Refereeing and Fitness

With rugby players, coaches, and fans all moving toward a faster and more technical game, rugby referees are being asked to make quick decisions in this new, expansive game. Referees have been focusing on fitness as a key component of their training to ensure they are in the right place to make the right call and best serve the game. World Rugby has led the way in mapping out fitness goals for its referees, and USA Rugby has followed this model.

Gone are the days when a referee could make the Saturday match the only running they do in a week. Referees are now training more like players throughout the week, mixing in strength training, running, referee skills, and other items to help them prepare for matches. Having the endurance to be present and ready to make the tight call in those big matches has become imperative. Being fit is a controllable responsibility belonging solely to the referee.

This new focus on fitness is another reason players are making the jump to refereeing, as they find some of the same challenges they faced as a player. They can stay fit, stay on the field, and contribute to the success of a rugby match after they have finished their playing careers.

Being fit and focused to make clear calls will ultimately lead to good performances, which in turn builds one’s self-esteem and confidence levels. There are amazing opportunities for a fit, confident referee that has fun and helps to make the game fair and safe for the players.

In recent years, USA Rugby has tested the fitness levels of developing referees with bi-annual tests of the multi-stage fitness test (beep test). The beep test consists of participants completing 20-meter shuttle runs with an increased pace every 60 seconds. Though it is a good test for general anaerobic fitness and can serve as a baseline for referees, the beep test does not directly correlate to the actions a referee will take on the field.

Reacting to the new needs in a fitter, faster game, USA Rugby is switching its fitness testing protocols from the beep test to the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test. This new test mirrors a referee’s activities on the field, puts USA Rugby in line with World Rugby’s testing protocols, and gives referees a new opportunity to show their hard work through fitness testing. Although it consists of the same 20-meter shuttle structure as the beep test, the Yo-Yo gives the participants a 10-second recovery after each shuttle, better simulating the start-and-stop nature of a rugby game.

Below is a chart of fitness levels and requirements for USA Rugby Referees. Also included are several resources to help referees and referee organizations take and monitor the test. Any and all questions related to USA Rugby Referees testing processes and protocols can be directed to USA Rugby Referee Manager Marc Nelson (

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Markers are to be set in lanes at zero meters, five meters, and 25 meters. The start position is at five meters, creating a 20-meter shuttle and five-meter recovery lane.

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Educate the athlete on the testing procedure and begin the Yo-Yo IRL1 audio track.

The Yo-Yo IRL1 audio track produces a single ‘beep’ at regular intervals. Athletes must complete the 20-meter shuttle in time with the beeps, followed by a 10-second active recovery period in the five-meter recovery lane to be completed in time with beeps.

The athlete’s foot needs to be placed on or over the line in time with the beep at each 20-meter shuttle marker and the athlete must come to a stationary position at the start line at the end of the active recovery period before the next beep. A rolling start is to be avoided.

Athletes will be ‘eliminated’ if they do not reach the start position within the time frame on any two occasions. A warning is to be provided on the first occasion.

The athlete’s score for the test is the level and number of shuttles completed successfully. The shuttle at which the second failure occurs is not counted, e.g. if second failure occurs at level 19.2, the athlete’s score is 19.1. Where an athlete withdraws before a second failure occurs, the last shuttle completed successfully is their score.

A heart-rate monitor is to be worn to record final heart rate at the completion of the test.

Athlete score is to be emailed to Riaan Van Greuning ( or Amanda Cox ( along with the optional final heart rate.

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