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Youth sports referees are quitting in droves
The sports referee shortage is being attributed to a toxic combination of abuse from coaches and parents, low salaries, and COVID-19.
Update from the Fall
In a Journal Times article from December 5th, they are looking to train teenages. The ref shortage is a continuing problem across nearly all sports in the state, according to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA). Basketball is down 18% in the number of referees. And some games have already been canceled due to the ref shortage.
“A lot of referees in their first year quit because the parents, the coaches and the players. And they are so hateful and say such awful things. They don’t want the 40 bucks they’re paid. If there’s that much mental abuse, they don’t want it. They’re leaving.” Barlow said. Referee numbers in soccer have dropped continuously for years, with Illinois losing 11% of high school referees in the 2018-2019 soccer season even as the number of young soccer players increases.
Peter Makeover, the CEO of Payball, an app for paying officials, coaches and event staff, said referees rarely earn a living from officiating, and most become officials to earn extra money and stay connected to the game they love.
“But when they don’t get that sense of connection, it simply isn’t worth their time,” he said.
How has Covid impacted the Ref Shortage
The pandemic has also pushed a growing number of referees out. With officials leaving out of fear of getting sick and others quitting over disagreements about masking requirements. The pandemic halted games in some sports for months, which sparked other referees to realize that the industry wasn’t for them, Barlow said.
“A lot of them use it [the pandemic] as an excuse to not referee anymore. They’re already getting burnt out. Then you realize ‘it’s nice not having people yell at me, judging me, and threatening me.'”
Barlow said the drop in referees is already having a negative effect. Games are getting cancelled and fewer referees officiate each game.
“You have to get those fouls,” Laurie Jordan of the Inter-Athletic Council of Officials, told the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t want any players hurt or knocked out of the game. We don’t want the possibility of concussions. When the game moves that much faster, the officials have to move that much faster. It becomes very difficult.”
Sports organizations and administrators have to hold coaches and parents accountable. Their behavior needs to change. Plus pay referees more if they want to have enough people to officiate their games, Makeover said.
Despite the looming fall season, there hasn’t been a systematic effort to pay referees better. Or reduce the amount of physical and verbal abuse officials are subjected to. The only solution in most cases is isolation efforts in certain club teams or school districts.
“We’ve made it OK to treat officials who do a hard job like shit,” Barlow said.