Regina U. researching mistreated hockey refs

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Blindfolded Referee

Jon Purdy

SAVE THE ZEBRAS! A University of Regina study could help mistreated hockey referees. But if refs can cope with fans' abuse, will alcoholic hockey dads have a reason to get up in the morning?

Yelling at referees is as much a Canadian hockey tradition as getting an earful from Don Cherry, but how often do we reflect on how it affects them?

A new study led by four Canadian professors offers hope for neglected or mistreated hockey referees.

The researchers acquired a $130,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Sport Canada to conduct a three-year study on the pressures and coping strategies used by amateur Canadian hockey referees.

“As an educational sports psychologist with the University of Regina’s women’s hockey team for five years, I saw interaction between players, coaches and fans,” said Kim Dorsch, an associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Regina and a researcher for the study.

“Over the years it became clear that the official is the forgotten person on the ice, so I started to think about what we could do from an applied psychology perspective to help them.”

Dorsch said she’s interested in stressors that cause high dropout rates among referees, adding Hockey Canada has a one-third turnover rate every year.

“We need to ask why this is happening because it could impact the game itself and that would hurt the thousands if not millions of children who are involved,” Dorsch said.

Charlie Lennox, referee co-ordinator for the Ontario Hockey Association, said he loses roughly 50 of his 350 referees annually. He said most leave because of priority changes and time constraints but some leave because of stress and pressure.

“It can get ridiculous when coaches and parents get carried away and sometimes you really have to question why you’re there,” Lennox said. “If you’re going to be dealing with abuse and intimidation, you’d probably have a better time working at McDonald’s or pumping gas.”

The researchers will conduct nationwide surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews to learn about stressors, coping styles, mental preparation techniques and reasons for burnout and satisfaction. They hope to talk to 5,000 to 10,000 referees.

Dorsch and her colleagues plan to take their findings to the rink and develop programs and workshops to help officials deal with stress and improve their performance.

Graham Long, Western intramural officials supervisor and former ice hockey referee-in-chief, said hockey referees face brutal pressure, abuse and intimidation, especially at the intramural level, and anything developed by the study would be beneficial.

He said he knows many officials who quit after two or three games, mostly because of problems with coaches and lack of support and resources.

However, he said referee turnover at Western isn’t bad because the officials become close and offer each other internal support.

Jamie Duncan, current referee-in-chief for ice hockey intramurals, said he’s refereed hockey internationally, but he’s never seen refs take more abuse than they do in Western intramurals.

In Duncan’s first year officiating at Western a player threatened to kill him in the parking lot after the game, but Campus Community Police Services dealt with the player under the Code of Student Conduct.

Despite the problems, Duncan said Western intramurals has a great support network from the top down and referee abuse is improving with the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy.

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette