Attrition rates for youth sport refs and umpires is too high!
Recently, I came across some statistics about hockey officials’ attrition rate in Canada. Did you know that there are approximately 30,000 officials registered to officiate minor hockey games in Hockey Canada’s registry? Of those, approximately 10,000 quit EVERY YEAR – that is one out of three officials!
Several Referee in Chiefs (RIC) that I have talked to who are in charge of recruiting and training minor hockey officials estimate that they lose approximately 50% of the officials that start at the age of 12 by the age of 15. I recently talked to the Umpire in Chief (UIC) of a minor baseball association and he told me that their attrition rate is similar to hockey officials. He stated that their association loses approximately 25% of their umpires annually.
The #1 reason why so many officials are quitting each year is due to the verbal abuse they are taking from parents, coaches, and even players.
These statistics bring back a painful memory to when I was coaching an Atom Recreation Hockey Team. We qualified for the bronze medal game of a tournament, but sadly that was the only good thing I recall about that day. The events that transpired were the starting point to why I started researching issues in youth sports.
During the game, our smallest and youngest player was skating down the ice with his head down and accidently skated into a player on the opposing team. Both players fell backwards and hit their heads. The coaches of the other team started screaming about how it was an intent to injure. They screamed at me and the officials, while their parental group followed. I was dumbfounded that they had no concerns about either of the players and the potential injuries that might have occurred.
I have been a long time believer in respecting the game and promoting a positive playing environment. This was merely an accidental contact of two very young players. After constant yelling from the coaches and their parents, the official escorted my player to the penalty box. Although I did not agree with the call, I understand why the officials felt it was necessary. Even with the penalty called, the coaches insisted that the player should be ejected for an intent to injure. Through the pressure from the coaches and the parents, the officials decided to eject my player out of the game. As much as it pained me to do so, we finished the game and won the bronze medal. Instead of a celebration, our dressing room was concerned more about our player who was ejected. He and the officials were a victim of verbal abuse that nobody should experience in ANY youth sport. I followed-up with the tournament coordinator and the league to look at suspensions for the other coaches as a result of their behaviour. Unfortunately, no suspensions occurred.
I was told later that the two young officials had resigned because they were scared of the abuse from the coaches and parents. I reached out to the officials through the tournament coordinator and apologized to them about the situation. I told them that they were victims of abusive behaviour and that I would do everything I can to change the environment of youth sports.
When talking to parents over the years, many complain about the quality of officiating. I remind them that most officials are only one age group above their child’s. Just like hockey development, it takes years to develop and understand the rules of the game.
We don’t condone that behaviour at school nor at work, but why do we continue to condone it in the stands of sidelines of youth sports?
I counter those that challenge the quality of officiating in youth sports by stating that if parents and coaches encourage officials during their course of development and focus more on the process instead of game outcomes than amateur youth sports can retain more officials annually.
Photo credit: Mark Mauno