‘I was always a fanatic’

Rotterdam, that's why

Soccer referee Lizzy van der Helm (28) studied Business Administration at Erasmus University and has been making headway as a referee for the past few years. ‘As soon as you get on the field, you need to stand tall.’


NAME: Lizzy van der Helm
AGE: 28
STUDY: Business Administration (RSM)
CAREER: UEFA Referee and economics & maths teacher



We meet in the Excelsior stadium. Lizzy van der Helm turns out to be a person of cheerful demeanor, diminutive stature and torrential speech. She has the wind in her back, she says, once she’s changed into her referee outfit, armed with a pink whistle. Four years ago, Lizzy picked up that whistle at football club BSC’68 in Benthuizen, where she was the defensive midfielder in a team of girlfriends. ‘As captain I always had a lot to say about the referee. They’d kill the match, I felt, or they’d made sure you missed that opening you’d been waiting for. ‘So, why don’t you become a ref?’ someone said to me. I’d never given it any thought, but you need to practice what you preach.’ In 2014 she started referee training at the KNVB. One year later she became an federation referee, these days she’s on the UEFA list.

Perfect match
‘I’m always fanatical; I want to win and improve myself continuously.’ Lizzy was like that as a player, she says. ‘But I was also aware of my limitations. I wasn’t a great technical player, whenever I had the ball I’d be wise not to try getting past three people. Many people in today’s society tend to overestimate themselves. But you don’t have to be able to do everything, just specialise.’ She did turn out to have a talent for refereeing. Lizzy: ‘Things are moving ahead so quickly! When can I expect the first setback, I sometimes wonder. As the matches become increasingly important, things become more demanding, and the competition keeps getting stronger and stronger. Every week I want to referee the perfect match, and every single week it’ll be just out of reach – perhaps just as well. That ensures I will keep striving and remain open to feedback.’ 

‘In today’s society, people tend to overestimate themselves. You don’t have to be able to do everyting, just specialise’

To Lizzy, the match starts many hours ahead of time. ‘In my car I’ll listen to music with strong, motivational lyrics to get in the right mindset. Confident by Demi Lovato, and Legendary by Welshly Arms are always on my playlist. Once I get in, I chat with the team for a bit, but then I’ll focus on myself.’ Lizzy used to suffer from performance anxiety, she says. ‘Sometimes I still get afraid I’ll choke on the pitch. That’s what all that preperation is for. I put out my gear, get changed, take two deep jumps, and I’m ready to roar.’ Because once you get on the field, you need to stand tall, she says: ‘Otherwise they’ll eat you alive.’ Lizzy referees both men’s and women’s matches. It’s harder with the women than the men, she says. ‘Men forgive and forget, they move on; women make a mountain out of a molehill, point out mistakes you made ten matches ago and constantly try to yank the carpet out from under you.’ She laughs. ‘Oh, I was exactly like that!’ The secret of success, according to her? ‘Go for it, there are no free lunches. Work hard towards your goal, take time out for it, dare to be egotistical. And dare to make choices.’ 

Showing leadership
Although Lizzy grew up in Zoetermeer, it was clear she would go to university in Rotterdam. ‘The place keeps getting better, not just the city, but the campus as well. Rotterdam is delightfully international, a true metropolis!’ And a football town, she adds. She’s not beholden to a single club these days, but she does prefer to referee right here. ‘The Kuip is a spectacular stadium, there’s a marvelous atmosphere. I even enjoy getting heckled whenever I make an impopular call. My boyfriend finds it hard to deal with, but to me it’s an energy boost. Bring it!’ Dreams? ‘I’d love to referee a World Championship one day, or the Olympics, and turn this into a job. For the next five years this will be my priority. And if it doesn’t work out, I gave it my all. Currently I combine refereeing with my job als an economics and maths teacher at ONC Parkdreef in Zoetermeer.’ Business Administration still comes in handy. ‘They taught us so much about management and various types of leadership. In a match it’s not much different. You have to deal with people, communicate, manage the match. I’m taking on a new project every week.’ 

TEXT: Karin Koolen
PHOTO: Jennifer Remme

Lizzy van der Helm