Understanding the nature of observational learning among sport officials


Sport officials' (i.e., umpires, referees, and judges) performances are paramount to safe and fair sport competitions. The nature of officiating, however, does not afford sport officials traditional practice opportunities whereby they can improve their craft. It is important to understand other methods by which sport officials improve, such as observational learning. Since little is known about sport officials' use of observation, our purpose was to glean a broad understanding of observational learning in the officiating context. Participants (N = 206; Mage = 41.1 years; Mexp = 16.2 years; representing 17 sports and 7 competitive levels) completed an online survey targeting what, when, who, and how they observed. Responses ranged from 1, strongly disagree, to 9, strongly agree. Results indicated that participants used observation most frequently for rule applications (M = 7.30), game management (M = 7.15), and positioning/mechanics (M = 7.07). No differences in observation use existed according to competitive level, and there was only one difference based on sport (lacrosse officials used observation to learn about contextual judgement more than ice hockey officials). Officials most frequently used observation after their competitions, when watching other officials in person who were above their skill level and correctly executing their skills. The findings of this exploratory investigation can be useful for sport officiating organizations who can direct their members to adopt observation as a learning tool. Future researchers can use the results herein to design studies that elicit more specific information about the nature of observational learning for sport officials.