, they identified five main stressors among soccer referees:

  • time constraints;

  • lack of recognition;

  • fear of physical harm from players or spectators;

  • performance concerns;

  • interpersonal conflicts with co-officials, players, and team coaches.

Consequently, officials who are not able to control their own emotions (e.g., performance concerns), to manage others’ emotions (e.g., interpersonal conflicts with coaches, threatening spectators), and to cope effectively with the demands of the game (e.g., time constraints, making a wrong call) will quickly face difficulties in order to achieve their mission. These intra- and interpersonal skills directly refer to emotional intelligence (EI) and coping. When these psychological resources are inadequate, emotions and especially anxiety felt by referees, may imply dysfunctional behaviours, impair performances, and lead to health concerns (Louvet, Campo, & André, 2015; Voight, 2009). Thus, this study investigated EI among soccer officials and explored its relationships with coping strategies.

Refereeing in sport is inherently emotional. For instance, a referee could be anxious when he or she realizes that he or she has just made a wrong call (Weinberg & Richardson, 1990). Refeeres could also feel angry when they have to manage conflicts with aggressive coaches and players (Rainey & Hardy, 1999). Their emotions could impair the decision-making process and could potentially lead to poor refereeing performances (Laborde, Dosseville, & Raab, 2013). Moreover, their emotions are exacerbated when the sport context under investigation is over-publicized as it is the case for soccer. This highlights the need for a referee to be able to cope with numerous and different game situations. Therefore, the psychological attribute of EI is worth of investigating. A key assumption behind the development of the research on EI is that while emotions are necessary for human adaptation, the skill in their management is at the heart of a good adaptation (Dosseville & Laborde, 2016). Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to perceive and express emotions, assimilate them in thought, understand and reason with emotion, and regulate emotion in the self and others” (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2000, p. 396; Mayer & Salovey, 1997). In achievement contexts, a positive influence of EI has been suggested on performances. For example, Laborde, Dosseville, & Scelles (2010) found that trait EI positively predicted scores obtained in an academic stressful task. It has also been demonstrated with sport science students that the perceived controllability of stress, challenge appraisals, and coping effectiveness played a mediational role between trait EI and performance satisfaction (Laborde, Dosseville, Guillén, & Chávez, 2014). This hypothesis was more particularly raised in the context of team sports (e.g., Crombie, Lombard, & Noakes, 2009; Zizzi, Deaner & Hirschhorn, 2003). For instance, it has been demonstrated in ice-hockey that the interpersonal EI composite was associated with a significant change in the National Hockey League games played (Perlini & Halverson, 2006).

More particularly, some researchers investigated the underlying processes involved in the EI-performance relationship in sport. For instance, although no difference was found in EI levels between experts and non-experts, Laborde et al. (2014) showed that EI was indirectly and positively associated with the use of task-oriented coping which was in turn linked to coping effectiveness. Laborde, You, Dosseville, & Salinas (2012) found that tennis table players with a high trait of EI used task-oriented coping significantly more often than low trait EI players. They also noticed that low EI athletes employed disengagement-oriented coping more often than the high EI group. Outside the sport context, trait EI were found to be a significant negative predictor of maladaptive coping such as emotional and avoidance coping, and a positive predictor of adaptive coping such as rational and detached coping (Petrides, Pérez-Gonzáles, & Furnham, 2007). Other studies highlight thus the influence of EI on competitive emotions. For instance, it has been showed that a high level of EI was associated with less anxiety (Lu, Li, Hsu, & Williams, 2010) and more positive emotions (Lane et al., 2010; Lane & Wilson, 2011). Competitive emotions are widely recognized to influence performances in sport (e.g., Campo, Laborde, & Mosley, 2016), and particularly in refereeing (Louvet et al., 2015). However, a recent systematic review on EI in sport and exercise revealed that no studies have investigated EI in sport officials (Laborde, Dosseville & Allen, 2016). Laborde et al. (2016) noted that the absence of such kind of research is rather surprising “given the important communication and interpersonal skills required by officials in many sports” (p. 867, citing Myers, Feltz, Guillén, & Dithurbide, 2012). They notably highlighted that such skills allow ensuring a safe climate for spectators, coaches and athletes (Dosseville et al., 2016). Accordingly, exploring the influence of EI on psychological processes involved in officials’ activity in competition could be valuable for gaining preliminary insights and clarifies potential links between EI and performance in this population.

One of the main emotional competences highlighted by the concept of emotional intelligence if the individual’s ability to cope with pressure (Zeidner, Matthews, & Roberts, 2002). Specifically, coping may be defined as effortful behaviours or thoughts used by an individual to manage the perceived demands of a situation (Lazarus, 1999). Numerous coping strategies have been identified in the context of sport such as communication, increase of effort, avoidance, etc. (Nicholls & Polman, 2007). This myriad of coping strategies encouraged researchers to classify them into higher-order categories (Crocker, Tamminen, & Gaudreau, 2015). Following the classification of Compas, Connor-Smith, Saltzman, Harding Thomsen, and Wadsworth (2001) as well as the development of the Competitive Inventory for Competitive Sport (CICS; Gaudreau & Blondin, 2002), three main dimensions have been regularly suggested: task-oriented coping, distraction-oriented coping, and disengagement-oriented coping. Task-oriented coping is defined as the cognitive and behavioral efforts used to manage and to modify the demands of a situation (e.g., logical analysis, active planning) and to master one’s emotional reactions (e.g., relaxation, mental imagery) in order to reduce the discrepancy between the current event and the desired outcomes (Skinner, Edge, Altman, & Sherwood, 2003). Disengagement-oriented coping represents cognitive and behavioral strategies used to withdraw from the process of actively striving to resolve the stressful situation. This dimension is characterized by task-irrelevant thoughts such as wishful thinking, or denial (Endler & Parker, 1994). Distraction-oriented coping encompasses the strategies employed to momentarily focus the attention on external and internal stimuli unrelated to the sport competition (e.g., distancing or mental distraction) (Gaudreau, Nicholls, & Levy, 2010).

Academics working on coping also made a distinction between the nature of coping and coping effectiveness. The coping effectiveness should be understood as the degree to which coping strategies are successful in decreasing and buffering the negative emotions emerging in a stressful encounter. At least, three models emerged to explain coping effectiveness (Nicholls & Polman, 2007). According to those models, both the characteristics of the person and the situation encountered should then be considered. In this sense, a successful adaptation requires that athletes mainly employed task-oriented coping particularly when they perceived a situation as controllable (Gaudreau & Blondin, 2004). Moreover, athletes reached adaptive coping behaviours when their coping repertoire could be used more automatically; thus, skill-level in sport might be also linked to coping strategies (Dugdale, Eklund, & Gordon, 2002). According to those authors, this automaticity of coping also depends on skill-level. Finally, the choice of coping strategies is related to coping effectiveness; again, task-oriented coping is recognized to promote athletes’ adaptive behaviours (Amiot, Gaudreau, & Blanchard, 2004). Following Dugdale et al. (2002), we could expect that coping effectiveness is related to athletes’ level of expertise. Nonetheless, few researches have systematically examined individual differences in coping associated with levels of sport expertise (Hoar, Kowalski, Gaudreau, & Crocker, 2006). Cleary and Zimmerman (2003) revealed that elite athletes used more technique based coping strategies than non-expert and novices in basketball. Particularly in soccer, Louvet, Gaudreau, Menaut, Genty, & Deneuve (2009) showed that referees belonging to a high and stable trajectory of problem- focused coping utilization over an entire season were those who officiated at the highest levels of competition. The same observation applied for referees showing to a high and stable trajectory of seeking-support coping and for those who pertains to a subgroup who employed disengagement-coping strategies in a moderate and stable way.

Considering the strong call to conduct research on referees’ EI (Laborde et al., 2016), the inconsistent results linking EI and success in sport, especially as a function of the level of expertise (Laborde et al., 2014), and the potential relations between EI and coping in sport, (Laborde et al., 2014; Laborde et al., 2012), the current two-study research aimed at :

  • investigating soccer referees’ EI, particularly by exploring its relations with their level of expertise (step 1);

  • analysing the relationships between EI and coping as a function of the moderating effect of the level of expertise (step 2).

2 Method

2.1 Participants

Participants were 139 French soccer referees aged from 17 to 53 years (mean = 27.6 years; SD = 8.1). Their average officiating experience was 11.4 years (SD = 6.4). Considering that assistant referees (i.e., linesmen) have to deal with specific tasks (e.g., judging offside, dealing with substitutions…) very different from those encountered by principal referees, 18 officials were removed from the analyses. Furthermore, given that female referees in our sample (n = 5) mainly officiate in female championships, we also decided to exclude them from our subsequent statistical treatment. Finally, the sample was composed of 116 male soccer referees. Among them, 36 (31%) were considered as high-skilled referees, as they officiated at the national and international levels, whereas the less-skilled 80 others (69%) referred at the regional level. In France and at the time when the study took place, national and international referees were disseminated into 4 categories from “Ligue 1” to “CFA2”. The regional level under consideration was divided into 3 categories from “Division Honneur” to “Promotion Honneur”.

All referees who completed the emotional intelligence inventory (step 1) were contacted again six months later. Among the 139 initial respondents, only 88 male soccer referees agreed to take part in the research project for a second time (step 2). Following our previous recommendations, 18 assistant referees (i.e., linesmen) were excluded from the analyses, thus resulting in a final sample of 75 male principal soccer referees. They were aged from 17 to 52 years (mean [SD] = 26.9 [8.1] years). Their average officiating experience was 10.6 years (SD = 6.1). This final sample was composed of 25 high-skilled referees (33.3%) and 50 less-skilled officials (66.7%).

2.2 Measures

To measure EI-trait (step 1), we used the French version (Mikolajczak, Luminet, Leroy, & Roy, 2007) of Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue; Petrides & Furnham, 2003). This scale and has been already employed in the sport context (Campo et al., 2016; Campo, Laborde, & Weckemann, 2015; Laborde et al., 2014) and includes 153 items which are rated on a seven-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) and encompasses 15 facets: happiness (e.g., I frequently have happy thoughts), optimism (e.g., I expect that most of my life will be enjoyable), self-esteem (e.g., I don’t think I’m a useless person), emotion control (e.g., when someone offends me, I’m usually able to remain calm), impulsiveness (e.g., controlling my urges is not a big problem for me), stress management (e.g., on the whole, I’m able to deal with stress), emotion perception (e.g., I often pause and think about my feelings), emotion expression (e.g., I always find ways to express my affection to others when I want to), empathy (e.g., understanding the needs and desires of others is not a problem for me), relationship skills (e.g., it is very important to me to get along with all my close friends and family), social competence (e.g., i can deal effectively with people), emotion management (e.g., I’m usually able to influence the way other people feel), assertiveness (e.g., when I disagree with someone, I usually find it easy to say so), adaptability (e.g., on the whole, I can cope with change effectively), and self-motivation (e.g., on the whole, I’m a highly motivated person). These facets are subsumed into four factors on which the further statistical analyses will be based: well-being (i.e., happiness, optimism, self-esteem), self-control (i.e., emotion control, impulsiveness, stress management), emotionality (i.e., emotion perception, emotion expression, empathy) and sociability (i.e., relationship skills, social competence, emotion management, assertiveness). The Adaptability and Self-Motivation subscales are not integrated in the four factors and are considered as additional and independent scales by the authors of the TEIQue (Petrides & Furnham, 2003). In our study, the internal consistencies of the 20 TEIQue variables (15 facets, 4 factors and the global trait EI score) are all satisfactory with Alpha ranging from 0.67 to 0.83.

The Coping Inventory for Competitive Sport (CICS; Gaudreau & Blondin, 2002) assessed the coping strategies used during a competitive event (step 2). The CICS examined 10 coping subscales that were categorized in three second-order dimensions:

  • task-oriented coping (thought control, mental imagery, relaxation, effort expenditure, logical analysis, and seeking support);

  • distraction-oriented coping (distancing and mental distraction);

  • disengagement-oriented coping (disengagement/resignation and venting of unpleasant emotions).

The CICS comprises 39 items with 9 four-item subscales and 1 three-item subscale. When referees were answering this inventory, they were asked to indicate the extent to which each item corresponded to what they did or thought during their last competition. All items were rated on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 “does not correspond at all” to 5 “corresponds very strongly”. Subsequent analyses will be based on the three higher-order dimensions (i.e., task-, distraction-, and disengagement-oriented coping). In the current study, Cronbach’s alphas for the three dimensions were satisfactory and ranged between 0.66 and 0.73.

2.3 Procedure

All participants were contacted by email. They were informed of the nature of the project, that their participation was voluntary, and that they could withdraw at any time. All participants provided informed consent to take part in this study. Each referee who agreed to participate received a unique study identifier on the first survey (i.e., TEIQue); thus, allowing the research team to link identifying information to subjects’ responses. This procedure was used in order to ensure the utmost confidentiality of subject data. As it was specified earlier, referees were first asked to fill the TEIQue and to send it back to the research team. Six months later, the initial participants were contacted again thanks to the same unique confidential code of identification. Then, they were asked to complete the CICS and to send it back. This study was conducted in accordance with international ethical guidelines (Declaration of Helsinki) and was consistent with those of the American Psychological Association.

2.4 Data analysis

Considering that research on EI in sport referees is at its early stage, an exploratory cluster analysis was conducted in order to determine how many EI profiles could be determined. Cluster analysis are particularly suited to answer the first aim of this exploratory and prospective study on soccer referees’ emotional intelligence. It allows identifying meaningful subgroups of individuals sharing common characteristics based on their responses. Thus, they are designed to perform sorting operations on a given data set (here, referees’ emotional intelligence data) to explain its underlying structure. Furthermore, clustering techniques has the advantages to consider simultaneously multiple outcomes (Rupp, 2013) and to analyze them in a whole structure. Consequently, this analysis is particularly relevant in order to portray soccer referees’ emotional intelligence as this construct is built on a four-factor structure (i.e., well-being, self-control, emotionality, and sociability). The first step of the study aimed at forming EI clusters that exhibit high internal (within-cluster) homogeneity and low external (between-cluster) heterogeneity (Hair & Black, 2000). Following previous research on cluster analysis in the sport domain (Gaudreau & Blondin, 2004; Martinent, Nicolas, Gaudreau, & Campo, 2013), a two-step procedure was used. First, a hierarchical cluster analysis was performed using Ward’s method with a squared Euclidean distance measure. Then, cluster centers found in the first step were used as seed-points for a non-hierarchical method of k-means.

In the second part of this study, multiple regression analyses were used to estimate the predictive effect of the four factors of EI (i.e., well-being, self-control, emotionality, and sociability) on each of the coping dimensions (i.e., task-oriented coping, distraction-oriented coping, and disengagement-oriented coping) as a function of the skill level (i.e., high-skilled referees versus low-skilled referees). SPSS software (IBM Corp. Released 2011. IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 20.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.) was used for all analyses.

3 Results

3.1 Clustering soccer referees’ EI

Using the critical value of Mahalanobis distance (χ2(4) > 18.47, P < 0.001), no multivariate outliers were identified on the four factors of the TEIQue instrument (i.e., well-being, self-control, emotionality, and sociability) on which the cluster analysis will be run. Multicollinearity between these variables was not detected as the bivariate correlations ranged from 0.29 to 0.43. The means, standard deviations, and correlations concerning the four factors composing EI, adaptability, self-motivation, and the global EI score as well as age and experience are presented in Table 1. Of particular interest, no significant correlations emerged between EI factors with age and experience. We can only notice a significant positive relation between self-control and referees’ experience.

A hierarchical cluster analysis using Ward’s method with a squared Euclidean distance was conducted on the four EI factors. Inspection of the agglomeration schedule and of the dendogram suggested retaining a two- or three-cluster solution. Considering the number of participants in each cluster (only 15 referees were present in the second cluster of the three-segment solution) as well as the interpretability of the cluster solution, a two-cluster solution was chosen. To check for the internal validity of this finding, an analysis of variance (ANOVA) with the cluster membership as an independent variable and the four EI factors as dependent variables was run. This allowed to check whether both clusters properly discriminated the referees according to their EI scores on the four factors. Results indicated that the two groups were significantly different on each EI factor; namely on well-being (F(1.114) = 66.96, P < 0.001, η2 = 0.61), on self-control (F(1.114) = 31.62, P < 0.001, η2 = 0.47), on emotionality (F(1.114) = 67.45, P < 0.001, η2 = 0.61), and on sociability (F(1.114) = 60.03, P < 0.001, η2 = 0.58). External validity was tested with another ANOVA with again the cluster membership as an independent variable and with the two independent scales (i.e., adaptability and self-motivation) of the TEIQue (Madaptability = 4.45, SD = 0.71; Mself-motivation = 4.94, SD = 0.70) that were not used in the hierarchical cluster analysis as dependent variables. Results also revealed a significant effect of the cluster membership on adaptability, F(1.114) = 47.74, P < 0.001, η2 = 0.46, and on self-motivation, F(1.114) = 30.00, P < 0.001, η2 = 0.54.

As mentioned previously in the data analysis section, a non-hierarchical method of k-means was then performed as a second step of the cluster analysis in order to ensure the stability of the two-cluster solution. Results of the k-mean procedure lend credence to the fact that the initial clustering solution was stable. Indeed, final cluster centroids were very similar to the initial ones. It can also be noticed that 87.3% (n = 55) of the referees belonging to the first cluster in the first step (hierarchical cluster analysis) were part of the same cluster in the second step (k-means) and 98.1% (n = 52) of the referees belonging to the second cluster in the first step were part of the same cluster in the second step. An ANOVA of the cluster centers showed the means of well-being, self-control, emotionality, and sociability differed significantly across the two clusters (Table 2).

The first profile is the largest and characterizes 51.7% of the sample (n = 60) presenting high level of well-being, and moderately high levels of self-control, emotionality, and sociability. We labeled this profile as reflecting Moderately High EI. The second profile describes 48.3% of the sample (n = 56); it is characterized by relatively moderate levels on the four factors of EI. This second profile was labeled as Moderate EI.

Lastly, a Chi2 test of association was performed to evaluate if the two clusters differs according to the level of expertise of the referees. Results were significant, χ2(1) = 6.56, P < 0.01. The first cluster (i.e., Moderately high EI) was composed of 69.4% of the high-skilled referees (n = 25) whereas 56.2% of the less-skilled officials (n = 45) belonged to the second cluster (i.e., Moderate EI).

Table 1

Means, standard deviations, and correlations between EI dimensions, age, and experience.

Table 2

Descriptive statistics for the two clusters.

3.2 Prediction of coping by EI dimensions as a function of the level of expertise

Attrition analyses confirmed that they were no significant differences between the sample tested for the first step and the sample remaining for the second step of the current research concerning age, t(1.63) = −0.46, P > 0.05, experience, t(1.53) = −0.93, P > 0.05, and level of expertise (χ2 = 1.73, df = 1, P > 0.05). Descriptive statistics and correlations among the variables for the second step of this study are presented in Table 3. Concerning EI, moderate levels of well-being, self-control, emotionality, and sociability were reported. Task-oriented coping was moderately employed while distraction- and disengagement-oriented coping were respectively expressed at moderately low and low levels.

Multiple regression analyses do not reveal any significant prediction effects of the four factors of EI on distraction- and disengagement-oriented coping according to the referees’ level of expertise. Conversely, each of the four factors of EI significantly predicted referees’ task-oriented coping. Well-being predicted positively the task-oriented coping dimension, β = 0.30, t = 2.07, P < 0.05. Emotionality predicted positively the use of task-oriented coping, β = 0.39, t = 2.69, P < 0.01. Sociability predicted positively the referees’ task-oriented coping, β = 0.58, t = 2.69, P < 0.01. Concerning self-control, a significant interaction appeared (Fig. 1). Indeed, results indicated that self-control predicted significantly the use of task-oriented coping by referees as a function of their skill level, β = −0.53, t = −2.15, P < 0.05. The use of task-oriented coping increased significantly for high-skilled referees when the score of self-control improved whereas the use of task-oriented coping remained stable for low-skilled referees when the score of self-control increased. All results of the multiple regressions are reported in Table 4.

Table 3

Means, standard deviations, and correlations between EI dimensions and coping.

thumbnail Fig. 1

Interaction between self-control and task-oriented coping as a function of the level of expertise.

Table 4

Parameter estimates of the multiple regression analyses predicting coping by EI as a function of the level of expertise.

4 Discussion

The aim of this two-step research was to portray EI among soccer officials and to explore its relationships with coping strategies as a function of their level of expertise. First, our findings revealed that two profiles of EI emerged and that they could distinguish according to the level of refereeing expertise. This tends to support current knowledge about the positive effects of emotional competencies on sport (Koop & Jekauc, 2018; Laborde et al., 2016; Meyer & Zizzi, 2007) and cognitive performances as decision-making (e.g., Vaughan, Laborde & McConville, 2018). Referees have to continuously cope with their emotions such as anxiety provoked by game situations such as sporting and/or economical stakes or personal evaluations engendering fear of decision mistake. Interpersonal conflicts are a large part of the stressors encountered by officials (Voight, 2009). Accordingly, as high emotional intelligent individuals can better regulate their emotions and those of others, one can assume that such emotional competences may be important to achieve high level of expertise in sport refereeing. Indeed, having a high level of emotional intelligence may help officials to use more adapted coping and interpersonal emotion regulation strategies (Campo et al., 2016; Campo et al., 2017). Showing an association between the level of expertise and that of EI, this current research provides an innovative way to understand how to optimize officials’ performances. Indeed, it would be of great interest to explore especially the progresses of the referees officiating at a lower level of competition who belong to the moderately high cluster of EI (i.e., cluster 1) and the evolutions of the referees officiating at a higher level of competition who belongs to the moderate cluster of EI (i.e., cluster 2). Do the former represent referees who are improving in the hierarchy? Conversely, are the latter progressively withdrawing from their activity of refereeing? This result could participate to the talent identification process in soccer referees. Moreover, a longitudinal monitoring of referees’ EI would be fruitful in order to identify potential phases of developments and/or transitions in the career of a soccer referee. This kind of future investigation could offer the opportunity to answer the question whether emotional intelligence is a foundation of a better psychological adaptation (e.g., coping strategies, emotional regulation strategies), and/or if a high and constant exposure to stressful conditions such as it is the case in soccer refereeing promotes the development of emotional intelligence. In this perspective, one can also note the recent theoretical evolution proposed by Brasseur, Gregoire, Bourdu and Mikolajczak (2013). These authors suggest that EI is more to be understood as emotional competences among individuals as “these competences can be taught and learned (unlike intelligence)” (p. 1). According to different works aiming at developing emotional intelligence/competences in sport (e.g., Barlow & Banks, 2014; Campo et al., 2016; Crombie, Lombard, & Noakes, 2011), our results invite researchers involved in the field of officials’ performance to elaborate and test the effect of a specific EI training program.

Furthermore, our results showed that only task-oriented coping was predicted by EI facets. Being able to manage stress, keep control and react with no impulsivity (Petrides & Furnham, 2003) appears thus to be some key components of success in soccer refereeing. This finding completes the current EI literature that showed an influence of EI on performance, and that of coping highlighting that task-oriented coping was linked with athletes’ adaptive behaviours (Amiot et al., 2004). More specifically, our findings which exhibited the moderating role of the referees’ level of expertise on the relation between self-control and task-oriented coping, provided evidences that self-control is an emotional competence that distinguishes expert from non-expert officials. A higher degree of self-control allows referees officiating at a higher level of competition to employ task-oriented coping strategies to a greater extent. Given that these coping strategies promote adaptive behaviours, referees’ EI training programs should emphasize the importance to develop self-control. Moreover, our results confirm the existing relations between EI and task-oriented coping (Laborde et al., 2014). The more EI is developed, the more task-oriented coping is used. Finally, one of the main research perspective in sport proposed by Laborde et al. (2016) invited researchers to investigate the role of EI on cognitive performances. Whereas this current research did not analyze the effects of EI on a cognitive task per se, refereeing performance mainly comes from cognitive abilities such as reasoning, problem solving or decision-making. That is, it could be considered that our findings provide an ecological validity to the current knowledge about the potential effects of EI on cognitive activity (Vaughan et al., 2018), which was, in this research, indirectly captured through the refereeing level of expertise.

The main goal of this research was to outline the relationship between emotional intelligence, coping, and refereeing expertise. In this perspective, we showed that the level of expertise of soccer officials was associated with a higher level of emotional intelligence. Furthermore, our findings suggested that the level of expertise in refereeing may encompass the ability to keep control, before being able to directly interact emotionally with others, notably for referees officiating in the higher level of competition. This unexpected result may be explained by the fact that refereeing task finally does not require to regulate the emotions of players. Also, another explanation may be found in the hypothesis that to be able to efficiently regulate the emotions of others would require first the capacity to control one’s own emotions. While the first explanation seems to be rather far away from actual soccer referees’ reality, the second explanation would suggest that the relationship with oneself and with others might be two dependent factors rather than independent competencies that could be trained in isolation. This study is not without limitations. The size of the sample as well as the two-step procedure clearly deserve our results. Although this research should be replicated to be more generalizable, these first findings open theoretical perspectives in the field of emotional intelligence and in that of emotion and interpersonal emotion regulation in sport.

Author contribution statement

All authors involved in this article contributed equally to the paper.

Conflict of interest

I, undersigned, Benoît LOUVET, certify that the material from the article entitled “Do high emotional intelligent soccer referees better cope with competitive stressors?” has not be published, and submitted elsewhere.


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Cite this article as: Louvet B & Campo M (2019) Do high emotional intelligent soccer referees better cope with competitive stressors? Mov Sport Sci/Sci Mot, 105, 17–26

All Tables

Table 1

Means, standard deviations, and correlations between EI dimensions, age, and experience.

Table 2

Descriptive statistics for the two clusters.

Table 3

Means, standard deviations, and correlations between EI dimensions and coping.

Table 4

Parameter estimates of the multiple regression analyses predicting coping by EI as a function of the level of expertise.

All Figures

thumbnail Fig. 1

Interaction between self-control and task-oriented coping as a function of the level of expertise.

In the text

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