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How to Recruit Train and Retain Sports Officials

Recruit Train Retain Team

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How to Recruit Train and Retain Sports Officials

Recruiting referees and umpires is a yearly ordeal for almost every league, association and school on the planet. If you or your group is struggling to keep an adequate supply of qualified officials ready to go for every game, I can assure you that you are not alone.

BeachSports image 3 nightWhile creating the Officials101 newsfeeds, I have made almost 10,000 Twitter posts at the time of this writing, regarding officials in all sports. I am not really sure what that means, but I have probably done a little more research on the topic than the average person. In my conversations with officials representing all levels, in dozens of sports, and in leagues all around the world, I have noticed many associations share similarities and connections between their challenges and successes.  Recruiting and training new officials are two of the most common issues that I get asked about. How to Recruit, Train and Retain Sports Officials is my response to this common problem.

What are the Numbers?

30 per centThere are no definitive statistics with exact turnover rates that I am aware of. I am prepared to go out on a limb and say that a 30 per cent turnover rate is probably about average for many associations regardless of the sport. The reasons for the turnover are varied and often include things like school, work, location and family commitments. It is a sad fact that abuse is often a contributing factor and that must be addressed in order to create a successful program. First, let’s take a look at what the turnover rate does to a sports association and its officiating team.

High Turnover

Recruit Train Retain Football crewA higher turnover rate will cost more, produce less and create a lower overall experience pool of officials. It is that simple. Having a new group of officials to train every season is always a positive goal but it is best if the new group is still available next year so the experience gained, and the training costs, are not wasted. The experience lost to turnover is crucial to what is happening on the playing surface and will affect the mood of both the players and spectators. A solid core of qualified and experienced officials is one of the most important factors to consider when creating a successful association.

When inexperienced officials are thrown into situations they are not ready for, due to a lack of more experienced officials being available, there are bound to be mistakes. While the association is aware and empathetic of the situation, the players, coaches and the parents, or fans, are not. They will definitely be able to spot the mistakes and they will often voice their displeasure. Of course that will only increase the nervous tension and the number of mistakes the new officials will make. This scenario often ends the careers of new referees and umpires before they even learn how to do the job. The whole process will usually repeat itself next season in order to replace the officials who have just quit. It is a crazy cycle that is very difficult for volunteer associations to deal with. Fortunately, with leadership and patience, it is possible to break the cycle.

Low Turnover

ZebrasA lower turnover will cost less and add more to the experience pool. The end result will be fewer mistakes and a higher overall experience level, with happier players, coaches and fans. New referees and umpires can work with more experienced crews and ease into the position so that many of the mistakes of pressure can be avoided. Because there is now less emphasis on beginner level training, the class time, and therefore cost, can now be invested to train experienced officials to even higher levels. By having a stable system such as this, the overall quality of officiating, in any sport, will increase. Training costs can now become investments instead of desperate gambles and contribute to increased skill levels in the game. To become one of those successful leagues that have a waiting list of officials, the goal is low turnover.

Many volunteer associations have a constant turnover of league executives and organizers who hand off the file to another parent for next season. This does create challenges but those challenges can be overcome if the association has a common purpose to recruit, train and retain its officials.

How to Recruit Sports Officials

We are hiring signThere are many different recruiting techniques. Most associations try to recruit from within and ask players to give it a go. A simple ad in the school newsletter or a classified ad in the local newspaper is common. Some associations go all out and actually post ads at job search websites. The tech savvy will use their social media networks. Probably the most productive method is by ‘word of mouth’. An association with a successful officiating team is noticed by everyone. That includes officials in nearby associations and locations. Provide an environment of success and they will eventually come to you.

If you have tried the above methods and still haven’t had any luck, you can try these little known tricks. Broaden your search by opening your mind. The qualities required to be a great official include skills like leadership, organization and knowledge of the rules. It is often surprising to people to realize that gender, skin colour and sexuality have no bearing on anyone’s ability to be the best official in the world. Many associations don’t even notice their bias because it is ‘just the way it has always been’. If your association is one of those, it is time for it to rethink the program.

If your association does all the right things and accepts all who wish to participate, but still can’t get enough officials, I suggest you attend games in other sports, or neighbouring communities  and watch for officials who show the personal qualities you are looking for. The leadership and organizational skills that most officials strive for are common across all sports. The rules can be taught. There are thousands of officials who referee in one sport for the winter and umpire another sport in the summer. If you see an official in another sport that seems to have some skills that you find impressive, then approach them. Ask if they would be interested in officiating in your sport. You may be pleasantly surprised at their response.

How to Train Sports Officials

Recruit Train Retain TeamEvery sport is different. The governing bodies all have systems and programs that work for them. I am not going to undermine the sport specific training that has been developed over many years. However, the sports world is evolving quickly, and so are the training programs being presented to the officials. New rules to accommodate technological changes, increased fitness levels and the unforgiving scrutiny of the digital age are just a few of the challenges facing officiating teams in all sports. Every sport will have to adapt to these changes as smoothly as possible.

I can’t give sport specific advice on this topic, but I can give you some basic advice that I hope is helpful. While the digital age has added some challenges, it has also provided the opportunity for associations of all sports to provide top level training programs. Scour the newsfeeds of websites like Officials101 to find content and resources that will provide you with all the training programs you need to create a well prepared team of officials. At Officials101, you can find thousands of links to schools, rules and tools in almost every sport. Use those links to help find and build a custom program for your association using the teaching of the top officials from the top leagues in the world. Use their social media pages to stay informed and motivated about the training of referees or umpires in your sport. New technology provides an incredible opportunity to change the future.

How to Retain Sports Officials

Recruit Train Retain Whistle TrophyThe key to it all! How to retain the officials you have recruited and trained? Now you have them, how do you keep them? This is the missing link to creating the most successful officiating teams your association has ever seen. This is also the step that often gets overlooked. Without making an extraordinary effort to retain your officials, all of the time and resources expended to recruit and train will be lost and the association will have to restart the process again next season. 

The most successful associations will cultivate a team environment. They provide regular meetings, consistent pay, training sessions, mentors and emotional support. Great friendships that last a lifetime are common amongst many referee and umpire associations. They work hard together as a unit and strive to improve with every match. Provide social opportunities with recognition of association milestones and personal achievements. Provide professional opportunities by keeping the team informed of educational options, tournament postings and job opportunities. Creating and encouraging participation in these opportunities to gain experience will help everyone on the team when the event is over and the official returns to the home territory.

Cricket image 3The final and most delicate piece of this whole program is the part that involves the non-officiating members of the association. Players, coaches and spectators are a critical component to retaining officials in your association. Respect for all must be the most important policy in the league. A zero tolerance standard for abuse that includes harsh punishments of lengthy suspensions, and meaningful monetary fines in the professional ranks, need to become normal. Any participant that physically accosts an official should be instantly ejected from the sport and criminal charges pursued. There should be no doubt in the minds of all participants in sports that violence towards officials will not be tolerated.

Thank you for reading. I hope you have found this article helpful. Follow the links below to read some of our other articles or visit some of our other collections. Please enjoy and have a great day!

Jim Clarke
Founder of Officials101

You may find these links interesting:

7 Trends to Watch for Referees and Umpires 101 Article
Decline in Sports Officials infographic from Ohio University

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these Officials101 Collections:

Education 101 Collection 
How To 101 Collection
Management 101 Collection 
Rules and Signals 101 Collection 

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Peter Schwab is now Director of Umpiring for the AFL

Peter Schwab AFL Umpire Director

Peter Schwab is now Director of Umpiring for the AFL.
Peter Schwab AFL Umpire Director

The AFL has announced the appointment of Peter Schwab to the position of Director of Umpiring. Schwab will resign his current position as List Manager for the Brisbane Lions and return to the top umpire job he held for 2 years back in 1998 – 1999.

Peter Schwab AFL Director of Umpiring image 2Extensive AFL experience as coach, manager and administrator will assist Schwab in his new duties.  He first appeared on the AFL scene as a player with Hawthorn in 1980. After 11 seasons, 171 games and 38 goals his playing career was complete and his coaching and management career began.

Schwab will be replacing Luke Ball, who stepped into the position on a temporary basis for the AFL head office after the April 2016 departure of Wayne Campbell. Campbell left the job to take a senior management position with the GWS Giants club.

Peter Schwab is well respected throughout the league and his experience and leadership is expected by many to make him a great fit for the position. It will take a few days to take care of the departure details from his post in Brisbane and then Schwab will be settling into his new office.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these Officials101 Collections:

Assignments and Appointments
Supporting Cast

Some of the background research for this article came from these web pages:

Peter Schwab on Wikipedia
AFL Announcement
The Luke Ball Announcement

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Soccer Referees Give RefEdge Pro Two Thumbs Up

Soccer Referees Give RefEDGE PRO Two Thumbs Up

RefEDGE PRO product image

Stand-up vanishing spray gets on-field workout

By Jackie Pearase,

            Soccer referees are saying that RefEDGE PRO, a new stand-up vanishing spray, is a stand-out product.

            Vanishing spray, or vanishing foam, is used by soccer referees to provide a temporary visual marker to keep players of the opposing team to the minimum distance from the ball during a free kick and to mark the spot from which the kick is taken.

            The use of vanishing sprays is said to have reduced free-kick downtime by almost 50 per cent and resulted in fewer yellow cards and more goals since becoming part of regular play about five years ago. It ensures rules are followed and fair play for all. 

            The new take on the vanishing spray intrigued Officials101 founder Jim Clarke and when he wanted to test it, Michael Radchuk came to mind.

      Michael Radchuk RefEdge game      As owner of Rent-A-Ref, Michael has connections with officials of all the major sports so getting him to test a sports-related product was a natural fit.

            Michael, a 13-year referee in his second year as a USSF national referee, first gave RefEDGE PRO a try at a USL match in September and found it to be a superior product on many levels.

            “RefEDGE PRO was very convenient to carry. I actually forgot I had it at times,” he said after the game. “It was very easy to use and very easy to return to the holster. Some competitor products require you to unclip the spray to use it, while RefEDGE allows you to take the can out of the holster and allows you to put it back in so you don’t have to search for the clip itself.”

            Michael has used different vanishing sprays in various weather conditions as an official for USL, NCAA D1 and US Soccer matches with mixed results. He had some difficulty using RefEDGE PRO on wet grass and Jason Record, co-founder of RefEDGE PRO, said practice is all that is required.

            “There is no way to make a perfect spray in all conditions but we have come close since you can vary the spray on your own and with a little practice, you’ll know what is required for different situations and you then have the perfect spray,” Jason explained.

            He said slowing down the spray speed creates a more foam-dense line that will stand up to such conditions. A normal speed pass will create a line lasting about 45-60 seconds.

            “You can truly vary the dwell time from about 30 seconds to 5+ minutes if you wanted.  The typical target for most is 60-90 seconds and is easily achieved with practice,” he added.  Soccer referee equipment

            A small can of RefEDGE PRO contains approximately 130 linear feet of foam – or two to four games depending on the game and usage.

            But the thing Michael likes best about the product is the ability to use the spray while standing.

            “We’re always told to keep our eyes out on what’s going on,” he explained. “Dead balls can be one of the more troublesome situations as players tend to get into extracurricular activities like pushing and stuff. By staying upright, it benefits the referee by having him/her keep an eye out on what’s going on.” 

            Jason said feedback on RefEDGE PRO has been positive from soccer officials and associations such as CONCACAF, NCAA, NASL and US Soccer.

            He said the company is also making some changes to improve its performance including an updated, locking Gripcage™ holster (patent pending) that will ensure the holster cannot go upside down when using its top-, side- or tilt-entry. A new, paddle-style VersiClip™ will include a larger back clip to make the can more stable.

            Michael said RefEDGE PRO is something he will definitely use again and recommend to others.

            “I recommend it to all, especially as you move upward through the ranks,” he said. “It’s lightweight, easy to use,and provides immediate communication and understanding to the players and the audience that it is a ceremonial free kick (on the whistle) when spray is pulled out.”

RefEDGE PRO’s proprietary formula is safe for all grass and artificial turf and contains no parabens. The Gripcage™ comes in four colors and easily attaches and detaches from the belt.

If you like this article, you may also enjoy these Officials101 Collections:

Soccer – Football 101 Collection
Equipment 101 Collection
Management 101 Collection
Technology 101 Collection

You can watch Michael using RefEDGE PRO Vanishing Spray in this exciting 2016 USL season finale match between the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and the Orange County Blues FC at Anteater Stadium in Irvine, California. Check it out here!

Full Disclosure: As a result of these positive trials, RefEDGE PRO is now an affiliate marketer on the website. This article was written by Officials101 using information provided after testing by Michael Radchuk of Rent-A-Ref and comments from RefEDGE PRO co-owner Jason Record.

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Olympic Referees Share Referee of the Year Award

Alhambra Nievas Rasta Rasivhenge

Alhambra Nievas Rasta Rasivhenge
Olympic Referees Share Referee of the Year Award

Alhambra Nievas and Rasta Rasivhenge earn honour at 2016 World Rugby Awards 

Spain’s Alhambra Nievas made history Nov. 13 when she won, along with Rasta Rasivhenge of South Africa, the Referee of the Year Award at the 2016 World Rugby Awards in London, the first woman to win the honour. “I’m so happy and I consider this a team achievement,” Alhambra told Officials101 after accepting the award.

Alhambra and Rasta were nominated for the prestigious award along with South Africa’s Jaco Peyper and Jérôme Garcès of France. Alhambra was also nominated for the award in 2015 alongside Jerome Garcès and Nigel Owens. Nigel Owens, who earned the honour last year, is considered by many to be the top referee in all of sports.

2016 World Rugby Awards NomineesThe elite ranks of rugby referees are a very close knit group. They are the best in their home countries and they take great pride in their selection to the international level.  The referees support, encourage and motivate each other and work very hard to be the best back home and abroad, making it a true honour to have one of their group recognized. 

Alhambra and Rasta are friends (use the hashtag #refteam to follow along) and she is happy that two of their group can share the award. The pair were part of an elite team of international rugby referees that impressed the whole world at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where the sport was played at the Olympic level for the first time since 1924. As one of the #RefsofRio, Alhambra was awarded the first ever Rugby Sevens women’s Olympic gold medal game while Rasta had the honour of officiating in the men’s gold medal match. 

A friend’s encouragement to help out at a children’s rugby camp led to Alhambra taking up the whistle and she has certainly made her mark. She has refereed at a Women’s Rugby World Cup and in the Women’s Six Nations, and is a regular on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Series Sevens Series.  

Alhambra thanks all the people who have supported her and those she has learned from over the years – first as a player and then as an official. “All of them are behind this award,” she said. 

The latest accolade will give Alhambra even more motivation to conquer new horizons – like her upcoming appearance in the international men’s match between Tonga and USA and the 2017 World Cup in Ireland in 15s rugby.

Written by Jackie Pearase
Officials101 Content Editor

Read More about Alhambra Nievas here:

Officials101 Olympic Chat – July 2016

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Awards and Recognition

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7 Trends to Watch for Referees and Umpires

7 Trends Technology

7 Trends Referees and Umpires

7 Trends to Watch
for Referees and Umpires

Sports officials today and in the future

7 Trends to Watch for Referees and Umpires

Referees and umpires are by no means being left out of our fast-changing world. 

Sports officials are experiencing huge changes in the wide world of sports and is shining the spotlight on 7 trends that referees, umpires, and everyone else, will want to watch out for in the coming years.

1. Multi Sport Service Companies

7 Trends JobsWith so many sports and leagues for every ability and age group, the need for referees and umpires continues to grow. Organizations everywhere struggle to recruit and retain sports officials. Sports entrepreneurs have seen a gap and companies are now popping up to fill the need. The basic premise for such companies is to recruit, train and schedule referees and umpires for a multitude of sports – matching up leagues, tournaments and games with the officials they need. It offers a cost-effective way for associations to get qualified coverage without the expense of training and re-training their own sports officials. More businesses like these will make sports officiating more appealing as a way to earn a living for people of all ages.

2. Women’s Sports

7 Trends WomenThere is a growing number of women participating in sports and a rise in females officiating professional levels of sporting events – men’s and women’s. The quality of women’s sports and the officiating is exceptional and has resulted in a growing fan base for all sports and increased employment opportunities for all sports officials. The 2016 Rio Olympics gave everyone a chance to witness female officials’ superb talent in the online forum, #RefsofRio. Women are making inroads not only in women’s sports but also in male dominated sports in North America and across the world. Watch this trend grow.


3. Technology

7 Trends TechnologySo much going on here for sports officials and changes are afoot at not only the professional level but also for amateur, high school, college and university sports. Video technology has been part of many sports for decades and its use will continue to grow and enhance officiating. Cricket has used video replay as a third umpire since the early 1990s and hockey wouldn’t be the same without the net-cams. The 2016 Rio Olympics used expanded videography on many occasions and with huge success and FIFA is currently in the midst of video assistant referee (VAR) trials. The type and use of such technology will continue to expand for all sports.

Wearable technology will be even bigger for sports officials. Communication devices are commonplace in most sports but ref-cams with open mic broadcasts are going to be huge and will put a whole new spin on sports at all levels. New technology for failsafe timing on the field will enhance all sports for players and fans alike while goal line technology will indicate when a ball or puck crosses the line. Referees and umpires will also start taking advantage of wearable fitness tracking technology and high-tech apparel as a path to more elite levels of officiating and improved physicality. And, of course, there will be an app for that when it comes to everything referees need to excel.

4. Media Attention

7 Trends MediaGlobal boundaries are disappearing in just about every realm, and the world of sports officiating is no different. The internet gives global reach to even the smallest developing sports organizations, allowing them to learn and benefit from additional knowledge and information to better grow their sport. Mainstream media may only give a passing glance at sports like quidditch and floorball but both of them garner huge global followings of fans, players and officials through today’s social media options. Internet media companies and online organizations with a focus on sports are popping up every day that provide support, information and a place to unite.


5. Fitness

7 Trends FitnessToday’s athletes are incredibly fit so it stands to reason that the officials of these sports must follow suit. A hockey player may have several shifts during a period but the referee is on the ice the entire game so his/her fitness level is key to excelling and advancing. A focus on improved fitness training at all levels and the use of fitness technology will better hone the critical thinking skills that are so important to officiating. Watch as referee and umpire governing bodies will continue to put more emphasis on top level game preparation that includes rules, research and incredible fitness levels.


6. Positive Sports

7 Trends Positive SportsViolence, crazy parents and a crazed animal mentality can be a big part of today’s sports but that does not mean that most people are OK with it. There is a push to bring civility back to sports and sports officiating. There is the integration of gender and a variety of physical abilities and ages, which fosters respect in a fun environment. There are organizations working to ensure young people have positive, character-building experiences when they play any sport. There is a lot of extremism in today’s sports culture but a pendulum swings both ways and one day it will come to pass that being a jackass parent, fan, player or official is just too politically incorrect. We are positive about this.

7. Training

7 Trends TrainingWith a growing demand for sports officials across the world, training will come to the forefront. All it takes is a click online to find hundreds of improved training techniques in a wide variety of sports. Many sports organizations already offer free online training courses, with some scholarships available for advanced training opportunities. The online availability of officiating information and training opportunities will continue to grow. Sports officials will take advantage of their basic skillsets and look to employment in multiple sports, thus increasing the demand for both specialized and broad-based training. Being a sports official may not always pay the rent but the leadership and management skills required to be a good one are being recognized as transferable skills in the business world, making it all the more important to stay ahead of the game – so to speak.

Co-Written by Jim Clarke and Jackie Pearase
Jim is the Founder of Officials101
Jackie is the Officials101 Content Editor
Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy visiting these Officials101 Collections:

Jobs 101 Collection
Female Sports Officials 101 Collection
Technology 101 Collection
Health and Fitness 101 Collection 


How To Recruit, Train and Retain Sports Officials 101 Article
Decline in Sports Officials infographic by Ohio University

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