A Conceptual Framework for the Study of Sport Officials

As the aphorism goes, there is “nothing quite like a good theory” (Lewin, 1951). Moreover, the need for sound theory is particularly important in an expanding area of research (see Livingston et al., 2017) to identify gaps, interpret findings, and guide future research. We feel that for sport science research on officials to advance, a sound and comprehensive theoretical framework is needed to guide that process.

The purpose of this chapter is to propose a conceptual framework to help better understand the factors that influence the development and performance of officials. In turn, by establishing a rigorous base for explaining the complex demands on officials, it can contribute practical utility for framing strategic planning and program implementation and evaluation of officiating management agendas. To be clear, the framework we describe below is not intended to be a definitive model for officiating or for the development of sport officials. Rather, the goal is to provide a framework and set of characteristics that researchers and practitioners can use to (i) evaluate and guide research (see Rienhoff, Tirp, Strauß, Baker, & Schorer, 2016; Webdale, Baker, Schorer, & Wattie, 2019) and (ii) provide a toolkit for considering the combinations of factors relevant to officiating on sport-by-sport basis. Ultimately, this chapter aims to serve as a proof of concept for a constraints-based framework for understanding officiating, and as a primer for subsequent chapters.

Why a New Framework and Theory?

This is a fair question. Given the existence of theoretical frameworks and models that currently exist for athlete development, and for officiating performance, why do we propose an alternative? Although a number of models and theoretical frameworks for athlete development exist (e.g., The Foundations, Talent, Elite & Mastery (FTEM) model: Gulbin, Croser, Morley, & Weissensteiner, 2013; the Developmental Model of Sport Participation (DMSP): Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007; Côté & Fraser-Thomas, 2016), it is not clear at this point in time if it is appropriate to simply adopt athlete-specific frameworks given that certain areas of officiating research are still emerging (although we do believe the FTEM should be considered as strong candidate; see Chapter 7). Furthermore, some of these models are largely stage-based models that describe the developmental activities specific to athlete participation (see Baker & Wattie, in press for a review). In some cases, these models center around developmental activities that are so specific to athlete participation (e.g., DMSP), that they are likely too restrictive to be of use in the context of sport officiating. They are also not ecological in the sense that they fail to accommodate the influence of important environmental factors, which we argue is necessary for understanding the development and performance of sport officials.

Similarly, there are models for officiating performance that already exist. Plessner and MacMahon (2013) proposed a taxonomy based on the demands of officiating different sports. This framework describes officials along two continuums, based on degree of movement and interaction with athletes, as well as the perceptual-cognitive demands (number of external cues and athletes monitored). Mascarenhas, Collins, and Mortimer’s (2005) Cornerstones Performance Model of Refereeing similarly describes the skills and abilities required for successful officiating performance. Specifically, this model describes successful officiating performance as the product of (i) knowledge and application of the law (i.e., rules), (ii) contextual judgment, (iii) personality and game management skills, and (iv) fitness, positioning, and mechanics (Mascarenhas et al., 2005). This model has proven very useful in the context of training officials in soccer and rugby, and has relevance to many other team and invasion sports. Naturally, however, the weight of each component depends sport-specific task constraints (see Chapter 5). Other modelling of successful officiating has addressed communication performance -what Mascarenhas et al. (2005) originally described as ‘personality and game management’ - as a combination of personal qualities, impression management, social monitoring, and interaction skills in team sport officials (Cunningham, Simmons, Mascarenhas, & Redhead, 2014). While the model’s development included a variety of team-based ‘interactor’ sports (MacMahon & Plessner, 2013), it can similarly reflect a categorization of communication performance factors that does not account for task-environment constraints of different sports.

While Plessner and MacMahon’s (2013) taxonomy and the Cornerstones model (Mascarenhas et al., 2005) have each made important theoretical and applied contributions to our understanding of sport officiating, we propose that these models do not explicitly account for other important factors that influence officials’ performance and learning. First, like many athlete development models, these models do not account for the important role of environmental factors. Nor do they account for officials’ individual characteristics and the meaningful influence they can have. As such, a framework to guide future research needs to include elements that represent environmental forces.

These models also predominantly emphasize performance, specifically the task demands, and skills and abilities needed for successful performance. They do not have components for understanding other outcomes like recruitment, retention, and attrition, and development. Some of these areas of research, like the development of sport officials, require considerable attention (Pina, Passos, Araujo, & Maynard, 2018). Last, the Cornerstones model arguably emphasizes the ‘micro-structure’ of practice activities (specific skills and drills: See Giillich, 2019). Although the micro-structure of practice activities is incredibly important, it is difficult to conceptualize how the macro-structure (participation and practice histories across developmental levels and between expertise levels) is incorporated into such a model. In Chapter 7, we discuss the importance of macro-structures on the development of sport officials.

We propose that understanding the broader range of topics and outcomes in the officiating literature requires a more ecological, multidimensional approach. This notion is not particularly novel. Indeed, a study of excellence in English Premier League (EPL) soccer referees (Slack, Maynard, Butt, & Olusoga, 2013) supports the need for an ecological approach that recognizes the ways physical, environmental, and psychological factors intersect in official development and research. Other studies highlight the importance of individual-environment interactions (i.e., ecological dynamics) in officials’ decision-making behavior and performance. Specifically, officiating decision-making is said to be an ‘emergent process’ during invasion games where officials not only need to satisfy, first, overarching imperatives, such as to maintain game control and preserve “game integrity”, but also meet expectations for safety, fairness, accuracy, and entertainment (Russell, Renshaw, & Davis, 2019). Indeed, an ecological viewpoint has become the basis of new concepts that interpret officiating performance and game activities as a ‘co-constructed’ product with the players (Cunningham, Mascar-enhas, Simmons, & Rix-Lièvre, under review; Rix-Lièvre, Boyer, Ter-fous, Coutarel, & Lièvre, 2015; Russell, Renshaw, & Davids, 2019). These ecological-based explanations attempt to account for ways officials construct their performance and types of contributing and influencing factors and constraints on their performance.

Similarly, this positioning of officiating performance in its ecology has also been applied to officiating developmental perspectives. Suggestions from within the officiating field recommend a shift from “phase-like”, stage modelling of officiating development that might be unrealistic and sometimes overemphasize age and “promotion” factors. Ollis, Macpherson, and Collins (2006) showed development pathways of officials don’t always follow conventional stages, but rather are discontinuous and the outcome of an array of normative (i.e., transition points, training, prescribed learning materials) and non-normative influences (i.e., adverse game experiences, luck). Furthermore, the potential transfer of skills

Conceptual Framework for Officiating 25 from other contexts (i.e., athlete experiences) stresses the need to consider the complete ecology of officials’ developmental environment, including various interacting influences on developmental trajectory, such as inter-personal relationships, intra-personal characteristics, group characteristics, and cultural factors (Ollis et al., 2006).

We believe Newell’s theoretical model of constraints (individual, environmental, and task) may be a useful tool in these regards (even if it is just a starting point). We feel that at this stage (particularly with respect to understanding the development of sport officials), a framework should be simultaneously comprehensive, parsimonious, and intuitive, and needs to explicitly accommodate the fact that officials, officiating tasks, and contexts are multidimensional and non-homogeneous. In many ways, this model incorporates elements of Plessner and MacMa-hon’s (2013) taxonomy and of the Cornerstones model (Mascarenhas et al., 2005), while also expanding to include other important factors, most notably environmental characteristics.

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