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Protective factors trump abuse

Abuse of any nature is unacceptable in any setting - sport is no exception.

A plethora of evidence citing abuse towards officials is a key reason attrition rates within these groups are so high. The non-return rate of officials in many sports varies between 30-35%; double that of the general workforce average of 18%.

There are a number of programs and organisations committed to reducing the frequency and severity of abuse directed towards officials. While such initiatives are contributing to reducing the occurrence, unfortunately, there is always likely to be instances of abuse in some form towards officials.

Beyond the programs targeted at respecting or humanising officials, what can sports and officiating bodies do to combat the effects of abuse and ultimately lead to higher retention rates of officials?

There is a well known concept in psychology known as ‘protective factors’. Defined as conditions or attributes in communities that help people deal more effectively with stressful events and mitigate or eliminate risk. Such attributes may include skills, strengths, resources, supports or coping strategies. In officiating, mentoring or mentoring programs form part of the arsenal of resources and support. Mentor programs, whether formal or informal, have been strongly encouraged for decades - because they are considered a protective factor.

“Create an environment that propagates social connections, including a mentoring program for new officials.”

A case study of an Association shows that those members who did not return, citing abuse as the reason they left officiating were those members who experienced lower levels of engagement. Finding showed they did not attend training sessions, were not socially connected and therefore were not exposed to the protective factors that other members enjoyed.

This lack of connection/protective factors is no more are evident than with junior officials (<18 yo). Our data shows that the return rate of juniors (60%) is significantly lower than that of senior officials (71%). Generally speaking, junior officials are still establishing their social networks, where as senior officials have more established social connections within the group.

Utopia is for society to cease the abuse of others, and officials, for good. In the absence of this, the most effective interim measure is for officiating bodies to have strong social and support structures, including a mentor program in place for new officials. If newer officials have someone to turn to (i.e. an appropriate mentor) they are more likely to feel adequately supported and are far more likely to stay officiating.

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