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Supporting the retention and development of sport participants

Project title: Understanding referee attrition in English grassroots football: Insights and implications  

Funder: The European Union of Football Associations (UEFA)  

DSER Staff: Prof. Paul Potrac, Dr. Edward Hall, and Dr. Adam Nichol  

Collaborators: The Football Association’s Referee Department   

Hostility and attrition towards match official s attrition in grassroots sport, unfortunately, is a deep-rooted, pervasive and enduring issue for sport managers, administrators, and policy makers around the globe.   

The continued failure to retain the requisite numbers of match officials could have significant, problematic outcomes. These include, but are not limited to, a reduction in the opportunities for people to safely participate in organised sporting programmes/leagues and, relatedly, reduced income for, and reputational damage to, national sporting associations.   

This project addresses the ways in which former referees came to feel estranged from those significant others that formed their respective networks of interaction in English grassroots football (e.g., players, coaches, spectators, administrators, mentors, and observers) and voluntarily chose to exit their officiating role. Here, multiple qualitative methods and complementary symbolic interactionist and relational theorising are used to consider:   

  • how the participants’ decisions to stop officiating were influenced by their meaning-making and emotional experiences (e.g., fear, guilt, anger, and loneliness) as referees, and  
  • how their individual sensemaking was, in turn, inextricably entwined with, and generated through, their interactions and exchanges with the various social actors (e.g., players, coaches, spectators, administrators, mentors, and observers) that comprised their respective footballing networks.   

Alongside providing new empirical and theoretical insights in this topic area, The Football Association is drawing upon the project findings to refine and enhance their policies and practices concerning the recruitment, preparation, support, and development of grassroots referees.   

Find out more 

Potrac, P., Gearity, B., Nichol, A., & Hall, E. (in press). Sport, emotion and engagement. In L. Wenner (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the sociology of sport. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Potrac, P., Mallett, C., Greenough, K., & Nelson, L. (2017) Passion and paranoia: An embodied tale of emotion, identity, and pathos in sports coaching. Sports Coaching Review, 6(2), 142-161. 

Magill, S., Nelson, L., Jones, R., & Potrac, P. (2017). Emotions, identity, and power in video-based feedback sessions: Tales from women’s professional football. Sports Coaching Review, 6(2), 216-232.  

Scott-Bell, A., Wharton, K., & Potrac, P. (in press). Moving beyond unproblematic policy implementation: Some micro-level reflections on social interaction, emotion and the enactment of safeguarding policy in sport. In M. Lang (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of athlete welfare. London: Routledge.  



Project Title: Refining support systems and development opportunities for talented athletes in the education sector.  

Funder: The Talented Athlete Support Scheme  

DSER Staff: Prof. Paul Potrac, TBC  

Collaborators: The Talented Athlete Support Scheme National Research Lead  

The Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme is a Sport England funded partnership between talented athletes, educational institutions, and national governing bodies of sport. Supporting over 600 athletes in 32 sports across England, the scheme aims to assist enable athletes to optimise their sporting and academic careers.   

This exciting new and collaborative project seeks to enhance the knowledge base regarding the opportunities and challenges experienced by dual career athletes and  the utility of the support structures and systems that are available to them. Here, rather than positioning dual career athletes as a homogenous group, this project aims to develop a nuanced understanding of sense-making of dual career athletes, the pathways that they respectively travel, and the systems designed to support them. Indeed, the overarching aim of this project is to systematically generate a rich evidence base that can be utilised to practically support the sporting, educational, and vocational development of the individuals participating in this scheme.  

 Find out more 

Allen, G., & Rhind, D. (2019). Taught not caught: Exploring male adolescent experiences of explicitly transferring life skills from the sports hall into the classroom. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 11(2), 188-200. 

Stamp, D., Nelson, L., & Potrac, P. (in press). More than just a ‘Pro’: A relational analysis of transition in professional football. Sport, Education and Society. 

Vaughan, J., Mallett, C., Davids, K., Potrac, P., & Lopez-Felip, M. (in press). Developing creativity to enhance human potential in sport: A wicked transdisciplinary challenge. Frontiers in Psychology. 

Waddington, I., Scott-Bell, A., & Malcolm, D. (2019). The social management of medical ethics in sport: Confidentiality in English professional football. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 54(6), 649–665. 



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