Every game — whether it’s a youth contest or an NCAA postseason game — matters to the players. So it’s important we bring our best to every game. Making that a reality is easier said than done, however. Those who strive to excel in officiating are truly professionals. What sets them apart? How do they maintain focus and concentration when the circumstances are pulling them in the opposite direction?
The great thing about officiating is that it is a set period of time to focus solely on the game, shut the rest of the world out and live truly in the moment. Don’t let anything rob you of that bliss!
In order to solve a problem, it must first be identified, which means knowing yourself and the external circumstances which cause you to lose focus. Are you someone who complains incessantly if the temperature drops below 40 degrees, or do you wilt when it’s above 75? Did you have a crazy day at your other job? Or did you leave the family that morning arguing about who will pick up the milk so the kids don’t starve? Whatever category of distraction is your Achilles’ heel, you have to know it first to fight against it.
Weather is truly out of our control, so it’s important to be as prepared as possible. After that, do the game knowing you don’t have to be out there all day, and a warm postgame shower awaits. The good thing about weather distractions is that most of them can be handled with an investment in good equipment. I hate to be cold, and realized that a black fleece neck warmer is usually the difference between feeling the cold breeze and toasty contentedness. Last winter/ spring was unusually brutal with snowy conditions, so I invested in hand warmers and made sure I had enough to share with partners.
Smartwool socks are also a good way to ensure that your feet are warm and dry.
Life is hard. Work, family and everyday life can creep into your focus, but it must be stopped. By now most officials have seen the video of the basketball official running down the court while talking on his phone (do a YouTube search for “referee cell phone”).
Outside life distractions are inevitable, but that kind of behavior is just not acceptable. Leave the phone in the car or in the locker room. Know that you have committed yourself to that game, and there is nothing that can be done in that time window to alter your other reality.
How many times have you allowed yourself to shut the world out, only to come back to life finding that there were issues, and since you were not available other people stepped up to solve them? I love it when that happens. If the problem still exists, you always have the car ride home to attempt to get ahead on other fronts. If life really comes to bear on you, turn the game back. Assigners are understanding and it is better for all involved.
A demanding contest that brings you into complete focus is the challenge that officials live for. Unfortunately or fortunately, not every contest is a tough one. Some are completely one-sided, some are contentious in effort but terrible in skill, some are terrible in skill and pretty evenly matched. Think of those games as opportunities. Instead of making your mental grocery list or thinking about weekend plans, use that game to hone your craft. We are all working on some aspect of our officiating. Those games offer the best opportunities to work on mechanics.
If you’re trying a new way to signal or restart something, chances are a high-stakes, high-stress game is not going to afford you the opportunity to work on it. But a lower level game certainly will. That is the time to think about your mechanics. What can you improve? Can you ask your partners to bring some awareness to it and give you feedback after the game?
Those games are mini clinics. A slower-paced contest also offers the chance to work on game knowledge and anticipation. If you’re working a sport that you didn’t play, chances are you are sometimes lost on general plays and strategies. A one-sided contest (in which the better team is running a clinic) can help you better understand game play. Can you anticipate where the play is going? Is it the same play every time, or does it change for certain players? What is the best place for you to officiate from, knowing where the play is and where the play will end? Are there certain players who never touch the ball (smoke and mirrors), and some who are always willing or trusted to drive and take the shot? If you can pick up on those details, you will officiate that game better, and you’ll better develop the skill of understanding the game overall and anticipating play in those higher-level contests.
An Official’s Do-It-Yourself Guide
There are DIY guides for lots of areas of your life… home improvement, investing, car repair to name a few. Whether you do any of those things yourself, or pay someone to do it for you, your officiating career is something you do yourself and you owe it to yourself to read this guide. Dr. Ralph Swearngin gives you real world advice on successful officiating whether you’re just starting our already a veteran. Decades of proven experience as an official and administrator have gone into his comprehensive publication “The Inner Game of Officiating: It’s All About You”.
Coaches are part of the game, but a category unto themselves. The learning curve of game management, especially when it comes to coaches, is perhaps the most difficult task for all officials. The most important part of managing coaches is to use the tools that the game allows and to let them know that your focus is far more important than meeting their every emotional need. Sometimes simply say to a coach, “I can’t work and focus on you. If you need to have a conversation, please take a timeout.” That gives coaches a boundary while also letting them know that you value focusing on the contest.
When coaches do not respond to that kind of directive, it is time to consider the disciplinary tools of the game, whether it be a card, flag or a technical foul. Officials are not there to be abused, and you have the ability to stop the behavior. Use your partners for support. Let them know that you need help tuning the coach out, or managing the coach’s behavior. The other officials are your only friends; let them help you.
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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.
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