We All Make Mistakes

By Lawrence Tomei

Officials are human, and therefore prone to making mistakes. We spend hours learning the rules and years honing our mechanics on the court, the diamond or the field. But even with all of that work, mistakes are unavoidable. How we handle those gaffes is what separates the novice from the professional. It is often said that we only grow and improve when we learn from those mistakes.

Below is a checklist for managing mistakes. You can use it to review your calls after games or use it in a chapter training session to discuss the proper ways to handle errors. It will help you think about the critical components and how best to turn any mistake into a valuable learning experience.

  • Make sure you understand the nature of the mistake that was made. Do you know what went wrong?
  • Work to understand exactly why the error happened. Was it bad judgment, an inadvertent call, or a mistake of omission or collaboration?
  • Identify associated factors that contributed to the mistake, not just the mistake itself. Were you out of position, blocked from view or physically impaired?
  • Review how you responded both to the slip-up and its resolution. Did you make matters worse defending your mistake with players or coaches?
  • Identify long-term areas for improvement. Could attendance at rules interpretation meetings or mechanics sessions reduce the chances of the mistake re-occurring?
  • Identify new or additional information that reduces the chances for the mistake in the future. Are there extra resources (books, films, etc.) that address the mistake?
  • Consider your behavior before, during and after the error. How do you think your behavior might change in a similar situation?
  • Don’t compensate — in officiating, two wrongs never make a right. Do not search for a violation on the other team to square a previous blunder.
  • Know which (and when) decisions are subject to correction and which calls are not open for debate. Is the mistake correctable before the game continues? Is the mistake reviewable? Can you ask for help on the call from a fellow official?
  • Study the rules, mechanics or applications necessary to avoid the mistake in the future. Practice the situation so that you are less prone to repeat the mistake.
  • Correctly apply the rules (penalties, enforcement spots, identification of players, etc.). Do not compound the mistake by a further misapplication of the rules.
  • Accept responsibility. Can you admit you messed up — at least to yourself? How about to your colleagues? Share your lessons learned.
  • Learn from your mistake. Regardless of circumstances, can you make every misstep into a chance to further your knowledge, skills or aptitude as an official? Good officials admit their mistakes and move on. Great officials admit mistakes, learn from them and seldom make the same one again. Are you a good official or a great official?

Written by Dr. Lawrence Tomei, EdD, the dean of academic services and associate professor of education for Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. He is a 10-year official with the West Penn Football Officials Association and has officiated football in several states over the last 21 years.


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