Following the release of Lincolnshire FA's End of Year Report, the programme that saw young Referees supported in their development into open age football was submitted for a County FA Recognition Award.
But what is the Referee Conversion project? And what impact did it have?
A review at the end of the 2021/22 season identified that out of a total of 664 Lincolnshire FA Referees, 246 (37%) were under 18 years of age compared to 122 (18%) who fell in the 18-25 years age bracket. This equates to over 50% leaving Refereeing when reaching adulthood.
It was identified that 52% of those in the 18-25 group who were still officiating had entered the Referee Promotion Scheme and 81% were now operating in open age football indicating progressing into open age football, and the opportunities for advancement it provides, aided retention of young Referees.
Whilst exit surveys revealed various reasons for those leaving, including University, commencing work, and lack of Respect, over 25% cited a perceived lack of progression as a reason. Further sampling of this group showed there was a lack of understanding of the pathway from Youth Football into open age.
The Lincolnshire League, formerly a Step 7 League, continues to appoint three Officials to each game and it was identified this was an opportunity to appoint young Referees between 16-18 as Assistant Referees, working with experienced Officials as an introduction to the open age game. Their performance would be reviewed and graded on each game by the Match Referee on Confidence and Communication with extra support offered to those who require it.
We wanted to increase coverage on Saturday and Sunday open age leagues by providing a pathway to Referee on open age football in a safe and controlled environment, whilst providing continuity for the future.
We also aimed to provide a pool of Match Officials with a minimum of one season experience as an Assistant Referee prior to being nominated to the early rounds of FA Competitions and the NCEL and UCL Step 5 & 6 Leagues in that role, providing earlier than would normally be expected exposure to higher level games.
The potential challenges included ensuring a safe experience for Under 18 Referees to operate in unison with adult Match Officials, Enhanced compliance requirements and policies to ensure good practice, and the possibility of Leagues and Clubs not understanding the needs of young people.
- Open age leagues were consulted, and the mutual benefits of the scheme explained. All agreed to the need to provide a safe experience for young people. All Clubs in the League receive a briefing on the expectations of them.
- The requirement for an FA DBS was extended to Match Officials on the Lincolnshire League on games with Under 18 Referees involved.
- FA Policies explained to all Referees on the Lincolnshire League in relation to joint travel to games and use of changing rooms where young people are involved, in addition to the purpose and priorities of the scheme.
- Clubs informed of the expectations to ensure a safe environment, and all Under 18 Referees present at a game identified to both Managers and Secretaries prior to kick off.
- All under 18 Referees provided with a contact number to report any concerns in confidence, in addition to quarterly feedback.
- After a minimum of ten games as an Assistant Referee and they are displaying the required standard, the League Appointment Officer contacts the Parent/Guardian to explain the process to becoming a Referee on a local open age League. If they feel comfortable, they are provided with a test game on an appropriate match with a Mentor/Referee Coach in attendance. Following a review of the game, they are then offered further fixtures in a staged introduction whilst continuing to operate as an Assistant on alternate weeks.
- All Referees who partake are offered the opportunity to be included in County CORE and to be enrolled in the Referee Progression Pathway.
2021-22 Season: 17 Under-18 Referees acting as Assistant Referees on the Lincolnshire League and 3 regularly Refereeing on open age Leagues.
2022-23 Season: 39 Under 18 Referees acting as Assistant Referees on the Lincolnshire League and 15 regularly Refereeing on open age Leagues.
2023-24 Season: There are already 48 under 18 Referees registered to act as an Assistant Referee on the Lincolnshire League and 18 registered with local Leagues to act as a Referee.
The five Referee Courses already held over the Summer have each had young Referees attend the course to share their positive experience.
Two examples are Ashwin Kumar and Finn Ford, both now 18, who commenced the 2022/23 season having only previously Refereed Youth Football.
They completed the season as Level 6 Referees after successfully attaining promotion and having completed over 40 appointments as Assistant Referee and more than 35 as Referee in open age football between them. Finn has also been accepted into National FA CORE.
Michael Brader, Referee Development Manager, said: “Providing a clear safe pathway for all our Referees to progress and develop is at the centre of everything we do. Not everyone will make it to the Premier League, but we hope to ensure everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.”
To find out more about the refereeing opportunities in Lincolnshire, including how to start refereeing, click here
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