Officiating - More than just the rules!

Hockey official in action
Author:  David Levens, Consultant, Glenlyon Sports
Issue: Volume 4 Number 1

Officiating can gain a great deal through sports working cooperatively in areas of commonality. It makes good sense to share and develop expertise and resources which are so often scarce in officiating.

It was with this in mind that the Central Highlands Sports Assembly Officiating Reference Group created a workshop program, 'Officiating - more than just the rules', for young and/or inexperienced officials.  The workshops focus on some of the skills needed to be a good official, other than just knowing the rules/laws. 

The workshops look at the role of officials, the officiating environment and people management skills such as communication and conflict resolution.


The Central Highlands Sports Assembly, which is based in Ballarat and covers three local government areas is part of a statewide network of regional sports assemblies. It established an Officiating Reference Group in 2002 as a vehicle to explore local officiating issues. Officiating contacts from Australian football, soccer and basketball were involved initially, along with the chairperson who was a member of the Central Highlands Sports Assembly Board of Management.

The Reference Group discussed a series of issues, including the perennials of recruiting and retaining of officials, coaching officials, providing feedback to officials and the officiating environment, particularly the abuse many officials are subjected to.

One need expressed by the participating sports was support and assistance for officials, particularly younger officials. Each of the officiating contacts indicated that their sport attempts to provide some basic training and support to their new officials. This is done on top of everything else that the officiating group, particularly the coach/coordinator or mentor is expected to do. There are many similarities in officiating in the represented sports - communication, resolving conflict, the officiating environment and strategies to assist with coping, officiating skills and the role of the official. Many of these areas are not covered with new officials.

It is often issues around the rules/laws of the game which attract the greater focus in preparing officials for their matches rather than the softer skills associated with game/match management. Many sports are under pressure to get someone to do the job and it is expedient to throw them a rule book and send them out into the ‘heat of battle’.  The workshop series aims to counter this problem.

A successful program of workshops was conducted in 2002 and 2003 with Reference Group members indicating that they had seen noticeable improvements with their respective officials following the program.

The program

The focus of the program is on common officiating areas across all of the sports. Rules/laws interpretations are not discussed as that is the province of the individual sports.

Program topics include:

  • role of the official
  • officiating environment
  • officiating skills
  • communication
  • conflict management
  • game/match management
  • improving performances
  • sharing of officiating experiences

The program includes a journal in which participants are asked to make entries in between sessions.

The program is conducted over three, two hour sessions, at least a fortnight apart. It involves the participants working in mixed sport groups with officiating personnel (members of the Reference Group) facilitating topics in each session. Role plays and case studies are also used during the sessions. Material that is generated by the participants during the sessions is taken away, prepared and distributed to them via reference group members prior to the next session. The material recorded by participants in their individual officiating journals forms the basis for small group discussions and sharing of experiences at the following session.

The program is not reliant on one person and does not require the ‘expert’ to come in from afar and spread the good word. Local officiating personnel with some experience and some presentation skills can deliver the program. Using local presenters provides an opportunity to build capacity in the broader officiating area.


Participant reviews of the 2002 and 2003 programs were overwhelmingly positive. In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that the participants have gained significantly in a personal development sense and have acquired skills and knowledge which will assist them to not only be better officials, but also good citizens.

Each participant receives a Certificate from the Central Highlands Sports Assembly for their participation in the program.

Recent developments

A facilitators guide has been developed by the Central Highlands Sports Assembly Officiating Reference Group to assist other groups presenting the program. The program has now been conducted at Shepparton, Bendigo and recently in Gippsland. Each of the Regional Sports Assemblies in those areas is involved with conducting the program.

The future

The Officiating Reference Group continues to meet bi-monthly and is focusing on a number of projects. They include:

  • conducting the 2004 'Officiating - more than just the rules' program;
  • development of a database of officiating contacts across a wide range of sports in the area;
  • conducting an officiating forum for experienced officials from a number of sports; and
  • investigating the possibility of undertaking a common recruiting activity and promotional event.

If this program is something that you think your sport could benefit from, why not contact the Central Highlands Sports Assembly for more information - tel:  03 5331 6966 or fax:  03 5331 6322.

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