Recruiting female officials

Female basketball referee in action
Author:  Cathy Reid
Issue: Volume 8 Number 2

Matching the number of referees to the booming number of players has been a challenge for Basketball Victoria, so there is a major focus on recruiting and retaining officials, particularly females, according to Referee Development Officer Bill Mildenhall.

‘Over the past few years we’ve identified there’s a dearth of female officials so it’s been an area that’s generated direct attention, resulting in specific programs for women officials.

‘We’re very keen to promote and subsidise initiatives by local associations that are a little different and address areas that need specialised attention, such as encouraging female officials, as there’s a major difference between the percentage of female officials compared to female players,’ Mildenhall said.

Basketball Victoria and the Victorian Basketball Referees Association are supporting several initiatives to tackle the shortfall. There are a number of associations that have implemented specific initiatives to recruit and retain female officials, such as the Girl Power program at Knox, which has been extremely well received.

The Knox Branch recognised the need to attract more female officials, according to President Sean Gottliebsen.

‘We had a lot of trouble retaining female officials and our association was dominated by males. At the time we only had one female on the committee and one female representing our branch on refereeing panels, so we realised we had a deficit in all areas,’ Gottliebsen said.

The Knox Branch developed a comprehensive approach to encouraging more female participation.

‘We actively went out to spark the interest among females by doing things like advertising our officials courses at girl’s schools.

‘Attracting females was the first step and retaining them was the next. So once we had the interest we started female-only education sessions, which have now been running for around six years,’ Gottliebsen said.

The sessions cover topics as diverse as dealing with conflict and perceptions of body image, and the presenters are of a high calibre including some of the top female Women’s National Basketball League referees.

The Knox Branch also recognised the importance of creating a positive environment for all basketball officials.

‘We’ve put a lot of effort into educating the members of our association about respecting officials, and backed this up by putting policies and procedures in place regarding expectations about behaviour on and off the court.

‘Over time there has been a change in culture which has resulted in a much friendlier environment,’ Gottliebsen said.

Another focus has been on improving the social side of officiating, which has contributed to retention.

‘It’s all about creating an enjoyable atmosphere and promoting the fact that you can form friendship groups that can last a lifetime,’ Gottliebsen said.

The Girl Power Squad has a representative on a development committee to ensure the needs of female officials are being addressed. There is also a mentor program where experienced female officials are teamed up to develop new officials.

‘We’ve now got as many as ten females representing us at a state level on junior and senior panels, which is a huge improvement considering that less than ten years ago we had none. We’ve been able to step it up now and our representation at that level has increased to the point where we almost have more females than males,’ Gottliebsen said.

Ideally, Basketball Victoria would like to see this trend continue with as many female officials as males.

Basketball Victoria and the Victorian Basketball Referees Association have also implemented a specific women’s program over the past two years, targeting mothers to officiate in the daytime Aussie Hoops Program. This has helped supply referees during the day for a primary-school program.

‘We also have a number of female officials at the elite end who act as great role models and mentors for up-and-coming officials,’ Mildenhall said.

‘Female officials bring another element to a sport which has a very close split between female and male players. They tend to have to work a little harder for acceptance, but once this is achieved they’re simply looked upon as another official,’ Mildenhall said.

Many of the programs have been funded by Sport and Recreation Victoria through its Women’s Sports Participation Program. This program funds initiatives to help foster environments that encourage, support and increase the participation of backgrounds in leadership and decision-making roles.

Through the Sport and Recreation Victoria Women’s Sports Participation Program, Basketball Victoria has developed a number of innovative and sustainable initiatives including the Women in Basketball Network and the Knox Basketball’s Girl Power Squad.

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