The Retention Scale & Officiating Misconceptions

A Q&A with Jacob Tingle

Jacob Tingle is an avid sports fan, dedicated teacher and sports officiating researcher. All of his research studies can be found here. He loves engaging with officials, fans, and sports administrators on Twitter, and you can find his profile here. 


  1.   How did you first get involved in sports officiating?

I played basketball for my university team and in my first year I had the opportunity to referee recreational games between clubs and student organizations on campus. I’ll never forget the first game I officiated.

Members of the American football team played against our university’s chess club. I had no training and my only pre-game advice was, “Blow the whistle loud and when you talk, project your voice. If you act like you know what you’re doing, they just might believe you do.” That game went as one might expect, but that concise advice proved to be brilliant. 

While it’s crazy that I officiated for a season with no formal training, I did have a strong mentor – and that piece of advice has stuck with me for nearly 30 years!

I no longer referee basketball, but have actively engaged in research for the last 7 years. 

  1.   Can you please provide a brief overview of your research into sports officiating?

My colleagues and I explore trends and factors that might explain why the number of qualified sports officials continues to dwindle. Through a sociological lens, our research seeks to better understand the reasons why people begin officiating, why they continue, and what factors lead them to discontinue officiating. Our work has also identified specific problematic issues and offered potential solutions.

  1.   What were the most surprising elements of your research into sports officiating?

The most surprising element of our research has been on the primary factors that seem to be leading people out of the field. While abuse is among the reasons, in our studies it hasn’t been the primary factor. Those who leave often experienced social inequity (while true for all officials this was paramount for female referees) which led to participants not developing a strong sense of community. The Referee Retention Scale I developed alongside colleagues Lynn L. Ridinger, Stacy Warner, and Kyungun R. Kim revealed these specific key factors that lead recruitment – and more importantly – retention of officials: 1) Administrator Consideration, 2) Intrinsic Motives (rather than extrinsic), 3) Mentoring, 4) Remuneration (fair and equitable), 5) Sense of Community, 6) Lack of Stress, and 7) Continuing Education.

  1.   What do you think is the most common misconception about sports officials?

It’s honestly shocking how many people think sports officials care who wins the contest. Another common misconception is that sports officials “just show up” and work a game. Referees, umpires, and match officials – like the coaches, players, and front office staff – all are competing against perfection. They put in countless hours in studying the laws (rules), reviewing game/match videos, and taking care of their physical health. The lack of respect given to those in the sports officiating community is baffling, but in some respects, the nature of sports fandom seems to “free” people from rationality. Coaches and players are constantly slated, especially on social media, but it’s truly nowhere near the level of abuse heaped on match/game officials.

  1.   What do you think the quickest and most effective strategies are for ensuring a safe environment for all referees?

Abuse begets abuse. Players and coaches who abuse sports officials should be dealt with swiftly and their punishments should be severe. I strongly believe the actions of those two stakeholder groups significantly influences spectator behavior.

  1.   What characteristics do leagues with the highest level of retention for their referees and umpires usually have?

The best officiating communities have strong mentorship programs, strong continuing education programs, transparent decision-making about game assignments and paths to advancement, and formal outlets for officials to engage in social activities, to network, to feel part of something bigger; and to feel safe. 

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