The importance of retaining quality officials
As a baseball/softball official for more than 20 years, I have seen many officials come and go. Some leave because of the time constraints of their regular job, others leave because of parents/coaches, and some leave due to the lack of pay. Whether you’re an assignor, youth league director or an athletic director, it’s very important that you have quality officials to manage your games.
The rules in each individual sport change every few years, so it’s important to make sure officials receive the necessary training. In Pennsylvania, high school officials must pass an online test for each sport they officiate, join a chapter in the region in which they work and attend a minimum number of meetings.In most youth leagues, all you have to do in sign up with the assignor and maybe attend one rules meeting. Being an official in a youth league is probably one of the hardest jobs due to the behavior from parents, coaches and players toward officials. Some youth leagues play by modified rules, so it’s important to know these rules and cover them during the pregame conference.
Support the officials
Many officials do not hear from their assignor unless a league complains about them. If you want to retain quality officials, you must make them feel respected, valued and wanted. You do that by sending out a weekly positive email, thanking them after the games regardless of the outcome, and making sure you give them important assignments.
Leagues always want to have the best officials on their playoff games and championships. Your job as the director of a league or as an assignor is to make sure that you have as many quality officials as possible. You can do this by having officials fill out a questionnaire at the beginning of the season to see if they would be interested in officiating playoffs in your league. For every official that wants to do a playoff game, you must provide them with the support to get them to where they want and need to be. Go see them officiate, give them feedback and help them grow.
As the commissioner of the Metropolitan Philadelphia Athletic Association (MPAA), I make it our top priority to retain officials. One of the ways I do that is to make sure our rates are similar or better than the other leagues in our area. Officials understand that their job is difficult, and most want to officiate in better leagues with a better environment. To encourage officials to go to a tough neighborhood or a challenging league, you must make sure the pay is worth it.
In District XII in Pennsylvania, we compete with private schools, Catholic schools and suburban schools, which are all in a close proximity of the Philadelphia public schools. Some of these schools pay by check, others pay bi-weekly, some monthly and others pay at the end of the season. You must make sure your officials know the pay rate and pay schedule when they’re refereeing your games. As a youth director or athletic director, make sure your league knows the rates in the nearby areas.
MPAA leads the way
The MPAA always invites its officials to a luncheon at the end of the season, a small token of appreciation for the work they do throughout the year. This luncheon gives officials a chance to network with the athletic directors, coaches and principals/CEOs of the schools that participate in the league. This helps everyone build relationships off the court/field, and it allows everyone get to know each other on a personal level.
This year, we launched a league website that will name an “Official of the Week,” where we will spotlight our officials for the work they do. This will not be based off of performance or because they did the best job. We also will choose an “Official of the Year” that will be honored at the luncheon. This award will be voted on by the coaches and athletic directors.
For your league or association to retain quality officials, you must make sure every official feels valued. You can make an official feel valued by thanking them randomly, helping them achieve their goals, and making sure their pay rate is competitive with others in your area. Officials have one of the toughest jobs in the sports industry, so don’t make it harder on them. If you need assistance on how mentor officials in your area, reach out to an athletic director or your assignor for help. Retention of quality officials should be one of the top priorities in every league.
Michael Poploskie is the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Philadelphia Athletic Association (MPAA) in Pennsylvania and a recipient of Coach & Athletic Director’s 40 Under 40 awards, a program honoring the next generation of leaders in the sports industry.