Benjamin Franklin once said, “It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.” When we talk about dealing with Referee Abuse, we default to the implementation of penalties and punishments for wrongdoing as a means for prevention. Unfortunately, by defaulting straight to the solution for negative behaviour, we assume there is a sound process of identifying incidents and poor behaviour.
While it might not be possible to prevent all abusive incidents that occur, many of the issues that arise are preventable. When we rely on a system of punishment to improve behaviour, there must be no barriers to reporting problems. After all, if a Referee said that they felt victimized by the behaviour of a player, team, coach or supporter, there should be a record of this occurring, regardless of whether or not a reportable incident has technically occurred. In any workplace, if you only ask the employees whether anything bad has happened rather than gauging their overall happiness or well-being, you’d see a high turnover rate, the kind that exists for sports officials.
For incident reports to maximise their own effectiveness, the process for completion and submission should be as straightforward as possible. After informally researching the incident report system with hundreds sports leagues, they generally appear to be outdated, and presumably underutilised. Many leagues still require Referees to download and/or print Microsoft Word or PDF documents. Other leagues have progressed to an online reporting system, which still requires Referees to search for a link and complete a long report.
How severely are teams reprimanded when an incident report is submitted? Many teams can make a case that receiving one incident report in a season is an anomaly, that one bad game isn’t a reflection on the general behaviour and culture of their team. If it was easier to report on team behaviour, would it be easier for teams to avoid careful self-analyses of their attitude towards match officials
Regardless of how many incidents occur within a league, Referee turnover is almost always higher than 30% every year. Simply recording incidents isn’t working to reduce Referee abuse.
We believe that every Referee should be able report the behaviour of each team they officiate, and their overall match experience, after every match. As part of our upcoming update, we’re going to enable post match reporting for every Referee using our app, not just leagues using our Referee Management System.
Irrespective of the correct reporting method, a focus on abuse prevention and Referee well-being is desperately needed to tackle the current turnover rate and develop the next generation of elite officials.