20 December 2022

“It’s that want to give back to the sport”: Jenny Crutchett on her journey as a Taekwondo referee

When Jenny Crutchett started Taekwondo in 1989, she thought earning a black belt would mark the end of her journey. But it was just the beginning. 

“I started back in 1989,” she says. “I was fourteen and I just wanted to do a martial art. A friend of mine had previously trained in Taekwondo, and she wanted to go back, so I just went down with her. 

“I went with the expectation that I’d just get my blackbelt and try something else. But when I got my black belt, I realised that you don’t actually know a whole lot. So then I just kept training, grading and competing, and then refereeing, and the journey just continued.” 

While she enjoyed Taekwondo’s dynamic movements, it’s the discipline and philosophical elements of the martial art that have always kept her motivated. 

“You’re learning a sport that gives you so many other things like self-confidence and controlling yourself in difficult situations. It also challenges you all the time, there are different challenges along the way. As you keep training, you find more things that become difficult and you want to try harder.” 

It’s fair to say Crutchett has risen to each and every one of those challenges over the past 23 years, becoming a Master and obtaining a 7th Dan Black Belt. She has also given a lot back to the sport, having been a Taekwondo referee since 1991.  

“When I was younger, my Dad always encouraged me to umpire sports that I played, because it would give me a better understanding of the game. So I gave refereeing a go and I really liked it. 

“I like the competition side of things, so as I got older and stopped competing, it gave me something to focus on and get better at… to give back to athletes what I got myself.” 

As refereeing became Crutchett’s primary focus, she dedicated herself to increasing her knowledge and decision-making skills, so she could officiate games with the utmost integrity and professionalism. 

This approach not only helped her to grow as a referee, but also earned the respect of Taekwondo competitors around the country.  

“No referee goes out there to do a bad job. It’s just that sometimes that happens because you lose control of what’s happening, or you lose focus on what’s happening within a contest. 

“But if you make every effort to improve, then I think the coaches and the players start to get to know you and appreciate that you are trying to get better and not make the same mistakes. If you’re trying to improve yourself all the time, they appreciate and respect that.” 

Crutchett’s constant pursuit of perfection has helped her to not only become one of Australia’s leading referees, but also an established international referee. 

She has been officiating international Taekwondo events since 2002, including the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. 

Jenny at the 2020 Paralympics

“Getting to the Paralympics was amazing. That was a firm goal of mine and to get there, especially in and amongst the whole Covid situation… To be selected and then to physically get there, was the definitely the highlight of the journey.”

Crutchett says there are unique challenges to refereeing at every type of Taekwondo event, whether it be a club, state, national or international one – and she welcomes the challenges that come with each of them. 

“The competition itself is more advanced at an international event, so the refereeing, in some ways becomes harder. But in other ways, refereeing at a local state competition with juniors has its own difficulties. 

“I like to referee at all those different levels because all of them has something to teach me.” 

Crutchett also takes great pride in collaborating with other referees and assisting those less experienced than her in her capacity as Chair of Australian Taekwondo’s Kyorugi Referee Committee. 

“I’ve enjoyed it [the role]. It definitely has its challenges, but I try to work with people through positivity and through encouragement. Because, in my normal job as a teacher, that’s the way I work – to build people up and give them confidence to perform well.

“Then, they tend to do that. There are still mistakes that are made, but overall, people perform at a higher level that way.” 

Refereeing can be an unforgiving job, with good decision-making going unnoticed at times, and mistakes heavily scrutinised. Crutchett says positive reinforcement is critical within this context. 

“Referees tend to get the rough end of the stick sometimes, and so to keep people being positive about things, and giving them the ability to acknowledge their mistakes, and learn from them, can be tricky. But that’s what I’ve tried to encourage.”

While competitors occasionally face decisions they find hard to stomach, Crutchett highlights that many referees make significant sacrifices to just to facilitate these competitions. 

“Balancing work and family, travelling for Taekwondo, and refereeing, can be very hard. 

“I don’t think people always understand the time and expense that goes into refereeing. In order to study and prepare yourself for a competition, there’s stuff you need to do beforehand. You’re taking time off work, you’re spending money on airfares to get there, as well as many other things along the way. 

“It’s a costly venture, not just in terms of monetary costs, but time. You’re away from your family and other responsibilities at home.” 

But a pure love for the sport keeps a small, but dedicated group of referees, like Crutchett, coming back for more. 

“I think it’s that want to give back to the sport… There’s lot of people that shaped the person that I am from Taekwondo. When I first started, Carmella Hartnett was my Instructor and I just thought she was amazing… Ross Hartnett was a big influence as well and then other people along my refereeing journey.” 

Crutchett still pinches herself when she thinks of the fourteen-year-old, who didn’t consider herself a “natural sports person”, stepping on to the mats for the first time. She certainly couldn’t have imagined that sport eventually would take her all over the world.

“I’m not terrible at anything, but I’m not amazing at anything. 

“I had to work hard along the journey to get anywhere. I think that’s one of the things that Taekwondo has taught me – that sense of perseverance and to keep going.” 

"That’s what makes all of the sacrifice worth it."

If you'd like to get involved as a referee, please reach out to our referee and officiating committees.

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