Youth Sports Are Suffering A Referee Shortage, And It’s Not Likely To Improve Soon

Low pay combined with abuse from parents are turning off a generation of refs in youth sports.

Youth sports programs are facing a shortage of officials due to low pay and increasing frustration because of mounting abuse from parents.

The pay for public school matches hovers around $100 per match, including pre- and post-game involvement as well as travel. Certification can be difficult and expensive. Youth sports officials also cite the abuse and constant confrontations from parents as a reason for their dwindling numbers. As a generation of “career refs” continue to get older and retire, their younger replacements are not turning up in sufficient numbers.

The good news: A drastic increase in the number of kids playing organized sports, from 4 million to 8 million per year, has created a larger demand for officials. Attracting enough officials to meet this demand will require increased pay and improved working conditions.

The situation is unlikely to improve though, as schools continue to face budget cuts that affect sports programs. One suggested solution — transfering the cost increase to the families of the players — would likely alienate low-income families, causing a drop in sports participation, which would hurt the kids even more.

“From our perspective, it’s a pretty serious problem,” Bob Gardner, executive director of the National Federation of High School Associations, explained recently. “It’s kind of reached a zenith.”