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Systematic observation of ice hockey referees during games.

The purpose of this study was to analyze the behaviors of eight youth ice hockey referees during 15 different games. The Systematic Observation of Referees' Behaviors instrument was developed using an interval recording procedure to analyze the referees' behaviors as well as to whom the behavior was directed and the objective. The results indicated that the referees spent an average of 44.7% of the game monitoring without interacting, 40.6% of the game intervening verbally or with gestures, and 13% of the game "waiting." When referees intervened verbally it was mostly to encourage or give advice to the players. These results support the potential educational role that referees can have during games and provides a detailed descriptive analysis of youth ice hockey referees' behaviors. Further, this study contributes to a data base of referees' behaviors and could serve as a starting point from which to examine the nature of referees' roles in children's sport.

Courneya and Carron (1992) recently proposed a framework for game location research in sport which incorporates five major components: game location, game location factors, critical psychological states, critical behavioral states, and performance outcomes. For each of these five components several variables were identified to offer possible explanations concerning home advantage in sport contests. In essence, the game location factors component which includes the crowd, travel, rules and learning or familiarity were hypothesized to influence various psychological and behavioral states of the competitors, coaches, and officials. Ultimately, the effect of the game location factors on the competitors, coaches and officials were proposed to have an impact on the performance. Although primarily designed to guide game location research, Courneya and Carron's framework provides a conceptualization of the main variables which could affect the results of a sporting event and thus can also be used to determine the links and importance between specific performance variables. Specifically, the framework highlights the Importance of analyzing the behaviors of the three main figures in a sporting event: the competitors, the coaches and the officials. Despite the obvious roles that these three figures have In a sporting event, few researchers have analyzed the officials' work during games preferring to focus their studies on competition and coaches behaviors.

Accordingly, within the last 15 years several descriptive studies of coaches' and athletes' behaviors have been conducted during practices (Boudreau & Tousignant, 1991; Claxton, 1988; Lacy & Darst, 1985; Rupert & Buschner, 1989) and games (Dubois, 1981; Trudel, Guertin, Bernard, Boileau, & Marcotte, 1991; Wandzilak, Ansorge, & Potter, 1988) using various observation Instruments. Trudel, CM, and Donohue (11993) recently reviewed the literature which used direct observation methods and reported that within the 1982 to 1992 era, 21 articles which analyzed coaches' or athletes' behaviors in their natural setting (training and / or competition) were published in refereed journals. These studies, which examined coaches' and athletes' behaviors in various sports, provided the basis from which was born the science of coaching (Lacy & Darst, 1985; Segrave & Ciancio, 1990).

On the other hand, the officials, who also play an important role in a sporting event, have received little attention from researchers. Although sport officials, along with coaches and competitors, are the main figures of a sporting event, no attempts have yet been made to thoroughly describe their behaviors in game situations (Quain & Purdy, 1988). Instead, investigators have focused on specific aspects of officiating such as personality trait, officiating demands, and decision making processes. For example, some authors have examined sport officials' specific personality traits, such as the need to dominate or the need to control, and have shown that officials were not characterized by particular personality traits (Alker, Straub, & Leary, 1973; Fratzke, 1975; Quain & Purdy, 1988). In another line of research, Taylor and colleagues analyzed the demands of soccer officials and reported that the evaluative aspects of officiating combined with a lack of appreciation and recognition from coaches, players and spectators was strongly related to frequent feelings of burnout among officials (Taylor, 1993, Taylor, Daniel, Leith, & Burke, 1990).

The subjective decision making process and the role that officials might play in contributing to the home advantage is another important area of research in sport officials (Glamser, 1990; Greer, 1983; Larsen & Rainey, 1991; Lefebvre & Passer, 1974; Rainey, Larsen & Williard, 1987; Teipel, Gerisch & Busse, 1983; Trudel, Dionne & Bernard, 1992). For example, Rainey, Larsen, and Williard (1987) showed that baseball umpires were significantly more accurate and certain of their calls than non-umpires in a visual discrimination task which simulated calling balls and strikes. The authors attributed part of this difference to the umpires' greater experience at making public judgments and to their belief that they should project confidence in their role as umpires. Finally, studies which have examined the role of the officials in contributing to the home advantage have shown that, in essence, officials make more subjective decisions in favor of home teams or against visiting teams (Glamser, 1990; Greer, 1983; Lefebvre & Passer, 1974).

As ice hockey is, in Canada, one of the most popular organized sports among young males and increasing in popularity among young females, the practice of this sport has been the subject of many studies. From some of these studies, it is possible to extract information regarding the role played by the referees. For instance, in minor hockey leagues with players aged 14 and 15, Trudel, Bernard, Boileau, Marcotte and Audette (1993) reported that the referee gave an average of 17 penalties per game, 62% of which were minor aggressive acts such as roughing or high sticking. Mild, Trudel, Bernard, Boileau, and Marcotte (1993) indicated that when losing, ice hockey coaches tend to become more aggressive towards the referee by shouting their disagreement aloud. In one of the only studies examining ice hockey referees during games, Wilkins, Petersen, and Quinney (1991) examined the physiological demands of officiating an ice hockey game. They showed that the heart rate of a referee during games is above 70% of maximal capacity for 70% of the game duration. The authors attributed the high physiological demands of officiating to the physical stress of skating to follow the game action and to the presence of psychological stress during games such as the constant evaluation of the crowd and the subjective and rapid decisions that referees have to make during games.

Despite the limited number of studies examining ice hockey officials in games, several reports have stressed the importance of improving officials' work through structured educational programs (Gross, 1974; McMurtry, 1974; McPherson & Davidson, 1980; Neron, 1977). These authors agreed that the improvement of officials' quality of work during games would result in an increase in safety and fair-play behaviors of youth ice hockey players. However, since no systematic studies nor complete profiles of the behaviors of officials during games have yet been provided, it would be difficult to design educational programs for officials that would respond to their specific needs and be grounded with real officiating situations. Before a behavioral model for effective refereeing can be theorized, descriptive studies should be completed to form a data base of information about referee behaviors. Therefore, the aim of the present study is to describe referees' behaviors during ice hockey games and to identify the type of relationships that referees entertain with other individuals such as players and coaches during games.



From a pool of 10 referees working within the same minor hockey league association, five were contacted and agreed to be part of the study. Each referee was scheduled to be observed during three games each. However, some referees were replaced at the last minute by one of their colleagues, thus, a total of eight different referees were part of the study. One referee was observed in four games, two in three games each, and five in one game each. The eight referees observed were all males, certified by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, and ranged in age between 20 and 35 years old.

Observation Instrument

Since no studies have thoroughly examined officials' behaviors during games, an observational system was developed to provide a sensitive tool capable of collecting behaviors of ice hockey referees during game situations. An interval recording procedure was used to provide a profile of all officials' behaviors during games and to determine to whom each behavior was directed. Each interval recording consisted of 6 seconds of observation followed by 6 seconds for coding the predominant behavior. To develop the system, three researchers analyzed several games on videotape in order to identify categories of behaviors that best represented the actions of the referees, The final categories of the observational system were found to be representative of referees' behaviors during games so that when the system was used to analyze additional referees, no new categories of behavior emerged. Approximately 20 hours of coding different games and several versions of the observation system were carried out before reaching "theoretical saturation," the point at which no new categories of behavior need to be created (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The Systematic Observation of Referees' Behaviors (SORB), included seven categories of officials' behaviors, eight categories describing the objective of the behavior and seven categories describing the target of the behavior. The seven categories of referee behaviors in the SORB and their definitions are as follows:

1. Intervene verbally (V): The referee talks or uses his whistle.

2. Inform with gestures (G): The referee provides information using only gestures.

3. Skate and monitor (S): The referee moves energically in order to follow the game action.

4. Monitor (M): The referee moves slightly or stays at the same place while observing the game action.

5. Wait (W): The referee does not move or moves slightly when the game action is stopped.

6. Other(O): Includes any referee behaviors other than those previously listed.

7. Uncodable: Includes any referee behaviors that cannot be seen or heard.

Each time the referee intervened verbally or informed with gestures, the objective of the behavior was coded in one of the following categories:

1. Encourage/Advise (EN): The referee directs a comment to stimulate a player or gives advice.

2. Discuss/Argue (DI): The referee engages in a discussion where he needs to answer questions and provide explanations.

3. Collect information (IN): The referee asks information.

4. Signal a penalty (PE): The referee indicates a violation of the rules.

5. Confirm or reject a goal (GO): The referee signals his decision concerning a goal.

6. Stop the game action (ST): The referee whistles to interrupt the game or signal the end of the game.

7. Monitor player changes (MP): The referee indicates if it is or is not allowed to precede with player changes.

8. Other (OT): The referee intervenes verbally or informs with gestures to transmit a message whose objective was not listed in the previous categories.

Besides describing the behaviors and the objectives of referees' behaviors, the observer using SORB also records, when applicable, to whom the behavior was directed. A behavior could be directed towards seven possible individuals: the players (P), the coaches (C), the linesmen (L), the minor officials (MO), the spectators (S), all individuals (Al), and not directed (ND).

An illustration of the grid used by the coders is reproduced in Fig. 1. The information coded in the grid (Fig. 1) represent an example of 15 sequences of behaviors which could be read in the following terms:


1. (S) The referee skates to follows the game action.

2. (V/ST/AI) The referee whistles to indicate an interruption in the game.

3. (W) The referee waits for the action to start.

4. (G/MP/AI) The referee raises his arm to signal that no more changes of players are allowed.

5. (S) The referee skates to follow the game action.

6. (V/EN/P) The referee tells a player in action: "Number 17 move the puck."

7. (V/ST/AI) The referee whistles to indicate an interruption.

8. (V/EN/L) The referee tells the linesmen: "The face off is in the central zone."

9. (M) The referee does not move and monitor the game.

10. (G/PE/AI) The referee raises his arm to signal a penalty.

11. (V/PE/P) The referee tells the penalized player: "Number 12 white, two minutes for elbowing."

12. (V/DI/P) The player argues with the referee's decision and the referee tells him: "You've got two minutes and if you don't go right away to the penalty bench you'll get an additional two minutes."

13. (V/PE/MO) The referee is at the penalty bench and tells the minor officials: "Number 12 white, two minutes for elbowing."

14. (S) The referee skates to follow the game action.

15. (G/GO/AI) The referee whistles and points with his hand to a player who just scored a goal.

Data Collection and Coding Process

The 15 games were recorded on videotape by two individuals, each using a separate camera: one-recorded the referee while the other recorded the game. During the videotaping, the referee wore a cordless microphone which permitted recording of a verbal report. A control panel synchronized the referee's verbal and nonverbal behavior with the game. The result was a videotape for each of the 15 games which provided the game action along with a superimposed image of the referee at the top of the screen.

The data was obtained from the videotapes by trained observers using the SORB. Audiocassettes were pre-programmed to signal a 6 seconds observe and 6 seconds record format. The process of analyzing the videotapes began when the referee dropped the puck for the face off at the beginning of a period and ended with the sound of the whistle indicating the end of a period. When two different behaviors occurred within the same interval, the behavior that lasted the longest was coded. If the two behaviors lasted the same amount of time, priority was given by the analyst to the behavior which appeared first on the coding grid.

Reliability and Validity of the Coding Process

Inter-observer agreement was evaluated three times during the study. The two methods used to estimate the inter-observer agreement were the Score-Interval method, which is considered the most rigorous method of estimating observer agreement for interval data (van der Mars, 1989), and the Kappa which provides an estimate of agreement corrected for chance (Kazdin, 1982). For each of the three agreement checks, the two observers obtained results which were over the minimum standards of 80% for the Score-interval, and 0.6 for the Kappa test. In fact, the results obtained for each of the 22 components of the observation instrument were, in general, over 85% for the Score-interval method and over 0.86 for the Kappa method.

According to Sue and Ary (1989), reliability is only a precondition for data quality when analyzing behavioral observation data, and other specific measures need to be taken to assure the validity of the data. Sue and Ary indicated that:

One can never `prove' validity; nor can one describe validity

quantitatively. One only accumulates evidence in support of the

validity of data through a specific observation system ... Although

one cannot quantitatively index validity, one can arrive

at the evidence of validity empirically and describe this evidence

quantitatively. (p. 158)

A first element that can be brought forward as evidence of the validity of the data collected is the fact that the categories used to classify referees' behaviors reached theoretical saturation since only a few behaviors were coded in the "other" and "uncodable" categories. Additionally the coding system represented real officiating behaviors since each category emerged from the observation of referees in game situations instead of being predetermined by the literature or other existing observation systems. A third element of validity was the fact that referees did not appear to have modified their officiating style in the presence of the camera. In fact, the average number of goals scored (N=8) and penalties given (N=17) was exactly the same as what Trudel, Bernard, Boileau, Marcotte, and Audette (1993) found in their analysis of 500 ice hockey games at the same competitive level. This result tends to indicate that the referees did not change their behaviors because they were being observed. Finally, each observed referee answered the following question after each game: "Compared to other games that I officiated in this league this last game was 1) "very difficult," 2) "difficult," 3) similar to other games," 4) "easy," or 5) "very easy." The fact that only one referee answered "very difficult" compared to other games officiated supports the presumption that the games observed were representative of what usually happens. In sum, these elements along with the high coefficient obtained for the inter-observer reliability strengthen the validity of the data.


A total of 5,698 behaviors were observed in the 15 games analyzed. Table 1 presents the percentage of intervals in which each behavioral dimension of the SORB occurred as well as the characteristics of the game observed for each referee. These results were combined to provide a contextualization of the officials' behaviors within the game situations. For example, a glance at Table 1 allows the reader to see that among all the officials observed, referee C intervened verbally the most often although he rated the game "easy" to officiate and gave a total of 21 penalties, which is the second highest number of penalties given during a game.
Table 1
Games Profile and Percentage of each Referee's
Behavior During the 15 Games

 Games profile
Referee Referee(*) Goals Penalties
 VD D S E VE f f
A S 11 14
A S 6 20
A D 8 17
B D 11 9
C E 11 21
D S 6 17
D D 7 14
D VD 4 19
E S 8 8
F E 4 18
F D 7 32
F S 9 15
F E 9 12
G S 5 15
H unavailable 10 19
Means 8 17

Referee Referee's behaviors
 % % % % % % %
A 35.9 9.6 22.7 18.6 12.9 0.0 0.3
A 31.9 8.7 29.4 16.1 11.4 0.0 2.5
A 39.4 8.2 28.0 11.9 12.4 0.0 0.0
B 35.8 7.3 28.5 16.3 11.4 0.0 0.8
C 44.9 5.1 20.3 18.1 08.8 0.0 2.7
D 36.9 8.0 24.2 17.5 12.4 0.0 1.0
D 33.5 7.5 28.3 16.1 10.9 0.0 3.6
D 37.0 9.0 26.5 13.8 13.8 0.0 0.0
E 28.0 4.0 33.5 17.3 13.6 0.0 3.5
F 21.5 6.9 32.6 19.7 15.6 0.0 3.6
F 29.3 7.0 25.3 18.6 16.5 0.3 3.0
F 34.1 6.8 24.6 20.0 13.8 0.0 0.8
F 28.6 5.7 26.8 25.4 11.6 0.0 1.9
G 28.3 4.8 28.0 21.0 17.4 0.0 0.5
H 37.9 8.4 20.2 21.0 12.5 0.0 0.0
Means 33.5 7.1 26.6 18.1 13.0 0.0 1.6

(*) VD=very difficult; D=difficult: S=similar to other games; E=easy; VE=very easy

Data in Table 1 indicates that the referees spent an average of 44.7% of the game time monitoring without interacting (S = 26.6% + M = 18.1%), and made decisions during 40.6% of the game (V = 33.5% + G = 7.1%). The referees are "Waiting" for an average of only 13% of the game.

The objective and the direction of the behavior (Table 2) were identified only when referees exhibited the behavior of intervening verbally or informing with gestures. Data in Table 2 showed that when referees intervened verbally it was mostly to encourage or give advice to the players (13.3% of their behaviors) or the linesmen (5.4% of their behaviors). Other referees' behaviors were aimed at monitoring players' changes (6.1% of the game), signaling a penalty (4.7% of the game), confirming or rejecting a goal (2.7% of the game), stopping the game action (2.0% of the game), and discussing and arguing (2.0% of the game). Finally, referees directed their behaviors towards the players (18.6% of their behaviors), all individuals (110.6% of their behaviors), the linesmen (7.0% of their behaviors), the minor officials (3.6% of their behaviors) and the coaches (0.3% of their behaviors).
Table 2
Percentage of Time that Referees Spend Intervening Verbally IV),
Informing with Gestures (g), and the Direction of the Behaviors

Behaviors Objectives Direction
 P C
 % % %

V (33.5%) Encourage/Advise 19.11 3.3 tr.(*)
 Discuss/argue 2.0 1.5 tr.
 Collect information 1.4 0.7 0.0
 Signal a penalty 4.7 2.2 0.0
 Confirm or reject a goal 2.7 0.3 0.0
 Stop the game action 2.0 tr. 0.0
 Other 1.6 0.4 tr.

G (7.1%) Monitor players changes 6.1 tr. 0.0
 Signal a penalty 1.0 0.0 0.0
 Total 40.6% 18.6 0.3

Behaviors Objectives
 % % % % %

V (33.5%) Encourage/Advise 5.4 tr. tr. tr. 0.0
 Discuss/argue 0.3 tr. 0.0 0.0 0.0
 Collect information 0.6 tr. 0.0 0.0 0.0
 Signal a penalty tr. 1.1 0.0 1.3 tr.
 Confirm or reject a goal 0.0 1.2 0.0 1.2 tr.
 Stop the game action 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.9 0.0
 Other 0.7 tr. 0.0 tr. 0.3

G (7.1%) Monitor players changes 0.0 0.0 0.0 6.1 0.0
 Signal a penalty 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 tr.
 Total 7.0 3.6 tr. 10.6 0.4

(*) tr.=trace (>0.1)


Two aspects of this study must be discussed a) the development of a tool to analyze the behaviors of officials and its usefulness, and b) the behaviors of referees during minor ice hockey games.

In 1983, Siedentop stated that questions such as "Can teaching be studied systematically?" and "Do teachers really make a difference?" can be answered because researchers in the field of sport pedagogy have learned a great deal about collecting data on teachers' and students' behaviors in their natural settings. Many different tools for collecting data and assessing students', teachers', coaches', and athletes' behaviors have been designed and used in empirical studies within the last 20 years (Darst, Zakrajsek, & Mancini, 1989). However, despite the obvious role that referees play during a sporting event (Courneya & Carron, 1992), there are no instruments to systematically assess the behaviors of officials during games in order to evaluate their work and contributions. The instrument developed and validated in the present study is certainly a starting point to generate a data base on officiating. SORB is easy to use, the time to train observers to generate reliable data is reasonable and there is clear evidence of validity. This instrument can be used and adapted to investigate referees' behaviors in different sports and can also be used in referee training programs. For example, a supervisor using SORB will have objective data to initiate a formative discussion on the behaviors used by a referee and the rationale behind those behaviors.

The lack of empirical data on officials' behaviors makes it difficult to compare the behaviors of minor ice hockey referees with other referees in ice hockey or in other sports. Nevertheless, guidelines for good officiating have been suggested by authors such as Weinberg and Richardson (1990) and Clegg and Thompson (1989). For instance, these authors stressed that officials in sports such as basketball, soccer, and ice hockey must be mentally and physically conditioned because they have to follow the play in order to always be in a good position to react immediately to rule Infractions. Accordingly, ice hockey referees in the present study were involved in the action for over 85% of the game; they "waited" or appeared to not be involved in the action for only 13% of the total game time. When involved in the action, the referees were mentally occupied by observing and assessing players' actions on the ice and physically involved by skating to follow the game action. Wilkins et al. (1991) also showed physiological evidence of the high demands placed on ice hockey referees during games. In sum, considering the speed at which an ice hockey game is played along with the high degree of uncertainty involved in the sport (Salmela, 1976) referees must be prepared mentally and physically in order to make the appropriate decisions when required.

Communication is another aspect in which the officials must excel (Clegg & Thompson, 1989; Weinberg & Richardson, 1990). In the present study, the referees communicated with others, either verbally or by gestures, for 40.6% of the time. Weinberg and Richardson (1990) stated that "Officials should be aware of these two types of communication, because how messages are sent is important" (p. 29). Therefore, referees must be trained to communicate effectively both verbally and by gestures.

During games, officials must communicate with coaches, players and the other officials. Clegg and Thompson (1989) suggested that " between the coaches and official should be businesslike, friendly, respectful, and limited" (p. 10). Accordingly, in the present study ice hockey referees had limited interactions with coaches and spent more time interacting with other officials and players.

Regarding the communication with players, Clegg and Thompson (1989) indicated that officials should prevent rule infractions before they occur by talking to athletes: "... such warning not only helps to eliminate needless and unwanted infractions but they also can establish a positive player-official relationships" (p. 6). They also suggested that officials should be friendly to some extent regarding the level of play: "In professional sports a particularly helpful official would be treated with amazement, amusement, or scorn. In youth contests, on the other hand, a competent official will not hesitate actually to leach the rules at the appropriate time" (p.9). Referees in the present study spent a large amount of time in direct verbal communication with the players. More interestingly, the most dominant behavior of the referees when communicating with players was to encourage and give them advice. Consequently, it appeared that these bantam level (16-15 years old players) ice hockey referees did not only perceive their role as "giving penalties" but also as potential educators of moral values such as fair play. In the same line, Therien (1989) recently suggested that ice hockey referees have an educational role of in the moral development of children.

Encouraging and giving advice are also the most dominant behaviors of the referees when they communicate with other officials during games. In providing guidelines to officials, Weinberg and Richardson (1990) reported that "One of the most satisfying experiences an official can have is to be a member of a team that gets along well and works together as a cohesive unit .... Mutual respect, trust, acceptance, friendship, and encouragement are developed only if members of the officiating crews communicate with each other" (p.37). The positive interaction of ice hockey referees with other officials during games supports Weinberg and Richardson's comment concerning the dynamic relationships that must be present between officials In a sporting event. Future research, however, is needed to investigate the dynamic relationships between officials during games and outside the game action in more depth.


Several authors have highlighted the importance of structuring the environment of youth sport participants in order to teach moral and sportmanshiplike values to children (Bredemeier, Weiss, Shields, & Shewchuk, 1986; Martens, 1987; Romance, Weiss, & Bockovan, 1986; Weiss, 1991). However, authors who investigated the environment of youth sport participants have restricted their focus to the examination of the influence of coaches' behaviors on children's sportsmanlike behavior (Bredemeier et al., 1986; Cote et al. 1993; Romance et al., 1986; Trudel et al., 1991). Although Courneya and Carron (1992) stressed the importance of analyzing the behaviors of officials as well as the competitors and the coaches, few studies have examined the role of the officials. The results of the present study will contribute to a data base of referees' behaviors and could serve as a starting point from which to examine the nature of referees' roles in children's sports. Other than making sure that the rules are respected, referees can also have a central position for creating a positive environment for children's development in sport. Further investigations are needed to examine the in-depth nature of referees' roles in children's sports.


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Author:Trudel, Pierre; Cote, Jean; Syvestre, Francois
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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