Don’t Do It

By Dave Sabaini

It seems no matter how long a person has been officiating, and regardless of the sports they work, any official can fall into situations in which his or her judgment or ability is questioned.

Often those situations are a direct result of officiating “errors” that are all too common, and can certainly be avoided under most circumstances with just a little bit of preparation. Look at the following errors, see if you are prone to any of them and then check their solutions to help you improve.

Error: Anticipating the play too much. You’re working your umpteenth game of the year, when a seemingly routine play develops. You’ve seen the play dozens of times, so you turn your head or orient your body away from the action for a moment, to get a jump on where you know the ball is going. The trouble is, the ball never arrives, and you have no clue what happened. Solution: Never anticipate a play to the degree that you turn your attention away from the action. Especially at lower levels, nothing can be assumed.

Error: Anticipating the call. The bad cousin of the previous error, anticipating the call never seems to work. Thinking, “Oh, the shortstop got to that ball in plenty of time, the batter is a dead duck at first,” will cause you to blow more calls than a blind man. Solution: Never anticipate the outcome of a play. Let the players determine what the call is to be.

Error: Being out of position. Most coaches can handle a call that happens to go against their team if the official was hustling and in position to make the call. But if you’re getting tired and a little lazy, or worse yet, careless, and miss a call, expect to get roasted. Solution: Hustle. You’re being paid for a full game, so give it. You’ve heard it a hundred times: The game you’re working is the most important game in the country that day to the participants. Treat it that way by hustling from start to finish.

Error: Letting your concentration wander. You kicked a call, you fought with your spouse, your mother-in-law is coming over, or who is that gorgeous person in the third row? Next thing you know, you’ve missed a play or a call. Nothing will cause a bad game more often than a simple lack of concentration. Solution: Every play, every pitch, every moment, keep your mind on your business. The players and coaches deserve your attention during the contest, so give it to them. If you’re having trouble, get with your partner and ask him to “check” on you.

Error: Being a “hard guy.” Those are the officials who always seem to have a chip on their shoulders. Nothing they do can be questioned. Any comments are met with a hand so firm you could hammer nails with it. Those officials are tough to work with and tougher to play under. Solution: If you are a hard guy, lighten up! True control of a game comes with respect of and from all involved. Respect is earned from being fair, approachable and competent. If you’re having trouble controlling games, work on those things.

Error: Not knowing the rules thoroughly. There isn’t anything much worse than officials who don’t know the rules the way they should. Credibility begins and ends there. Solution: Make rules study a part of your regular routine both in and out of season. Get with some friends and quiz each other, or discuss scenarios. Develop the muscle between your ears, and you’ll be able to carry a game with it more often than not.

There are other errors you’ll make, but those are the killers. Work on your “game behind the game,” and rediscover why you became an official.

Written by Dave Sabaini, a freelance writer and official who lives in Terre Haute, Ind.


Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online via REI’s archive and/or its MyReferee web portal as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at

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.


Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online via REI’s archive and/or its MyReferee web portal as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Career Opportunities | Contact Us