Referee mentorship program holds court

Mentors Angela Thistle, left, and Sheri Archibald, right, with mentees Tess Bezanson, second from left, and Abby Veinot at a tournament in Berwick. (Contributed)
Mentor Angela Thistle, left, with official Sheri Archibald, right, and mentees Tess Bezanson and Abby Veinot at a tournament in Berwick. (Contributed)

Taking charge took on a whole new meaning for Laura Beth MacPherson when she decided to become a basketball official in 2021.

“I learned how to referee in Kentville, and I was one of the only females in the area,” said MacPherson. “As a woman who’s been in sport my whole life, I’m used to feeling the gender divide in sport but as a new referee I could really feel a big difference at just how few women there were refereeing basketball.’

When MacPherson moved to metro (Halifax) in 2022 and began refereeing in the city, she found she was still one of few women refereeing. She began to wonder why. 

As a former sport administrator with Sport P.E.I. and the province of Nova Scotia, she knew Sport Nova Scotia collected sport participation data, and engaged them for insights. What she found through self-report data was that as of 2021, only 13 per cent of basketball officials in the province were women. 

After attending a female basketball officials workshop in November 2022, MacPherson worked with women in the officiating community and started a network. They got approval and funding from YWCA Halifax for a research project to figure out what the barriers to entry were and what motivates females to get involved in officiating.

The research project was guided by a female advisory committee chaired by MacPherson, Jen McKenzie and Lindsay Walsh and surveyed females participating in basketball across Nova Scotia. 101 completed surveys were collected. Then focus groups were held in Sydney, Bible Hill and New Minas to hear from women in rural areas including youth. Data was then analyzed and presented to Nova Scotia Basketball Officials Association (NSBO) core executive in the form of 15 recommendations. 

“What we found through our research was that there are many barriers getting in the way of females taking part in basketball officiating. Fear of abuse is the No. 1 barrier for female officials. But also, provincially only 49 per cent of female officials had a mentor, and mentorship was something that female officials told us they feel is helping to develop themselves, and is a motivator for participation,” said MacPherson. 

“We also found in the data that rural officials feel they can’t move up the development pathway as an official unless they move to metro (Halifax) to access training and development opportunities.”

The NSBO approved all 15 recommendations and as a result, in January through Support4Sport funding, a new female mentorship pilot was kicked off, with the aim to create equitable mentorship and development opportunities for female officials in both rural and urban areas.

The program attracted 16 mentors and 14 mentees from six regions across the province. A virtual resource hub was created to share information digitally and virtual education sessions were held by mentors to discuss topics including rules and mechanics, game management and mental preparation. 

Mentors and mentees were matched one-on-one to offer advice and support to officials during the season. Mentors and mentees then could sign up for on-court coaching and mentorship experiences during Basketball Nova Scotia championship weekends in April, with developing referees assigned to the under-12 level and intermediate referees to the under-16 and under-18 levels. 

The program was volunteer-led and feedback has been positive from participants and the broader community.

MacPherson said participants are going to fill out a survey to evaluate how the program has impacted their development as an official. They will also be sent a post-program package as a way of saying thanks and also to give them extra tools that they can use for the next steps in their officiating journey. The hope is to expand the program for in 2024-25 season.

More to explore