The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

Sport officials play a vital role within sport and should be viewed along the same lines as coaches within the sport system in regards to participation and development. Officials should not be viewed as just service providers, but rather as integral participants within sport. Without an official to referee a game there is no game. However, in recent years there has been an increasing shortage of officials. There is a significant problem in the retention of officials, particularly inexperienced officials at the grass roots level of sport that can be developed. How can we best understand and support the retention and personal growth of sport officials?

Why do individuals get into officiating?

For many people, the reason why they pursue officiating is as simple as the love they have for sport. Often they are current or former athletes and have a desire to continue to challenge themselves in the sport from a different perspective and stay connected to their sport. Many officials choose this avenue as a way to give back to sport, to help mold future participants or to help build the sport. For some of the younger newer officials it is a way to earn some money or to be recognized by people who are important to them. For those few who became an official in a sport they did not participate in as an athlete, many times they pursued officiating because their children were participants.

So why do officials leave the role?

There are a variety of reasons that officials give as to why they leave their role and some of them include:

  • Obligations to their career or other job
  • Low pay
  • Fear of liability
  • Lack of opportunity to excel/advance
  • Stress, and burn out
  • Poor sportsmanship/misconduct (players, spectators, coaches, etc.) and abuse
  • Too much time away from family, friends, school, etc.
  • Pressure to perform with a high level of efficiency from the start
  • Poor support mechanisms in place to nurture and educate officials

What do officials say they need to stay in the game?

Staying involved with anything requires that an individual feels a sense of welcome and belonging to a community. Providing officials with tools, resources and recognition could go a long way in meeting this need. Officials have been asked what they would like to see to make them feel better about their role and some of the responses include:

  • Being seen as a valued member of the sport.
  • Need for organizational support, communication, mentorship, and recognition.
  • Opportunities for continued training, development and advancement.
  • Development of a community and interaction with other officials to form a network of support.
  • An annual evaluation system to assign, promote, and/or determine pay rate for officials based on objective data; this works to eliminate perceived bias in any of these areas.
  • Female officials in particular seek mutual respect, equality in policy application, role models and mentors, and less gendered abuse.
  • Provide new referees with realistic and positive first experiences with support from more experienced personnel.

While there are a few factors that cannot be controlled that cause stress points for officials, in the big picture there are many opportunities within the sport community that can be modified or improved to provide a better environment for attracting and retaining officials in sport.

References:

Cuskelly G and Hoye R. (2004). Problems and Issues in the Recruitment and Retention of Sports Officials. A report prepared for the Australian Sports Commission.

Forbes SL and Livingston LA. (2013). Understanding Factors Contributing to the Retention of Canadian Sport Officials.

Livingston, LA, and Forbes, SL. (2016). Factors contributing to the retention of Canadian amateur sport officials: Motivations, perceived organizational support, and resilience. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 11(3), 342-355.

Titlebaum PJ, Haberlin N, and Titlebaum G. (2009). Recruitment and Retention of Sports Officials. Health and Sport Science Faculty Publications. Paper 2



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