Referees and officials see sport in a way that most cannot. They know where to look, and what to look for. They see the game within the game, the big picture and the tiny details, the forest and the trees.
It’s a unique ability, to be sure, and it doesn’t come easily. Officials take the training, pass the tests, and stay up to date on their sport and its rule changes. Good thing referees tend to be avid learners.
And it’s also a good thing they do this for the love of the game—their game. A 2020 National Association of Sports Officials survey tells the tale: over 43 percent of respondents said they got into refereeing “for the love of the game,” by far the biggest reason.
Officials love sports, know the value of sport as an institution, and want to give back to protect the games they cherish.
Says college basketball referee Michael Book, “The environment, the camaraderie that I call the brotherhood and the sisterhood of officiating—it’s like none other.”
Changing the Culture
Improving the climate of sport is in everyone’s best interest, including officials.
Across the country, administrators from youth leagues to high school sports are struggling to find enough referees to work games. According to an August 2022 Denver Post article, some 50,000 officials have left the high school ranks since 2018-19. Poor fan and coach behavior toward referees was among the main reasons for the shortage.
“We’re in a referee crisis and trying to climb out of that,” says Book, also the assistant commissioner overseeing officials with the Colorado High School Activities Association.