World’s first Masters degree for sports officials

Edinburgh Napier supports referee development

Date posted

30 July 2019


Edinburgh Napier University is leading the way in supporting the development of referees and sports officials with a world-first Masters degree.

The University has launched a new MSc Performance Enhancement in Sports Officiating – believed to be the first of its kind in the world - as it strengthens its offering from its School of Applied Sciences.

Generic photo of a sports referee pointing

The programme is designed for national and international level referees and umpires and will see 90 per cent of it completed online so participants can study in their own time.

Led by Dr Duncan Mascarenhas, Associate Professor in Sport and Exercise Psychology and Coaching, year one of study will see key topics such as communication and game management studied alongside leadership and organisational management. There will also be an opportunity for peer, player and coach analysis as well as self-reflections to identify areas for personal development.

Students will have the chance to continue onto year two, where topics of study include dealing with high-pressure decision making – which uses theories developed in the military, fire-fighting and NASA space control to allow students to learn about the principles of decision training.

Year three provides an opportunity for students to undertake a programme of independent research within a chosen area of practice, led by a supervisor with expertise in the area.

With the introduction of new technology such as Video Assistant Referee (VAR) and the ever-growing trend of ‘trial by social media’, refereeing decisions have never been more scrutinised.

The course has been developed out of a growing demand to provide referees and umpires with ongoing training – similar to the level of scientific support players have access to.

Dr Duncan Mascarenhas said: “The aim of the programme is to help develop individuals professionally as a sport official, referee or umpire coach/manager by using an evidence-based approach.

Portrait of Duncan Mascarenhas

“To our knowledge there is nothing out there at the moment, both in the UK and in the rest of the world, that provides this sort of education for referees and sports officials, so we’re very much seeing this as a welcome addition to the officiating world.

“The online aspect of the course is very important. Many of those who will choose to undertake this programme will be full-time officials in their own right, so it was important to provide flexibility for those to study when suits them in and around their officiating commitments.

“There will be one contact point per trimester which will see students come together to help share ideas and increase interaction across sports. Hearing feedback on how to handle difficult players and how decisions are managed in other backgrounds can definitely help in developing you as a more-rounded sport official and referee.

“In officiating, the accumulation of practice hours to develop expertise can take years because structured training is not as readily available to referees as it is to the players. So, referees have to use critical self-reflection, peer review and pressure induced video-based activities to simulate the performance environment. This course aims to develop these ‘training’ skills in elite sports officials in order to enhance their performance on the field of play.

“We’ve had considerable interest from a wide variety of backgrounds and sports so far, and we’re looking forward to officially commencing the programme in September this year.”

For further information about the course, please contact Dr Mascarenhas on

School of Applied Sciences

Our applied approach to science and social sciences makes a positive impact both nationally and internationally. Through our strength in research, and our reputation for 5-star teaching (QS), our graduates are recognised as work-ready from day one.