Practice Proper Preparation

Your game assignment actually begins well in advance of game day. Here is a list of important things to do as the assignment approaches:

Verify the assignment. At the very least, call the school within a week or so of the game. Talk to the person (usually the athletic director) who catches the heat if the officials don’t show. Don’t just leave a voice mail that says you’re coming because you can’t be sure what a lack of response means.

Confirm the time and location of the game and any special conditions that will exist. If you can, exchange cell phone numbers with the game manager, so you can inform each other of any last-minute problems all the way up to game time.

Firm up your travel arrangements. My football crew makes up a spreadsheet that includes the driver, the meeting point, who will provide the snacks and so on. Then I confirm each week’s plan as one of the last things we do before we part company after the previous game. The good crew chief also insists that the whole crew has each other’s cell phone numbers.

Check your equipment. Never trust anyone else to pack your gear for you. Check everything in your bag well ahead of time in case something needs mending or cleaning. A good approach, if somebody besides you washes your uniform, is to have the person return it fresh from the dryer so you can check, fold and account for it going into your bag yourself.

Do some homework. Opinions vary on how much you should find out about the teams before the game. You owe it to them and yourself to have at least some idea of how competitive and skillful it will be, plus what’s on the line for each team. Conversely, you don’t want to have so thick a book on the teams that you anticipate things that don’t actually occur.

Check the weather on game day. If a monsoon or blizzard is in the forecast, consider padding your travel plans. Remember that one person’s short sleeve weather is another person’s visit to the South Pole. Get to the crew ahead of time to agree on dress and an updated travel plan well in advance.

Physically prepare. Each person has his or her own standard for sleep and food intake before a game. The best plan is to stick to it. Don’t experiment the night before the championship game, especially when you travel to a place where the water or menu is likely to be different from what you’re used to.

Adjust your workout routine and preparation as the season progresses. Watch for the signs of feeling stiffer and less flexible that come when you’re working too much. Allow yourself more recovery time. It’s easier to stay in shape than get back in shape with each passing year.

In all your preparations for an assignment, bear in mind a sure way to ruin a reputation is to miss an assignment in a way that was avoidable. Never assume details. Look after yourself and you’ll be a long way toward being the type of official who keeps getting invited back.

Tim Sloan, Bettendorf, Iowa, is a former football and soccer college official who now works high school football, basketball and volleyball.

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  1. Charlie Wright - Board 42 says:

    Great stuff!!!!!! I always like to hear other people’s perspective on officiating.

  2. Bryan Shepard says:

    When it comes to gear, I am always over-prepared. When I’m assigned as an assistant referee for a soccer game, I have no need for whistles or yellow/red sanction cards, but I always have these items in excess. If my referee doesn’t show, or is missing some critical gear, I get to be Johnny-on-the-spot and rescue the match from potentially-disastrous complications. Also, I never assume that my gear bag is ready simply because it was ready after my previous game. We all know there are goblins around that tamper with our stuff the night before the game, so double check.

    Have your pre-game conference outlined ahead of time. The pre-game conference allows a team of officials, especially ones who aren’t often assigned together, to get on the same page quickly; it’s also valuable for teams that stick together, as it gives an opportunity to share thoughts and knowledge with the team. This extra level of preparation gives you extra confidence that you didn’t forget to say something important, and everyone’s performance will meet expectations.

    Don’t rush. The effectiveness of the guidelines in the article (and this comment, if you like them) is proportional to the time and attention you give them. That magic moment just before you leave the house is a poor time to wonder if you got everything in order. Any sort of panic and uncertainty you feel in that magic moment will likely cling to you throughout your day.

    The advice in the article is good stuff, and I hope I was able to contribute a little to it!

  3. Tommy Loera says:

    I like the article. When it comes to doing homework, I wish more officials would do more of it. I know some of us can work anywhere between 3-4 nights straight, but with today’s technology we can easily pull up rosters, stats, articles, etc on our smart phones.

  4. Michael Le says:

    I always make sure my gear is ready.

  5. Jack Reiss says:

    I always use carry-on luggage when traveling to an assignment. I never trust the airlines with my uniform. I don’t want to fly 12,000 miles only to find they have lost my luggage, and I have no uniform to referee in!

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