Written by AJ Condon
Some of the best memories sports lovers have growing up come from playing the sports they love with their closest friends. There are a lot of factors that go into being able to play those sports, but one of the most overlooked parts of them is referees.
Being a referee is a critical role that allows for athletes to be able to play the sports they love and it is a well-paying and easy job, it just isn’t well-known.
Refr Sports is a new company trying to bring together sports coordinators and referees with the help of accessible technologies.
In many adolescents' early life, playing sports is a key factor in learning many important skills as they develop from a child into a young adult. Learning communication skills, building relationships, and taking leadership roles are just a few of the countless experiences kids can take away from playing sports.
However, there are sometimes factors outside of the kids’ control and even outside of the parents’ control that prohibit their ability to play. The current system that sports coordinators are using to schedule and pay referees is behind and it causes unnecessary problems to derive.
"We noticed the referee market is huge, but they're still using outdated methods that haven't been updated in decades. There are checks in the mail, scheduling is being done using Excel spreadsheets, and there's a lack of communication and freedom for both parties" co-founder Wyatt Gustafson said.
Referees play a huge role in sporting events solely for the fact that in many circumstances, they are needed for the completion of the game. So, if a referee doesn’t show up, the game is in jeopardy of being canceled.
That’s where Refr Sports comes in to help.
“One of the things that sucked, being a kid, was showing up to a game I was anticipating all day at school and a referee not showing up, or there being a problem." co-founder Huck Sorock said.
Refr Sports helps make it more efficient and effective for both sports coordinators and referees to fix scheduling issues. On all levels, the two co-founders have seen issues, both firsthand, and while talking to sports coordinators.
Sorock took a gap year after high school to play juniors and used it as a learning experience.
"In (my year at Boston) I spent a lot of time talking with the referees while playing, and (while) on the bench. A lot of referees were telling me about the struggle they had with getting paid and scheduling issues. That's how the idea (of Refr Sports) popped into my head," Sorock said.
On top of the issues within sports scheduling, there are other factors that have caused the referee industry to struggle.
In an article written by the New York Times, it talked about how the number of referees has declined from 2018-2021. The cause of this is from parents, coaches, and even players causing a toxic environment and scaring away potential recruits. The pandemic didn’t help either as many referees decided they didn’t want to return to the hardship of refereeing.
That has brought the idea to Refr Sports of trying to target a younger generation of referees.
"Our goal is to bring a younger demographic into refereeing. If we are targeting 15-35-year-olds, naturally, it might help some of the problems relating to the toxic environment that referees are placed in," Sorock said.
By getting a younger demographic into the industry it will allow for more athletes and their parents to understand what it takes to be a referee. The more understanding the athletes and their families are of the profession, the less toxicity the industry will feel.
That also means transitioning the industry into a more user-friendly and mobile-first approach. Refr Sports is trying to do just that. Make it easier for sports coordinators to adapt to this new approach that connects them with the younger demographic.
"The referee industry isn't user-friendly for our generation. By bringing that technology, building a mobile platform, and then making it accessible to anybody, we can change that." Gustafson said.
There is still a lot of work to be done in this industry, but Refr Sports is trying to do what it can to give kids the best experience while playing sports. Creating a company often is about making money, but for Refr Sports, it’s about solving a problem that has long plagued an industry that is near and dear to many.
"We're hoping that we can be the leading factor in transitioning this marketplace into something that's a little more modern, a little more accessible for everyone. The modern generation loves ‘gig’ jobs that they can do anywhere at any time, take DoorDash as an example of this," Gustafson said.
To learn more about what Refr is doing, check out their website at www.refrsports.com