If I have an issue with my experience transitioning from refereeing at amateur level to the professional ranks that issue would be how the system lacks a personal touch and we fail to offer a holistic package when it comes to each referee’s long-term prospects.
At the age of 14 I did a course that lasted eight weeks and not once in that time did we blow a whistle! At 30 or 40 people per course it’s debatable how personal your introduction to this wonderful new world can be. I also felt that interactivity was kept to a minimum, but at least I hear this area has improved since my first steps were taken.
To be honest, I really struggled at first, even though I will admit I probably created a lot of problems for myself.
For example, I did not pass my driving test until I was in my twenties, which was manageable up to a point… until, that is, I was forced to switch county to a neighbouring FA, leading to very early starts and public transport through some very rural areas indeed.
Having a mentor, for another thing, is far from a given, simply because there are so few volunteers to go around at grass roots level. These are just two reasons why it is vital that more thought is given by local administrators to what leagues their young referees are getting appointed to.
Carpooling is now subject to safeguarding restrictions, which are to be welcomed, yet the system surely still has to be one which works for everybody.
Assessment is another area which has gone through a series of changes, with what I consider to be a detrimental effect on motivation. I think that whatever benefit we are seeking in giving marks is devalued somewhat if the mark itself becomes the be all and end all.
With my best constructive hat on, I would suggest maybe giving a weekly report while leaving your published mark to the end of each month.
I would also have talent spotters out there not completely dictated to by whoever is top of the league they happen to be covering, but looking down at the 2nd, 3rd, fourth and fifth-best rated referee to ensure we are not missing out on raw talent.
Once I had turned pro I did find the switch to DVDs for assessment beneficial and so I reckon extending their use to as many levels as possible should be a priority.
The sad fact is, however, that these resources are just not in place and the same thing applies when it comes to the kind of mentoring which is not only required but which is promised to our budding young referees.
This can all only lead to retention problems if you ask me, which you did!
At the very top the lessons are crystal clear, with no refs under 30 on our Select Group and five of them over the age of 50. If any more of them say they’ve had enough then we really are in trouble.
One urgent answer must be: train less to retain more, and gear that training to the person concerned, otherwise I truly fear for the future in this country.