How to Create a Sustainable Mentoring Program

By Sonia Denoncourt

Sonia Denoncourt is a former FIFA level referee, achieving some incredible accomplishments including 3 FIFA Women’s World Cups and 2 Olympic Games. She now works with a range of referees and leagues to focus on education and development. You can follow her updates on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.


Sports leagues and associations are continually looking for new ways to keep referees and umpires in the game, and create a safer environment. Mentoring programs are beginning to rise in popularity in officiating due to their effect on retention.

Before embarking on a mentoring program, there are some critical questions that need to be answered. First and foremost, how to you build a sustainable and effective mentoring program?

There is much discussion on how to find appropriate mentors. Mentors must be empathetic and respectful to maximize the fit between the referee and the mentor. For example, needs may be different for female and male officials and referees or umpires of difference ages.

In today’s highly competitive leagues and lack of funding for associations, finding mentors can make the difference between a very positive match experience and successful career or a young official experiencing less favorable results and not lasting longer than one season.

Referees and umpires seeking professional development need experienced mentors as part of their arsenal to improve skills faster. The right mentor can have a huge impact on an officials career.

Here are the key qualities to a sustainable mentoring program:

  • Build culture – Offering a mentoring culture enhances a feeling of belonging and helps organizations attract, motivate and retain their top referees and umpires. Most organizations don’t offer mentoring programs.
  • Actively monitor diversity – There is a lack of women mentors and fewer female role models. Mentors must be capable to assist in developing personal, professional, technical and tactical approach. Associations are more and more open to develop soft skills as well.
  • Experience – Recruit former referees and umpires to train them as a specialized mentor/coach with an open approach and flexible mentality.
  • Train mentors – Associations should conduct courses to train and develop mentors for this specific job. Mentors are not assessors or formal observers but rather a COACH for the officials progression. A pool of mentors would help to assign a compatible mentor to each officials targeted or selected to be helped.
  • Focus on development – The objective is not to grade/mark referees but rather to provide tools to improve their game. Referees and umpires need a range of tools in order to prepare them to face difficult situations.
  • Use an organised system – Have a system to monitor the referees or umpires performance and provide feedback to the official. This way, you collect information on each official and you can offer a better follow-up match after match, season after season (you can learn more about our Referee Management System here).

Providing an appropriate mentor results in a productive and fulfilling relationship that drives referees and umpires to achieving their career ambitions, and can evolve into a positive long-term connection. A poor mentor or lack of support entirely can damage the confidence and drag them down. A good mentor is approachable, honest and constructive, and can be the difference between a culture of excellence for your league or continual high turnover rates of officials.

Looking to start a mentoring program?