Female Development Working Group

Article # 1

What excitement the formation of this working group has caused!  Many umpires from across Canada have expressed the desire to get involved in this developing movement. Following each publication, we welcome your perspectives and/or concerns!  Please send those to myself, Sandra Forand, at sjforand@gmail.com.

It is with great pleasure that our Female Development Working Group would like to provide you with our 1st publication “Recruitment and Retention of Female Umpires”. 

We first put our heads together regarding the recruitment of female officials.  According to Softball Canada statistics in 2016 female umpires were 20% of the umpire population.  In 2019 that statistic has grown to 30%.  This is not the case in SP where the statistic is less than 10%.  Our goal with this committee is to narrow this gap even further in both SP and FP and grow female umpire participation across Canada. 

Our teams first discussion was where to attract future prospects from!  The first thought was through female ball players. The perfect scenario would be to have strong female umpires officiating their games and leading by example!  Players would observe this and see this as something they too can do!  Pulling those females and having female mentors, is the perfect environment for success!  Ringette is entirely a female sport and as well, has a strong representation of female officials. A great point was made that there is not enough interaction between successful female officials and those aspiring to be like her and sharing their stories. This possible environment differed throughout the provinces. 

FP in Newfoundland currently has a grassroots program but the upper level Women’s leagues are struggling. For inexperienced female umpires to come out and make the jump to umpiring intermediate and Sr Men’s maybe quite difficult, if not impossible.  Nova Scotia has limited minor ball and only in small pockets throughout the province.  As well; from the team perspective in SP, there is mostly the 1 umpire system in both Women’s and Men’s competition, which again makes it difficult to mentor on the diamond.  Ontario does have male and female minor FP leagues throughout the province but not in SP.  It’s entirely Men’s and Women’s competition. In the Super Series in London ON, for many years the top officials just did the Men’s game. This is huge game management and very stressful, resulting in very few women lasting and continuing in the Men’s game. Currently that has changed, as umpires will work both games (if capable), which does satisfy both games and also provides greater opportunities to mentor. Truly a win win situation which provides a solid product on the diamond. With this positive atmosphere; females have joined the Blue team from those ball players. 

Recruitment videos have been produced in numerous provinces to stirrup interest in umpiring.  Quebec has one online. You can watch it on www.softballquebec.com; go to the bottom of the web page and click on "Devenir arbitre de Softball Québec” or you can watch it on YouTube under the same title.  Ontario will be rolling their own recruitment video out this next month.  Softball Canada is in the process of also producing a recruitment video(s) for future use. 

British Columbia programs and softball classes exist, developing the athlete and including an umpiring component.  Students could gain a graduating prerequisite by umpiring.  How great is that? 

In several provinces a “Bring a Friend” program to Level 1 Clinics and umpire meetings (with prizes), brought record numbers of new candidates out!  A great way to grow our program!

Now how do we keep her?

One of the most important points provided by the group on retention, was the fact that there is a continued perception that women can’t do everything!  Everything includes family, work and homelife. Women end up choosing and more than often men aren’t required to!  She will have to choose!  Incredibly this comment was made at a previous Blue Convention. This specific barrier must be overcome and this message must change! It’s about balance!  That is the real everything!

One of our members reported that through her educational projects that the #1 reason female umpires left the program was time commitment. Time spent away from family - away for tournaments. Being pushed too hard and too fast. Overwhelming commitment can be pressure packed and can lead to burn out!  Again balance!

An initiative to aid with retention is mentoring; specifically, by strong females but their solid male counterparts as well. Many, many male umpires do a fantastic job mentoring their umpire colleagues on and off the diamond.

A very interesting discussion from Saskatchewan came around the use of the “Yellow Card” program. Much like soccer, volleyball and even some hardball programs, the card use is a system of graduated consequence. This website explains the use of. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27GlSI-uFcY  Have a look!  It can give a voice to an inexperienced umpire and he/she may now be able to draw lines of acceptable behavior. 

The last key to retention is the sheltering from abuse and harassment. We don’t believe we’d ever be completely sheltered but antibullying needs to be a part of all programs! Not just umpire programs but coaches and players programs as well. These programs need to learn to communicate, understand, nurture and protect participants. BC Level 1 Clinics saw 70% female participation drop to 30% in Level 2 with the youth dropping off! Why? Exit surveys may help provinces to greater understand this loss.  Young female umpires are especially vulnerable to abuse and harassment. 

In conclusion; Given the means and ways to attract and keep female umpires; what is Softball Canada, your province, zone and local association plan to do, to narrow the gap and increase female participation on the diamond?  Until a crew of officials are viewed as a team and not by specific gender, we have work to do and barriers to break down.