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Calgary’s Project REF to help kids become referees, earn money

Starting this March, KidSport Calgary is teaming up with the Calgary Minor Soccer Association and Hockey Calgary in a pilot program to help kids become referees for the sports they love.

Funding from KidSport along with equipment support from the Calgary Flames Sport Bank, will help to get kids into officiating courses and then suited up for the pitch or the ice.

Graduates from the officiating courses will have a chance to support their sports by providing much-needed referees, along with getting the chance to take on well-paying and flexible employment.

“This is a great step for us as we look to find ways to keep kids in sport, to open doors for those that need to earn some money to stay in sport and to those that are looking for a different opportunity in sport, while supporting our sport community with opening up an additional stream of potential referees that can help fill some of the growing need for officials,” said Kevin Webster, CEO for KidSport Calgary and Area.

Kids interested in taking officiating programs will be able to apply directly through KidSport.

Hockey and soccer were chosen as the initial pilot programs as both of those sports currently present the highest need for officials in the city.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve operated at a deficit in terms of referees available for matches. So we are crying out for people to become referees,” said Jordan Stewart, technical leader for the Calgary Minor Soccer Association.

“We’re really looking forward to instead of just focusing on a player and coach aspect, to be ensuring that we’re taking care of our referees and finding new referees as well—because without a ref there really is no game.”

Removing barriers to becoming referees

Stewart said that for the CMSA, the financial support offered by KidSport and the Calgary Flames Sport Bank would amount to about $280. The lowest level officiating courses for soccer cost around $150, with the uniform costing about $130.

“First-year referees within Calgary minor get a teal shirt as an identifier to reduce abuse, and to increase retention of these referees,” he said.

“They’ll also get their whistle, their cards, and their shorts for full uniform so that they can step out onto the field, feeling confident and looking the part to deliver a great experience for our players, for our coaches and for themselves.”

He said that covering the cost for that eliminates the barriers that some families face when trying to be a part of sport, and that CMSA was excited to take part in the pilot program.

The organization is looking to enroll around 25 students in their first round of courses, with employment to follow in mid-April post-graduation for the first outdoor games of the 2023 season.

“There’s not too many side jobs or part-time jobs that kids can take where they get a fully flexible schedule, they get a fantastic rate of pay, and it keeps them fit.”

“And you learn life skills in terms of conflict escalation, communication, confidence, and other pieces that you can build on for the rest of your life to not only better your career but to better yourself. I personally wish I would have found refereeing as a younger person rather than playing and coaching.”

For more details, or to join the Project REF program, contact KidsSport at kidsportcanada.ca/alberta/calgary.