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Hannah's Story: being a female referee in a sport dominated by men

TWGC Hannah Potts"It is rather frequent to arrive at a game and immediately hear the whispers of u12 boys saying "She’s a girl"!"

Hannah, 15, was the only female referee at our Football County Finals School Games event in February. We caught up with her after the event to find out more about her experiences in a leadership role in a sport dominated by men.

What is your background in sport?

I’ve always been interested in sports. I played tennis, netball and football in primary school. Then outside of this, I did gymnastics, dance and football. I still continue to play football for my secondary school, for Ashton Keynes U15 Girls and Wiltshire Girls U16 Schools Team, but the frequency of partaking in a range of sports has definitely decreased. I used to do even more football but this year I have worked on getting a better balance with my academic commitments and other activities outside school.

Why did you get involved in refereeing?

The biggest drive for starting refereeing at a young age was money, it’s very good pay for someone so young. One of my older friends had suggested it and I thought it would be a great idea. I was also hopeful that it would help improve my own game playing football, I’ve realised the game is so much more complicated than I had thought. 

What do you enjoy about refereeing?

I enjoy the challenges that refereeing presents. It’s definitely improved my decision making and confidence to enforce those decisions. It has allowed me to broaden my social group and interact with people of all ages. Every time I referee I learn something new and gain useful information from it. 

What challenges have you faced as a female referee?

I can’t say that I have necessarily been treated differently as a girl but there needs to be more of an encouragement to involve girls in refereeing and football in general. For example, the course I took had about 20 people on with only three of us being girls. None of the coaching referees were female so for those less confident girls not having a female role model may be off putting.

"Being an assistant referee I can hear the parent’s comments about the ref. They always seem to be more negative towards girls of my age than boys. On occasion, I will remind them that we are all young and need to support of parents to enjoy the game too."

How have you overcome any of these challenges?

With any game and any referee there’s always players complaining about decisions but boys seem to think as a girl I won’t know how to referee properly and try to undermine and change my decisions. Just staying confident in the call I’ve made and talking them through the game seems to help. Even doing things like shoe laces up or saying enjoy the game at the start seems to get rid off the comments quickly. 

Thinking about officiating in sport? Here’s some advice from Hannah on how to get started.

These things are always scary at the start but everybody had to start somewhere. It takes a lot of guts to officiate a game and you will always have people that disagree with your decision. Stick to it and be confident but most importantly enjoy doing it. Don’t tolerate any abuse and report it asap to someone of authority.

Feeling inspired? … contact …… at WASP for support and guidance on getting into officiating in sport.

You can also check out our DfE Leadership and Volunteering scheme, which enables you to access funded qualifications in officiating and gain experience volunteering at events. Click HERE to find out more.

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