Can Mentors help Retain more Match Officials?

Can Mentors help Retain more Match Officials?

With Dr Tom Webb

With Dr Tom Webb

Is mentoring an effective way to help retain referees?

Yes, mentoring can be very effective, not just in refereeing but in various areas of sport and employment too. Mentoring needs to be undertaken effectively and mentors and mentees need to be matched as appropriately as possible for the relationship to operate effectively. Mentors should be operating at an appropriate refereeing level for the mentee to which they are assigned, and ideally there should be some characteristics that both mentor and mentee share.

There are issues with mentoring however. It takes time and many mentors are still referees themselves and give up additional time to help their mentees. As discussed, the mentors also need to be suitable and given the nature of the officiating pyramid and development pathways in most countries around the world, there are inevitably more referees at lower levels. As referees develop and are promoted, fewer referees exist at the level’s above, as those that do not pass the tests required stay at the level they are operating at, rather than achieve promotion to a higher level. This means that there are more referees requiring mentors than there are appropriate mentors themselves at the higher levels of the officiating pathways in a given country…you can therefore start to see the issue with finding effective and appropriate mentors for all referees. Good mentoring is very difficult to do and in fact it is also evident that unless these relationships are organised and led effectively, they can be harmful to less experienced participants (both mentors and mentees).

However, there is a lack of evidence around the effectiveness of mentoring as a development tool, although it clearly provides additional support for referees and support is an area that referees and match officials across sport have identified in our research as an area that they see as vitally important. Further research around the impact of mentoring in terms of referee development would be really useful in helping to understand further the benefits that might exist, as well as the challenges. 

How long should a referee receive a mentor for?

This should, ideally, be dependent on the individual referee. Some referees might require mentors for a longer period of time, other referees for a shorter length of time. However, we know that a lot of referee dropouts occur within 2 years of the initial qualification, and therefore new referees require the support that a mentor can provide. However, mentoring programmes take time to set up and time to run and often individuals that oversee these programmes at grassroots level are Referee Development Officers and have numerous other facets to their role. Certainly, if mentoring can be increased for those new referees, then it can have a positive impact on referee retention.  

At what point do referees have enough skills and experience to mentor other referees?

This is often dependent on the referee in question. However, if mentors are placed appropriately with mentees then the level at which they operate, although in advance of their mentees, does not have to be too far in advance of the level of their mentee. In fact, there is some benefit to mentors recently experiencing some of the developments and challenges that the younger or less experienced referees are experiencing. There is also the fact that life skills are important when mentoring and providing advice and development points based on your experiences also has significant merit and benefit. Of course, this is usually easier to do if an individual is older and more advanced (in terms of refereeing experience) than their mentee. However, any success often comes back to the correct placement of mentor and mentee – if this is done correctly then the relationship has more chance of succeeding.

What are the characteristics of an effective mentoring program?

Any successful and effective mentoring programme requires willing mentors and mentees. You also need to have the requisite number of mentors available (and this is often a big challenge in many sports). Mentors will often need to be willing to have numerous mentees, given the numbers of mentors to mentees and the mentees also have to be willing to embrace the mentoring programme and listen to the advice of their mentor. 

Effective mentoring programmes are well organised, match mentors to mentees appropriately and have an impact on the refereeing workforce. I have touched upon the difficulty in tangibly measuring some of these successes, but over time that can be seen by reduced dropout rates, referees willing to become mentors after they have been mentored themselves, following a positive experience that they might have had and a referee workforce that values the support provided.

Through research findings know that match officials across sports and countries are asking for increased support wherever possible. Mentoring is a way of providing that support.

What is the best way for leagues and referee manager’s to start a mentoring program?

A good initial step is to gauge the level of interest from both mentors and mentees. However, this also needs to be carefully managed by an individual who is tasked with overseeing any mentoring programme. It is likely that there will be a greater number of mentees requiring mentors than mentors available, and as such initial interest will need to be considered. A pilot programme is an appropriate way of testing the proposed mentoring programme. This can be undertaken in one area, one level or one league initially, and then monitored and evaluated accordingly. Changes can then be made based on the evaluation and the programme can be rolled out on a larger scale. However, we must also take into account differences that exist  in development systems between countries and therefore acknowledge that there is not necessarily a ‘one size fits all’ approach to this. 

It is important to point out in closing, that mentoring and support programmes can be formal and informal in nature. Formal programmes tend to be those initiated and operated by referee organisations; these can include official mentoring programmes for example. Informal mentoring and support can be initiated by referees themselves. Referees can seek out others that might provide support to them, or perhaps a wider group of referees that provide mentoring and support to each other. The organic formulation of informal mentoring and support networks can often be very effective – this approach though is dependent on the proactive nature of individual referees, and not all referees will be proactive or might lack the personal skills required to be able to set up these networks.


Dr Tom Webb, Coordinator of the Referee and Match Official Research Network, Senior Lecturer Sports Management and Development, School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science, University of Portsmouth, UK. 

Connect Referees, Mentors, Assessors and Managers, all in one place.
schedule a demo