We often talk about refereeing as a confidence booster but one grassroots match official says qualifying as a referee a year ago and joining the London Referee Society, has totally transformed her life.

Philippa Greenwood was, on turning 40, a divorced, part-time single mum, working for the Foreign Office and says that after “a rough few years” she found refereeing at just the right time.

Having grown up watching rugby, initially the Hong Kong Sevens when she lived there with her parents as a child, she was a definite fan and keen supporter but had never played.

It was as the Sporting Opportunities Manager at the Foreign Office that she attended a Rugby World Cup match and proceeded to explain the referee hand signals to the person watching with her.

“They told me I should do something with that knowledge but initially I thought refereeing would be too much of a commitment and qualifying too expensive.”

Having discovered the cost was just £50 and that she could qualify over non-consecutive weekends near her home, which fitted in with her child care, Philippa signed up.

“It was the first thing I had done in years which was purely for me, my confidence had taken a battering and I felt like I had lost my identity,” she says.

Imagining that she was making a mess of the course, Philippa was amazed when she was complimented by those running it and applauded by those taking it.

“A trainer said ‘I’ve been hearing good things about you’ and I actually went home and cried,” she adds.

Having opted to take charge of a men’s match as her first game two weeks after qualifying, Philippa says, “It was worse than giving birth to my daughter. If I could have pressed a button to beam me up off that pitch I would have done.”

Fortunately, a referee observer talked her down, told her to take some time to read the Laws book and then go and watch another first-time referee in action.

“That was great advice because it made me realise that we all make mistakes, at whatever level of the game. At my next game I felt so much better and now I referee every other weekend.

“The experience and the positive feedback has had such an impact on my life. I now think ‘If you can take charge of 30 burly men on a rugby pitch there’s nothing you can’t do!’”

Less than a month after qualifying as a referee, Philippa applied for a new role at work that came with a promotion. She got the job and puts this success down to her new found confidence.

“The referee training and the experience of officiating has been so impactful and the feedback you get is great. I can now say to myself ‘You’ve done a good job’ which I hadn’t been able to do for years. And it transfers across life, which is why I invited Dave Broadwell, a London Society referee coach, to come into my work to speak to colleagues about confidence building.

“Refereeing took me out of my comfort zone, with each game a new mini challenge which I meet and enjoy.

“My daughter Indigo, who’s nine, regards rugby with a sense of sibling rivalry, but she tells everyone her mum is a rugby referee. So now I’m going to try to arrange to take charge of a match that she can come along to watch.

“If you love rugby and you are one of those people always commenting on the sidelines and if you’ve got stamina, I would say try refereeing. Give it a go, it’s amazing what you get out of it.”

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