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SIRC is pleased to be working together with Sport Canada to share current research on topics informing policy and promoting quality sport programming. This week we are sharing highlights of a recent article reviewing a research study on RETENTION OF SPORT OFFICIALS IN CANADA.

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

SIRC Highlights from the research

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. Research in the area of sport officiating has historically been lacking and has been psychology-focused through the study of the affective (coping, stress, etc.), cognitive (decision-making, perception, etc.) and psychomotor (fitness, injury, etc.) characteristics of the role, primarily in elite adult males. This study uses an ecological systems perspective examining the interactions of individual characteristics, the demands of the sport involved, and the environmental or systemic factors that make up the officiating experience. The purposes of the study were to “understand what motivates individuals to enter into and remain active in officiating, their resilience, and their perceptions of the support they receive from their sport organizations in Canada”. Over 1000 currently active officials representing all provinces and territories in Canada were included in this study.

Recruitment into Officiating

  • Approximately four out of five respondents pursued officiating in a sport that they currently play or formerly played as an athlete.
  • Primary motivations for becoming an official were intrinsic: “love for the game”, a desire to “give back to the sport”, and the opportunity to continue to “challenge” themselves in sport. Financial remuneration was a secondary motivator especially in the early stages of officiating careers.
  • There is a distinction in motivation based upon status as a current or former athlete.
    • Those that had retired from sport indicated they became officials because they “loved the game” and because it seemed a logical extension/transition from their role as athlete. Transition from being an athlete generally occurred due to: age-related decline in performance; skill was not suited to higher competitive levels; or career-ending injury. This trend was similar between officials in team-based sports and non-team sports. Generally linked to the need to feel “challenged” and “connected” to the sport community.
    • Those that transitioned to being an official while still participating as an athlete cited extrinsic motivators partnered with their intrinsic “love for the game”. Generally they were younger in age at time of entry and motivated by remuneration, though this waned over time. In other cases receipt of praise and recognition from people of influence was the motivator.
    • For those few who became an official in a sport they did not participate in as an athlete cited participation of their children in that sport as the motivator, though some indicated that it was not a voluntary response but one motivated by a requirement to fulfil volunteer hours.
  • In comparison with similar studies this research suggests that motivation levels change over time, and may be differentially experienced by gender.

Retention in Officiating

  • An analysis of the data indicated a number of significant differences in motivations of those who remained active as official over time on the basis of sex, age, sport, and officiating setting (urban vs rural).
  • Males scored higher than females in motivation due to the thrill, excitement, and pleasure they experienced while officiating. Though adding in age, females aged 20 or below actually scored higher than their male counterparts with the trend reversing after age 20 as male scoring remained at the same level and female scoring decreasing over time. This suggests that the female experience of officiating may be less enjoyable as they age and gain more experience. The authors suggest that females experience the officiating environment in a more demotivating or negative way citing lack of mutual respect, perceived inequities in policy application, lack of role models and mentors, and more gendered abuse.
  • This concept of pleasure in officiating occurred highest for those in target sports (curling, archery) and individual aesthetic sports (figure skating, diving, synchro swimming), with the lowest scores coming from invasion games (soccer, basketball) and fielding sports (baseball, softball). Types of quick decisions (temporal factors) and proximity to athletes, coaches, and fans (spatial factors) may be the reasons officials either can or cannot distance themselves from negativity associated with their role.
  • Measures of officials’ extrinsic motivation are moderated by factors within the officiating environment related to the sport organization rather than the nature of the competition, with younger officials, 15 years of age or less, scoring higher in motivation as well as 16-20 year olds. It is important to note that it may be that these younger groups are still in the recruitment stage and not transitioned to the retention stage.
  • Perceived organization support (POS) scoring also showed age variations. Scores were higher for younger in the less than 20 years old group and declined as officials got older. With younger officials this was associated with their motivation for remuneration and emphasis on support from teachers/mentors. For older officials the trend follows other research noting a feeling of decline or absence of support, mentorship and recognition for officials.
  • Female officials had higher scores of amotivation and lower scores of POS in urban settings and lower scores of amotivation and higher scores of POS in rural settings than male officials. Explanations for this were lacking, but suggestions may be that with fewer officials in rural settings there may be more opportunities for female officials and therefore they feel more valued.
  • Scores on the resiliency measure indicated that the group studied was highly resilient, with more than 1/3rd of the sample received scores of 100% on the measurement scale. Further research is needed to determine if the group was resilient before becoming officials or if the resiliency developed over time. While organizational support was seen overall as positive, one important finding noted that many officials in the study reported at least one significant negative event as part of their experience, sometimes severe enough to make them step away from officiating at least temporarily. Most returned to the role.

Practical Implications

  • Organizations should initially focus recruitment strategies on athletes currently involved in their sport as the next potential generation of officials.
  • Once in the role, officials at all levels greatly value indications of support from their administration (mentorship, communication, recognition, opportunities for advancement) throughout all stages of their career.
  • In order to recruit females into officiating there needs to be recognition that females experience the role differently than males. Organizations will need to evaluate within their sport and systems why and how this occurs and make changes to create a supportive and equitable environment.
  • Sport science must recognize officials as part of the sport system as opposed to service providers and as such generate research on sports officials in regards to issues relating to recruitment, retention, advancement and attrition.

General observations from the study have clearly indicated that there are indeed interactions between individual characteristics (ie age, sex), the task (type of sport), the environment (officiating organization, setting), and retention of officials. Individual motivations change over time as officials progress from the recruiting stage to the retention stage. Attention needs to be paid to the organizational support of officials to ensure resiliency in officiating continues and results in retention and advancement for officials as an integrated part of the sport system.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.