Sport – Unsung heroes of sport

The job often goes unrewarded. It can be difficult, you must be able to bring control to chaos, understand fairness, promote safety and encourage good sportsmanship. You are always being scrutinised by the players, coaches and the side-lines. Yet you are critical at all levels of play in all sports. Your role dictates the quality of play, managing the game to allow for the skills to be shown. Although there is a rule book, a great referee is able to manage the ‘black and white’ rules with the art of refereeing – making the right decisions at the right time. The referee is an unsung hero.

Officials play an extremely important role in any sport. Without officials giving up their time, most sporting competitions would be unable to function. Along with the rules of the game, officials must fully understand their role before, during and after the game has ended. Thousands of officials go and do their job each week in NZ, yet they very rarely get recognised in a positive manner, but they turn up the following week. So why do they do it?

Officials undertake an important role in the staging of competitions. They provide leadership and guidance to participants, ensuring that the competition is conducted in a safe and fair manner. Qualities such as integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and respect are integral to the role of the official. This includes how they behave and relate to others prior to, during and after competition, how they present themselves as an official, and how they go about their role. Officials are responsible for their actions and attitudes. People expect the official to be a person they can trust to control the competition.

The technical element of the sport is often dictated by the quality of officiating. It makes sense that the better quality of officiating, the better skills level is required to play the game. Put that in the context of performing on the world stage. If we have quality officiating in our development stages of sport, does that mean we will perform better at a senior level as our players would have developed better skills?

The approach towards officiating needs to be is in line with the aims of the competition, for example, junior competitions are usually aimed at fun and skill development rather than winning. Officials should be aware that their approach to officiating can influence the participants’ experience and enjoyment of the sport.

Officials are important for any sport as they often become the ‘face’ of officiating at competitions. People often judge all officials, and sports organisations, by how an individual official behaves, which means that they need to behave in a professional and responsible way. It is important that officials present in a manner that portrays officiating in a positive and respected manner.

Finally, there is a significant pathway for officials in sport. If you are passionate, and are prepared to develop, receive honest feedback and improve your skills you can officiate on the world stage. I became an International Beach Volleyball referee in 1997. Since then I have attended the Sydney, Beijing and London Olympics as an official. I have travelled the world officiating my sport and have refereed at 57 international events in countries all over the world. In NZ you can be a fully professional rugby referee, rugby league referee or cricket umpire. Become an official in a worldwide sport and you can go to the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games or officiate professionally overseas.

Finally, before you raise your voice at the sports field this weekend, think about the value of our referees, and respect them for the job they are doing for sport.

Sport development manager, Harbour Sport