When it comes to minor hockey, there are only three professionals on the ice. That's right. There are only three people on the ice who are earning a living in a hockey career - they are the officials. 

Our society places a high value on professionals. In sports and entertainment, being a professional is given a high rating among image builders. Yet, in minor (and professional) hockey, the only professionals are often scorned.

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association has stated that it loses almost 40% of its officials each year. What is alarming is that most of the turnover is due to officials getting sick and tired of receiving abuse from teams and parents. In other words, the officials have decided that it just isn't worth the money to have their self-esteem battered night after night.

Saskatchewan is no different from most other jurisdictions in Canada. Clearly, when it comes to hockey, approximately 10% of coaches, officials, managers and hockey players registered in any hockey association are officials. They are necessary for the games to take place. If we run out of referees, hockey will not be played.

The SHA states that it often invests four or five years of developing time for officials. During that time the official gains experience and rises through the ranks to arrive at the Pee Wee and Bantam levels where the situation gets extremely volatile. By then, many of the have had enough and quit.

Because of the high turnover rate among older referees, associations must make sure to encourage as many younger officials as possible to begin training. However, these young officials cannot be assigned to do games at the upper levels. Therefore, young people do not receive enough games to develop properly and they are often assigned to the difficult levels before they are ready. This leads to more problems and officials find other ways to spend their time.

League administrators are struggling to find the answer to keeping officials from quitting. Better training; mentoring of young officials; more effective supervision...all have been considered. The main problem with all of the suggestions - no time and not enough supervisors/mentors. The people who can and should be doing the supervising and mentoring are too busy being assigned to high level games which require their expertise.

Tougher penalties on coaches and players who abuse officials will help. Tough action taken against unruly parents will help. But these measures have been taken before and have proven only to achieve short-term results because the zero-tolerance policy is not maintained for very long.

What parents and hockey organizations are facing in the near future, is a drastic escalation of the rates which are paid to referees. If the "job" is becoming more difficult, it will require a much higher level of remuneration in order to make it worthwhile to do the work. Purists will state that referees should be doing this because they  love of the game. Nevertheless, with the kind of pressure that is placed on officials today, it takes more than love to keep the jersey on.

We would like to hear comments from our readers on this very important issue.



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