Feature – The Eras of Our ways

Expectations for officials are changing. The contrast between how we did things years ago and now is great. A more professional approach rules the day.

The-Eras-of-Our-ways

By Tim Sloan

Ron Luciano, who died in 1995, was one of the classic arbiters and characters of the 1970s in professional sports. An AL umpire for 11 years, he was one of the most visible and controversial men to ever work between the foul lines. Many of the things he did in his career would make an official cringe today, but they might help us appreciate how far we’ve come.

Luciano grew up in an apartment over his parents’ restaurant in Endicott, N.Y. He was a mediocre baseball player, so he turned to football because of his size and agility, winning a scholarship to Syracuse University. While working on a math degree, he garnered All-America honors as an offensive tackle, blocking for the great Jim Brown. After four years on the injury list in pro football, he retired and tried teaching but gave that up when he realized schools had lots of children.

With zero officiating experience, he went to Al Somers’ umpire school in 1964 and, remarkably, graduated and made it to the majors in just five seasons. Once in the bigs, he shredded the code of conduct for umpires but endeared himself to fans with his talkativeness, histrionics and charm.

Boy, has officiating changed in a generation.

One thing they might question today would be Luciano’s professionalism: He bought hot dogs during the game, flew paper airplanes and had a trademark of calling runners out-out-out by pretending to rapid-fire a gun; his record was 16 shots. On “very bad days, which followed soon after very good nights,” he was known to ask catchers he trusted to help him with balls and strikes by framing the pitches that were strikes. For balance, a fellow umpire once said, “Ronnie doesn’t so much show up for a game as he arrives. He walks through both dugouts saying hello to people, talking to the fans, getting everyone in a good mood for when the game starts.”

Tom Topping umpires NCAA softball and is also the sport’s coordinator in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He says officiating today is mostly about professionalism. “I think (professionalism) has gone up several notches,” says Topping. “You have to treat it more like a business now than as an avocation or a hobby, especially in softball.

“You have to be more consistent with other umpires and more prepared for games, especially from a fitness aspect where that wasn’t stressed as much before.”

Topping includes taking responsibility for one’s actions on and off the field as a big-ticket item. That’s because officials are more likely than they once were to be recognized in public because of media coverage: You can gain as much bad press for yourself and fellow officials in the corner bar as you can at third base, something Luciano didn’t seem to see as a big concern.

In comparison to hockey or basketball referees, some might not think of umpires as needing a high level of fitness. The speed of the athletes and the arduous schedules they now work change that. In fact, Luciano retired before the 1980 season when he realized, at 290 pounds, he just couldn’t get in position like he once could to get the right angle on a play — in a four-umpire system. He thought he would be cheating players if he stuck around.

It was ironic in a way because one of the things his supervisors liked was his “good size,” which translated into a license to command the proceedings. Other former umpires like Eric Gregg and John McSherry were legendary for their girth. Gregg was fined by baseball because of his weight and the issues it created in his work. McSherry, after several scares, died in 1996, on opening day in Cincinnati, because of complications of his poor fitness. Where size was once an asset in game control, today it’s a liability. Just ask John Adams.

Adams, NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, has been assigning officials to the NCAA basketball tournament since 2008 and many would regard him as a groundbreaker in setting the specifications for the modern official.

“When I got the job in 2008,” explains Adams, “we evaluated every call by every official in the 2008 tournament. Consistently, there was a theme on missed calls of officials being out of position or not being in good position to see the play.

“One of the things we’ve worked on in our community is raising the level of officials’ fitness and our call accuracy percentage has gone up from 80 percent to as much as 90 percent in just five years.”

Adams says that some popular refereeing names don’t appear in the tournament because his evaluation is they can’t keep up with the pace of play. He has made it plain that fitness and mobility are his top two factors in deciding who will be selected to the tournament among those with suitable experience.

In Adams’ mind, the need for the stress on accuracy stems from the increased scrutiny of officials that the modern media has brought to bear. There was a time when a network basketball game might be covered by two or three cameras, supplemented by stop-action replay. Under those conditions, even if a broadcaster chose to replay a controversial call out of respect for the officials, the video evidence would often be inconclusive — remember Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception (or not?) Now that game coverage is more sophisticated and evidence of incorrect calls can circle the globe in seconds, people like Adams have gone all-in to find the best people to produce uncommon accuracy. And it starts with fitness.

A trademark of many officials in Luciano’s time was their ability to put a stamp on the game; to take charge and deal with issues before things could get ugly. Supposedly, former Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda was once a minor league pitcher. In winter league ball one season, he started chattering at the Cuban plate umpire over his concept of the strike zone. When the umpire had heard enough, he walked out to Lasorda, smiled and opened his coat to display perhaps the largest handgun Lasorda had ever seen. Their differences were immediately resolved: Effective, but not a career builder.

Management is far more important than bluster in running a game today. Luciano believed that any umpire who showed hesitation or any vulnerability was destined for a short career. They substituted iron-fisted debating skills for the lack of video evidence of their skills back then. Someone had to take charge and a lot of the officials of that era were well known for their aggressiveness. Name more than a few such personalities today. Marcia Alterman bets you can’t.

Alterman was a top-notch NCAA volleyball official before becoming the executive director of the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials (PAVO). In her tenure she’s seen the dynamic between first and second referee change considerably. When she started, it was like a master-slave relationship. The up official exerted a level of authority and decision-making extending to the shores of the seven seas; the down official hoped one day to be so revered.

“The culture on that getting-it-right thing really has changed,” Alterman says. “We’ve kind of mimicked other sports and gone away from ‘the first referee is always correct’ culture that we had for years.

“At the college level we’ve emphasized the get-it-right philosophy to the point where we’ve encouraged the second referee to step up when they have information to add to a play.”

In addition to creating fewer controversies in an average match, it’s created the opportunity for specialization. Volleyball officials frequently come as matched sets now, with a great play-caller up top and a great administrator and soother in front of the table, between the benches. That helps because she agrees with the others that coaches have become more fractious and difficult to deal with.

Luciano wrote that he only ever asked for help on one call in 10 years. He was blinded by the setting sun one evening on a pole-bender home run, guessed wrong and had an entire dugout disgorge on him. It was such an obvious and excusable error that the umpires’ normal phobia of appearing indecisive didn’t apply. Compare that to today.

“It’s not unusual to get together on a play maybe once a weekend,” says Mike Conlin, an NCAA baseball umpire who also supervises basketball officials for the Horizon League. “I don’t want to say it’s become the norm, but it is common.

“I think it’s happened because it’s a completely different mentality with baseball. … I think, over time, it’s become recognizable that there are pieces where it’s in everybody’s best interest to get things right.”

It isn’t that the quest for perfection has changed over the past couple of decades; it’s that people have learned to tunnel under the stone wall officials used to build around their fallibility. What’s crept in is that officials now accept that they’ll make mistakes because the games are so much more athletic. So, they’re now more willing to fess up and straighten things out, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

OK, maybe it is a sign of strength, but if these group discussions bring more focus on the officials, “Let the teams decide it,” is bound to echo from the rafters. Conlin says, “The players do decide the game. The officials in any sport work the game the way the rules committees want them officiated.”

We could probably name many people just in our own neighborhoods who would regard that as a truism. Yeah, more fouls create more whistles, but aren’t officials supposed to compensate by calling fewer fouls, or only calling them when the situation dictates? Conlin doesn’t think so.

“Twenty years ago, you could look at contact in a play and be comfortable not blowing your whistle,” Conlin said. “Now the coaches are concerned about the amount of contact in the game and it not being won and lost in the dressing room and things like that. So now, they’re asking us to call things closer.”

Conlin and Adams agree that it restores the balance of play, which had swung toward the defense under a softer approach. Adams believes the best officials call the same foul, the same way whether in the first or last minute of a game; there is no room for stepping in early and setting a standard for what they’re willing to call, then letting the players run amok for a while and then buttoning things down with the game on the line. From Adams’ viewpoint, the need for that consistency is another consequence of the increased physicality of sports today.

Adams says finding enough people who are unwavering in how they call a game is a challenge. While it might be a question of foul-calling consistency in basketball, it manifests itself differently in other sports.

Luciano made the point that the umpires of his era were defined by their strike zones. He described his as an oval. He had trouble bending down far enough to be sure on the low corners and he thought having the top of the strike zone at the armpits was only fair if the ball was out over the plate. In his time, it fell to the players to get used to each umpire’s tendencies. Today, that would be heresy. In softball, Topping says, the NCAA uses and distributes video of its umpires’ games to make sure the strike zone is the standard rectangle, no matter who has the plate. It’s important because batters are equally well-coached to know the strike zone and lay off the right pitches.

Doesn’t “calibrating” officials so much take some of the humanity out of it? Maybe, but the consensus is we should all get used to it.

Another place where uniformity has become a raison d’être is in the realm of safety, the big fish in any sport’s pond these days. Luciano despised the beanball, especially after he saw the career of Baltimore’s Paul Blair changed by a “purpose pitch” that fractured his skull. Billy Martin once declared to him while exchanging lineup cards before a doubleheader that his Rangers would pitch at the Brewers’ Robin Yount every time he came to bat — and then they did. Luciano threw Martin out of both games and then was almost fired for criticizing the light treatment he thought Martin got from the league. The way Luciano looked at it, if a pitcher could throw at a batter, why couldn’t the batter go out to settle things with the pitcher? He said there were even times he’d give the batter a head start when he charged the mound: Try to imagine reading that on the front page of the sports section today.

Safety in sports is no longer something to be settled at the whim of the participants. Neither can its requirements be sampled like a smorgasbord by the officials. Gary Whelchel knows that as well as anyone.

Whelchel is the commissioner of officials for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) and regards managing safety as paramount. He says it often involves administrating issues that have nothing to do with when the ball’s in play. In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban football unless colleges found a solution to the deaths caused by head injuries. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if another president soon repeats that threat.

The AIA was one of the early experimenters with the football rule benching players whose helmet comes off during a play. The data Arizona produced was a big driver in the NFHS beefing up the rule in recent years, says Whelchel. The state has also adopted a concussion education program called the Barrow Brainbook: No player or official may participate in a contest unless they’ve passed the course with an 80 percent or better score. Safety protocols are taking no prisoners.

Being a safety-conscious official is as much about mediation and avoiding litigation as it is about determining forward progress. For Whelchel, that creates the secondary issue of finding the right observers to identify the right officials to work his state tournaments. The AIA has a policy that no official works state in consecutive years, so there’s a premium on having a good scouting program. Those observers, he explains, are often the retired, old-school people who are products of yesteryear’s successes. You have to do a lot to school them to select officials on the basis of the current requirements, which includes managing safety issues.

Whelchel says something else is the greatest threat to retaining officials. “The issue where we’re losing officials isn’t with their concerns over dealing with player safety,” he said. “Of more concern is the violence of the fans and those sorts of things that are occurring in society. They’re concerned whether somebody’s going to come up behind them or attack them out of the stands.”

Every jurisdiction, from the smallest middle school to the biggest college, has a policy of zero tolerance for intimidating referees. Nonetheless, the threat grows and the worst incidents have sometimes resulted in the deaths of officials. Whelchel says that the potential for abuse, plus an improving economy where potential officials have a better chance to find other work, has made it harder to find new officials. What did you experience the last time you were trying to replace a crewmate?

“In the past few years managers have started getting physical with umpires. A manager, or player, should never, ever, under any circumstances, touch an umpire. Throughout baseball history managers have been forbidden to touch the umpire and umpires have had a limited amount of trouble from fans. But if that barrier breaks down, and it seems to be cracked right now, umpires will start having real problems with the fans.” That wasn’t Whelchel speaking. Luciano wrote that in The Umpire Strikes Back, in 1982. Some things never change.

Do the level of preparation, scrutiny and the efforts at uniformity risk making officiating become sterile? Will there be any room for personality or flexibility? For that matter, is it even ethical to prepare for the tendencies of two teams anymore, lest we be biased?

Yes, absolutely yes. Luciano said he took up baseball “to avoid the blind dates arranged by his mother” but learned to love the game once he understood its nuances. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of the players in front of him and how it all played out made every game something new to look forward to. As the players left the field after one such game late in Luciano’s career, he wrote, “I wanted to tell them all, thanks for letting me be part of it.” Despite all the different things we’re being asked to do, it’s still about the game and we still get to enjoy it when the lights come up.

After retirement, Luciano worked briefly for NBC as a baseball color analyst. He then wrote five books about the human condition, thinly disguised as humorous reminiscences of his time in baseball. He summed it up this way: “When I started, (baseball) was played by nine tough competitors on grass, in graceful ball parks.

“But while I was trying to answer the daily Quiz-O-Gram on the exploding scoreboard, a revolution was taking place around me. By the time I was finished, there were 10 men on each side, the game was played indoors, on plastic, and I had to spend half my time watching out for a man dressed in a chicken suit who kept trying to kiss me.”

The San Diego Chicken and artificial turf didn’t change umpiring. They merely illustrate why officiating is changing. Sport is a cultural activity and a form of entertainment. How we play games changes at the will of the participants — the fans, teams and administrators. As officials, we’re there to help deliver what they want. If we have the same passion for the game, then changing our ways to accommodate is the way to go; if we can’t handle the change, we’re welcome to move on. Whatever the case, we are still part of the solution and our leaders want us to be the best we can be.

Situation normal.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Player Safety Mandate

We have a job to do. Are we doing it?

The-Player-Safety-Mandate

By Jeff Stern

Photos (and film clips) speak a thousand words.

A video montage created for a session at the NASO Sports Officiating Summit featured players being slammed, rammed, speared, elbowed, forearmed, run over, stomped on and pummeled. The audience, consisting of officiating leaders, reacted to each fresh collision with gasps, oohs and aahs.

Although hits to the head and the resultant concussions have been a particular point of emphasis in football recently, the video wasn’t confined to the gridiron. Athletes of all ages at all levels and several sports were depicted. And that means all officials need to be more diligent in keeping player safety Job One.

Discussing the issue at the Summit were Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine; Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of the NCAA and the former chief medical officer of the United States Tennis Association; Steve Shaw, Southeastern Conference coordinator of football officials; and Tom Minter, former risk manager for the Michigan High School Athletic Association and member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

Jeff Triplette, NFL referee and CEO of ArbiterSports, served as moderator.

Because Colgate is also the liaison to the NFHS football and wrestling rules committees, he sees the issue of player safety from multiple angles.

“The game has changed,” Colgate acknowledged. “These athletes are getting bigger, faster, stronger. From the perspective of officiating, it’s got to change also. I think we’re behind on some things that we need to do. We can only do so much on the rules standpoint.”

Shaw pointed out that for 2013 the NCAA put more teeth into its rules regarding contact at or above the shoulders of an opponent — a foul called targeting — by adding automatic ejection to the penalty.

“That has created conversation like there has never been before about (player safety), and that’s really good because football is a great game,” Shaw said. “We need to keep it great, but we have certain hits that we need to take out of the game. As officials, we must have the courage to enforce the rules as they’re written. As coordinators, not only do we have to teach our officials how to enforce it, but we have to stand behind them when they do put their marker on the ground and support it.”

Although football has been in the spotlight recently, Colgate said it is far from a one-sport problem.

“Right behind football, we’ve got high incidence of injuries in soccer, wrestling, ice hockey, the list can go on and on,” he said. “Each one brings a different perspective from a safety or risk issue element that comes into play. From our National Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, we’re looking at all 17 sports we write playing rules on to address that.”

Even when the rules of a sport allow violent contact, there are issues. Hainline noted that he is also a former ringside physician for the New York State Athletic Commission, which regulates boxing.

“I had to stop,” Hainline said, “because I got so queasy sometimes when I saw an athlete’s head getting concussed. It was difficult to actually witness that. The rules of boxing are very clear. The goal is to create neurological injury. A knockout means that you are so concussed that you can’t even pick yourself up from the floor. And a technical knockout means that you’re so concussed that you no longer have the neuromuscular control to protect yourself. But in none of the sports in the NCAA and none of the sports that we’re talking about is the goal to create a concussion, and I think that’s what we have to make very clear.”

Basic skills and executing plays in the games have been replaced by a desire to win through attrition — being more physical than the opponent to the point of knocking him or her out of the game.

“There’s been this understanding that if you really want to create a fumble, if you want to make certain that you’re safe at home plate, if you want to make certain that you disable someone else so that you make the play, the most effective way to do that actually is to cause a concussion, to target the other player,” Hainline said. “We as a society understand that that’s no longer acceptable. There’s been a movement that I think has been spearheaded by the NFL. The media has picked up on it. A lot of other places have been a little slow to accept that there’s a serious problem when you create a head injury.”

Minter, a longtime multi-sport official as well as an administrator, agreed that rules are worthless if officials don’t enforce them. “Change has occurred. What we have to do as officials is to manage that change,” he said.

What’s the Rule?

Colgate pointed out that NFHS rules committees take into account several factors when considering rule changes. “The first priority of our rulesmaking process at the NFHS is safety — risk minimization,” he said. “When that is going to be tied into any rule that is approved by the committee is, can it be officiated? Can it be administered? We’ve got to look at the officials out there, that may put them into a position (in which a call is) subjective. Is it a clear-cut call? Where is this going to come into play?

“The educational process is something I think we’ve stepped up,” he declared. “I think our state associations have stepped up, and I think the local officiating chapters have stepped up also, because it’s all about education right now.”

Shaw noted that the Appendix C in the NCAA football rulebook addresses concussions. The reason that section is in the book — and the reason it’s important for officials to know it — is that their job in the area of injuries doesn’t begin and end with stopping the clock and waving the medical staff onto the field to attend to a stricken player.

“I’m going to say in this world we’re in today, that’s not the end of our role,” Shaw declared. “In fact, the rulebook says … in this process officials and coaches — not just coaches and medical personnel — shall give special attention to players who exhibit signs of a concussion.

“Now (as a referee) I need to be looking over there into his eyes and say, ‘Is this guy woozy?’ If he’s demonstrating any signs of a concussion, I need to stop the game and put him out,” Shaw said. “The coach may not like it, but we need to get him to the right people on the sideline, the medical personnel, who now can make an assessment (and decide if) we let this guy play.”

While injury recognition is important, officials aren’t expected to be amateur physicians.

“Absolutely not,” Hainline said. More important, he said, is management. “That’s really the key word. The officials aren’t asked to be medical doctors, they aren’t asked to treat, but they’re the group of people on the field or wherever they are on the court, they can manage the situation appropriately. They have guidelines to manage the situation, and I think that in this day and age if there was any sort of doubt, to err on the side of caution, no one is going to fault you for that.”

Offering information can be very valuable. “With 20,000 plus high schools across the country in the rural setting, we don’t have an appropriate health-care professional on the sidelines that’s coming out to tend to this individual that’s down on the court or on the ice,” Colgate said. “Maybe only one coach. If they’re tending to something else on the sidelines, they may not have seen what happened (to the injured player). Any information that (officials) may be able to let (the coach) know. Was this person conscious before they went down and collapsed? That could be a difference, life or death, right there. A little bit of information may do more good than harm. I think we’ve got to be proactive with this.”

Hainline agreed and suggested more education for officials. “You don’t have to be medically qualified to ask the question. You just have to have a sense of what you’re looking for. But for the official to ask, get a sense of what’s going on and to err on the side of caution, I think that’s really the way that things must go.”

Triplette related a situation from one of his games. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler took a hit that resulted in an injury. “He’s holding his wrist as the medical personnel come out. They treat that wrist, and lo and behold they sent him back in the next series,” Triplette recalled. “The next day they discover he has a serious concussion. He’s out for the next week.

“You come to find out that the trainers are administering to an injured player on the sideline (and) no one on the sideline — none of the trainers, none of the doctors — had seen the hit that took place on the field.”

Officials can and should offer any information that might assist the medical team, Minter said. “If you see a person get cut down and their leg buckles underneath where you know it’s a knee injury, and the trainer comes out and immediately starts looking around the player’s head or something like that, you have positive information that something is not right,” he said.

Warning! Don’t Warn

At one time, it was acceptable and in some cases mandated that players were warned but not penalized for what were thought to be minor infractions. Those days, Minter said, are long gone.

“I think for officials in managing player safety, we are going to need to rethink those incidents where we traditionally have passed on (penalizing),” he said. “We’ve seen the rather rough play off the ball, 15 yards behind the play, or at the other end of the court on the low post or something like that, and what have we traditionally done? We’ve gone up to those players and said, ‘Hey, I saw that. Can’t let that happen again.’ The old talk-to, right? We’ve all engaged in talk-tos. What we need to now look at and determine is, is a talk-to a viable defense when we talk to our insurance carriers? Because now plaintiffs are definitely going to raise that as an issue. … Maybe we’re going to need to rethink that. We’re going to step in on the first whistle when the puck is dropped in the first period, the minute we see something, we’re going to nail people, if for no other reason than self-defense.”

It Starts at the Top

While officials do bear a great responsibility in the area of player safety, Shaw believes they are not alone. “Coaches have to change the way they coach,” he said. “No longer can we say, ‘It’s just a good football play.’ You have to change the way you coach. If it’s tackling, heads up, see what you hit, lower your target. And then the player has got to execute that.”

In addition to the competitive edge that can be created by “taking out” an opponent, players are trying to make hits that will get them on TV highlight shows. Shaw says there is a way to accomplish that legally.

“In (players’) words, they can still blow (opponents) up, but stay off their head,” he said. “That’s the behavior that if we change we keep it a great game and a tough, physical game, but a more safe game. We as officials have to do our part to not hesitate to put the marker on the ground.”

While most great athletes are considered to have a certain “tough-guy” mentality, Hainline said taking that attitude to an extreme is problematic in the treatment of injured players.

“It’s not only that players shouldn’t try to hurt someone else by way of deliberately concussing them, but players who are concussed, they actually hide it,” he said. “We’re publishing a study (that reveals) 50 percent of players from an Ivy League football school — you’d think they’re educated — hide their concussions because they’re afraid they’re going to lose their position, someone is going to take it from them.”

Hainline said the NCAA has an opportunity to add to the body of knowledge by creating a video devoted to injury recognition and prevention. “A video package that has a lot of educational pieces in it,” Hainline said, one that “really just takes you from A to Z about the different points, not only of concussion, but other potentially serious issues that happen on the field. The NCAA has a role, I think has a duty, to do the education.”

The last piece of the puzzle, Hainline said, is buy-in from parents of players and fans.

Repercussions Coming?

In some ways, the injury problem is nothing new. Triplette recalled that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban college football after a spate of catastrophic injuries, including deaths, were occurring during games. Roosevelt conducted a meeting with influential coaches and ordered them to get things under control. Those efforts mollified the president and the game continued.

Could history be preparing to repeat itself?

“That’s a good question,” Colgate responded. “If we don’t take a close look at all parties involved with the management of sport, there’s going to be issues. And if it’s not going to be addressed by those that are overseeing it, I’ve got a feeling Washington, D.C., is going to step into the fold.”

Congress has made noise about mandating concussion legislation. Hainline said the NFL and the NCAA were made aware of a bill that would have prescribed exactly how to manage a concussion. “That’s the worst thing that Congress can do because every concussion is different,” he said. “If we are now saying the doctor has to do this, the trainer has to do this, Congress just doesn’t have the ability to do that. They tried to do that with diabetic care. What happened is we had more brain injuries from diabetes as the result of a mandate from what they passed than we ever had before.”

The Bottom Line

The panel concluded that the watchword is change. Every stakeholder in sports needs to change his or her attitudes regarding player safety and injuries. “Playing hurt” is no longer to be admired; it is to be abhorred.

“I would say to all of the management, and all the administrators, all of the officials, all of us have to change,” Triplette concluded. “This is serious stuff, and it’s our job. It’s our job to protect every one of our sports.”

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor and is a multisport official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 02/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – What Assigners Really Do

Some people think assigners have an easy job. But the truth is that the demands of assigning coupled with the pressure being applied by coaches, schools and the officials themselves rule out the undertaking for the faint of heart.

What-Assigners-Really-Do

 

By Jeffrey Stern

From the outside looking in, assigning officials sounds like a simple enough task: Make a grid, get the schedule, fill in the dates, put names next to the dates. Done. Just that easy. Just that quick.

As a wise man once said, if it were that easy, anyone could do it. Turns out, there is a lot more to it than that.

Participants in a panel discussion at the 2013 NASO Sports Officiating Summit provided a glimpse of the process that is assigning officials.

“I think there’s a misconception that when you’re assigning, you just kind of put names on games,” said Dana Pappas, commissioner of officials for the New Mexico Activities Association.

For instance, what kind of things do assigners worry about? Bill Carollo, coordinator of college football officials for the Midwest Football Officials Alliance, which includes the Big Ten, Mid-American and Missouri Valley Football conferences, has sleepless nights wondering if he’s covered every possible base.

“I never assigned until a few years ago,” Carollo said. “My biggest worry was always if I missed a game; if I made a mistake. It’s a lot of administrative responsibility. So I would always worry and double check and make sure, and then put the responsibility back on the school to make sure that these are the games that they’ve asked us to assign and have that confirmed. But I’d always worry about maybe someone not showing up because I didn’t assign it.”

Jim Corstange assigns football and basketball officials in the southwest part of Michigan. Despite years of experience, he still frets over possible mistakes.

“Dealing with 50 schools, 50
athletic directors, and they keep changing their schedules constantly, you want to make sure that your game is correct,” Corstange said.
“Then I want to make sure those officials show up. Yes I use ArbiterSports (Internet-based assigning) and yes I send out reminders. But I usually call that same day just to make sure, just to double check, and then I feel comfortable. And if the game time is 7:00 and if my phone rings at 6:30, I get nervous.”

“In our office, I do all the postseason assignments,” Pappas said. “There are weekends when I’ll have 80 games and 240 basketball officials. The entire time I’m just looking at my phone because nothing is worse than a 1 p.m. start and your phone is ringing at 12:30 (with an administrator asking), ‘Are we going to have officials for this first-round state playoff game?’”

Assist Advancement?

In some cases, an official is being offered a reward for good work with an assignment, or is being given his or her first crack at a big game. Assigners like to help up-and-comers in that way, but how do they weigh that against the comfort of the known quantity, the veteran who has handled plum assignments before?

“I like to put the rookie, if you will, in with the veteran crew,” said Tom Lopes, executive director of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials and coordinator of basketball officials for the Northeast Conference. “With three officials, it’s sometimes easy to let that happen.”

As the coordinator of a lower-profile collegiate conference, Lopes sees developing the next cadre of top officials as part of his job. “It’s my goal to lose (promising) officials,” he said. “When I say lose, I mean that they get promoted and move up to, say, the Big East or the Big Ten. If I can give them that foundation, I think that’s an important role that we play as assigners.”

Carollo takes a similar tack. “I think you have certain games and you want a veteran and experienced official on that game,” he said. “I tend more to look at the merits of it. Is he ready for that game? You try to work them in.”

As a football assigner, one advantage Carollo has is the size of the crew. “It’s harder to hide on the basketball court with two or three officials. But you can slide somebody in as an alternate in football as one of the position officials,” he said. “Certainly I think that merit is really important but you have to blend that in with some experience. And you don’t get that experience unless you put a young guy in and match him up with an experienced referee, and you want him to shadow that guy for the day. You put him on the sideline or on the field. I say, ‘You’re going to be on this person’s crew, and I want you to watch how he handles his pregame, how he handles the game, how he handles the professionalism and the communication on the sideline.’ That’s how you learn. You have to give them experience and give them a chance to make a mistake. I’m OK with the young guy making a mistake.”

At the high school level, Corstange encourages crews to work with newer officials on freshman and JV games. But he relies on his own eyes and ears to find out who’s earned a promotion.

“When you look at the games you want to make sure you have the right people there,” he said. “And how do they get that? From what they’ve done in the past. At my level, I’ve got 25 games a night. I can’t be at all 25 places (to observe). And I rarely have an observer watching the officials. Some of my officials who get injured want to be involved, and they say, ‘Hey, can I go evaluate for you?’ So I do have a couple people that keep doing that for me, but I rely a lot on my veteran officials to give me input on younger officials to see if they are capable of doing those varsity games.”

Brian Hemelgarn does some assigning and training for the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials and is an active volleyball official. He said mixing veterans with newer officials is common in volleyball. But he also acknowledged that assigners have to balance rewards with the perils of moving someone up too quickly. “I think it’s important that we challenge referees when we give them matches but not put them in a position where they’re not going to be successful,” he said. “So at least in volleyball, for example, giving someone a level of play that they can be challenged yet still find a reasonable level of success is extremely important. We’ve got a lot of younger referees with less experience at least in terms of number of years that call really good matches. And so they sometimes get a primo assignment over a veteran who might deserve the opportunity in terms of experience. But the newer folks coming up are really out there working hard and they get the better assignments at times.”

Handle Coaches

Whether the officials working games are veterans, newcomers or in between, there are going to be disgruntled coaches or athletic directors. The delicate balance of keeping the customers happy with supporting officials is a challenge for assigners.

“When we took over the league four or five years ago, we had a coaches meeting and we got approval from the commissioner,” Lopes said. “We have two rules with our coaches. One is don’t call me the night of a game. The emotion is too high, they can’t see straight, they’re not objective, it’s always our fault anyway. So with that said the next day go look at the film, jot down the notes you want to make, and then call me.”

Lopes said many coaches found that once they had time to look at video of the play, they didn’t need to make the angry phone call. “Because after they reviewed the plays, our officials were correct. That happens 90 plus percent of the time,” he said.

The second rule, Lopes said, comes into play if he is present at a game. He tells the coaches, “Don’t make any signals to me. I can’t help you,” he said. “I never sit at the press table. I’m in the stands somewhere where they can’t see me. But they know I’m there.”

If the coach is unwise enough to gesture to Lopes, the officials have been instructed to slap them with a technical foul. “It’s been, luckily, somewhat successful,” he said. “The coaches are pretty positive. They like what’s being done.”

Carollo’s philosophy in regard to coach’s phone calls is pretty basic. “I don’t give my head coaches my phone number,” he said. “I make them go to their athletic director first. I don’t care whether it’s after the game or whatever. (After talking with the coach), if the athletic director feels that they need to talk to me, I let them give me a call. And I’ve had that happen several times, but I’ll never take a call after the game.”

“I save coaches’ phone numbers in my phone,” Pappas said. “If it’s Tuesday night and (a coach’s number) comes up on my (caller ID), I scream. Then I’ll call the next day and I’ll say, ‘Coach, what’s going on?’ ‘Nothing, I was just mad last night.’ And I’ll say, ‘That’s why I didn’t answer your call.’ You do get pretty good at monitoring those things.”

Identify the Red Flags

It is important for an assigner to not only know the kind of official being sent out to work, but the kind of person. As Carollo put it, “It behooves us to know exactly what the expectations are for an official to be in this conference.”

Background checks are common today at all levels and may or may not fall under the assigner’s purview.

“The NCAA has taken over that responsibility,” Carollo said. “But we also do background checks through the Big Ten office and through my (Football Championship Subdivision) conferences. The guys know that if it’s drunken driving or something out of the court or even financial issues, we get involved in all those and we do a check. And sometimes red flags will come up, and we want to look into that just because it could relate to officiating.”

Hemelgarn said USA Volleyball conducts background screening for all referees and coaches. “Primarily the flags would be offenses involving minors, or drug or alcohol offenses,” he said. The check looks seven years into the past to look for issues.

Pappas and Corstange work with high school officials, so the state association handles the checks.

Embrace Diversity

Some assigners, particularly at the high school level, face the mandate — or at least a strong suggestion — from those in charge to hire minorities.

“I don’t think we have done enough to involve diversity in athletics as far as officiating is concerned,” Carollo added. “And when I say diversity I’m not just talking African-American. There’s a lot of nationalities out here that got excluded in the past. Let’s use females as an example. Most women did not have the opportunity to play football so there’s less women going into it. But today it’s changing. And I think the coaches will buy into it. They understand. It’s a different world than it was in the ’60s and ’70s and where a lot of the coaches came out of when they were playing. So it’s a concern of mine to make sure that we do uncover and identify all the best officials possible.”

Hemelgarn said the volleyball community has been working to be more inclusive of women. “I think there’s really an active movement to keep women involved and get them involved and to challenge them regardless of whether it’s boys’ or men’s or girls’ or women’s big matches,” he said. “I think there’s an effort to put them on those matches. And many of them do quite well, and we’re always looking for that diversity or that strong background and presence on the court to give them opportunities.”

Pappas comes from a state with a great mix of races and nationalities. Exposing athletics to those cultures is a way of recruiting future officials. “We really try to look at the populations of our state and try to get more people involved so that kids of that particular nationality or race are aware that’s a viable option for them,” she said. “We lose so many potential officials that don’t understand how to get involved in officiating. If you don’t see someone who is like you, whether it’s female, whether it’s whatever nationality you are in that avocation or that profession, you’re probably not going to go in that direction because you’re not seeing people. It’s that homologous reproduction thing. If you don’t see somebody who looks like you, you’re probably not going to go into that field.”

To that point, Hemelgarn cited the story of an African-American referee who wanted to move up to a national level certification. “On the USA Volleyball website, we have an officiating page that has pictures of all of the national level referees. And he came to me and he said, ‘I went to that web page and I was looking for a mentor. I was looking for somebody like me. I want to be up at that level because the next guy behind me wants to look up and find another referee just like them.’

“I had never thought of that before, and it was really kind of an eye opener for me,” Hemelgarn said, adding that the referee in question did advance to the national level.

Use Evaluation Input

It is difficult to conduct training sessions during the course of a basketball season. But Lopes has one idea that is along those lines.

“After each of our games, all crews have to report to me at least two plays that they questioned themselves about,” he said. “By the next morning I have an email from each of the crewmembers with the time of the two plays. In the morning we can re-evaluate what took place the night before.”

When it comes to hiring observers, Corstange fights the same budget battle as many assigners: Everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but no one wants to pay for it.

“Our state has developed an observers program, and I think that has really helped to evaluate officials and to give us as assigners input to what crews are like, what individuals are like and so forth. But I wish I had more people out there to help evaluate officials to give me more input so I know how to assign properly and do the right thing. I go to the conferences that I work for and say, ‘Can I get $500 to help pay some people to go out and help evaluate?’ And they’re going to say, ‘We don’t have the money.’”

Pappas said her state has tried a couple of different evaluation systems. “We had tried active officials and, of course, that becomes, ‘He said I’m terrible because he wants my games.’ We’re using retired officials and training them through the system and keeping them current in the rulebook and doing more and more with that to make sure that we have eyes on. Because at the end of the day what really does make an assigner’s job so much easier is to make sure that we’re aware of the talents of our officials and the skill level and where they should be as opposed to where they end up.”

Assigner Advice

Despite the trials and tribulations, assigning is a necessary and important component of officiating. What advice would the panel give someone who is or wants to be an assigner?

Remember that you aren’t just filling games, Carollo said, but building a staff. “If I only can give (newer officials) a couple games, I will call other conferences and try to share officials to give them more assignments. I will call neighboring conferences and say, ‘Why don’t you take this guy?’ We both like this official, let’s help this official.”

Corstange said if he were new to assigning he would check with veteran assigners. “Find out what it’s about, what needs to be done, what are the ups and downs, the pluses and negatives,” he said. “Be prepared for it before you’re thrown into it. I feel I was kind of thrown into it, and so I’m learning as I’m going.”

“What’s important for me,” Pappas said, “is being visible and having people know that I’m out watching and showing up at camps and going to different parts of the state. Because if I’m ultimately the person between the stamp of approval on a state tournament assignment, people will say, ‘It’s not fair. She’s never seen me work.’ If I’m not out working with officials, seeing them … I think people have a skewed perception — they feel like you don’t even know who they are.”

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor. He is a veteran high school and collegiate football official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 11/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – No Regrets

Time to Step Up!

Regrets can be haunting. Don’t be that official who looks back at a game and says, “If only I had done this … or that.” Learn how to do the right thing in the first place.

No-Regrets

By Tom Schreck

Sometimes you can do everything in your power to get a call right and still blow it. That’s a tough regret to live with, but it’s even tougher to live with the regrets that you could have avoided. You can do things while the action unfolds in front of you to minimize your regrets and you can do things away from the game for your career that will have you looking in life’s rearview mirror a lot less.

Be aware, put yourself in position and be prepared, not just to make the right call in a contest, but to make the right career moves. Let’s take a look at how you can avoid some of the most common regrets from officials.

I Regret … Not Taking Care of Personalities

Officiating requires dealing with difficult people who are often at their worst, especially under the stress of a close contest. Letting their behavior get to you personally can take you away from the game, but ignoring it brings its own issues. There’s a delicate balance to keeping control of the game and yourself but, like it or not, sometimes you have to face it head on.

You may tell yourself that the hot-headed, foul-mouthed coach with the explosive personality disorder is just blowing off steam. You may reason that addressing the situation will only escalate the disruption. You could be rationalizing your way out of a situation that you should address.

“When a coach is getting vocal it takes away your concentration. You wind up babysitting him or her instead of paying attention to what’s happening between the lines and your concentration isn’t on the floor,” Michael Price, an NCAA Division I basketball referee, says. “If a coach or a player breaks your concentration, you need to deal with it.”

For Price it’s not about his ego or punishment for the obnoxious coach; it is about addressing a factor that is interfering with his ability to call the game. Take the personalities out of it and keep it simple. It’s about doing your job.

Despite what many fans and coaches may think, officials are flesh and blood. Each individual has a different level of tolerance. For some, the gnawing relentless heckling from the bench blends into the white noise of the contest. For others, it becomes a thorn in the side of focused attention.

Knowing you’re not the only official in the world is important, too. Keep in my mind that if you don’t take care of business you might be leaving a mess for another official to clean up later in the season.

“I may know the personality of a coach and the things he or she says may not offend me,” says Robbie Guest, an NCAA Division I softball and baseball umpire. “Still, I have to address it because if what he or she is saying is inappropriate and he or she says it to another official later on, it’s going to cause a problem.”

Taking care of the situation and dealing with poor behavior so that the game can progress naturally does not mean escalating the situation. Be direct, assertive and responsible without throwing gas on the coach’s sizzling embers. Check your own ego at the door and rely on the subtle confidence your experience has brought.

“My job is to be a calming influence and if I escalate things I really regret that,” Randy Wetzel, a 2011 NCAA College World Series baseball umpire, says. “It makes me look bad as a professional.”

Walking the thin line of addressing the situation without escalating it is as much art as it is science. A fair amount of social skills, body language and a few choice words can get the job done and it is an easier strategy than taking on an ego-driven coach wanting to go head-to-head.

“The first time I hear something out of line I might look toward the dugout with my mask on. The second time I might take my mask off, give a look and let them know that I don’t want to hear any more. The third time they do something it means time for an ejection,” Guest says.

Keep your mind clear, leave personalities out of the situation and deal with what’s in front of you before it becomes an unmanageable problem that you wish you had taken care of earlier.

I Regret … Not Making the Big Call

A good official knows the game is about the contest and the participants. By nature, officiating is not about garnering attention.

Many like to say, “When you do your job well, you are invisible to everyone.” But that sentiment can get in the way of optimal performance. The rules and games often call for difficult and unpopular calls at crucial times. Those attention-drawing calls have to be made, but sometimes an official won’t make them because he or she wants to stay in the background. That is a mistake and one that can linger.

“The big call in the big moment is why we’re there. It is the point where all of your training and study comes to a head,” Guest says. “You don’t want to let the excitement of the moment influence you. When I know a game is on the line, I want to be sure that I’m in position and in the right place so I can slow the game down in my mind. At that point I just rely on muscle memory to make the call. A lot of times I don’t realize how big the call was until after the game.”

Keep in mind the players are responsible for their actions. Officials are there to enforce the rules and manage the contest. It is up to you to assess what you see and take action. It is not your fault or responsibility when a player screws up at a crucial time.

“Sometimes we carry the burden of the situation rather than examining the facts. We’re there to make the decision and to uphold the rules. It is not our job to think of the circumstances around it,” says Ben Trevino, NCAA Division I soccer referee.

Avoid feeling responsible for how the contest will ultimately be decided. Make the calls you need to make based on what the players do while in front of you. Let the chips fall where they may and go to your next assignment without regret.

I Regret … Failing to Write the Report

A good part of any profession, in or out of officiating, is taken up with what can seem to be an excruciating amount of minutiae. It’s a necessary evil.

Adopt that type of attitude and don’t expect to get a lot of assignments. The reporting requirements to conference and association leaders are there for a reason. You may get all the calls right when you blow the whistle or call safes and outs, but you’ll live to regret not taking care of business after the buzzer sounds or the final out is called.

“Not doing reports correctly can hurt referees,” Trevino says. “I’ve seen it. Basically it’s part of the job and a requirement. They are hiring you for your services and not doing them puts a strain on administration.”

Internet blogs are set up to criticize officials, so supervisors can be aided by backup documentation to support decisions that wind up under the microscope. Supervisors want to support you and cover themselves because their reputations are on the line as well. Information is power and organized documentation can help you, your supervisor and your organization come out with your respect intact.

“Getting your reports done correctly and on time isn’t glamorous, but it is important,” Wetzel says. “I’m an assistant vice principal of a high school so I’m used to writing reports. Don’t editorialize, treat your writing like it’s a court case and get the facts. Leave your emotions out.”

The attention to detail is vital. It will help for down the road when the situation is called into question.

“I write down facts that will be hard to remember later on,” Guest says. “When something happens I jot down the inning, the coaches and assistant coaches’ names and the important circumstances that will go into a full report.”

Report writing is tedious and isn’t glamorous, but we know the devil is in the details. If you want to avoid your own private hell get the reports done on time and in order. It will save you headaches down the road.

“Failing to complete the required reports puts a strain on administration,” Trevino says. “You can wind up putting people in a bind and ultimately, I believe you’ll be less likely to get a future assignment.”

I Regret … Not Taking Care of My Appearance

You probably didn’t get into this because you liked the show “America’s Next Top Model.” You love the game and you want to be close to it. You care about getting the rules right, staying in position and keeping the contest fair. You have no interest in walking down a runway, so why focus on appearance?

“People form an impression of you in the first seven to 10 seconds,” Wetzel says. “You can be the greatest official in the world, but if they have already made up their minds about you because of the way you look, you’re fighting an uphill battle. If I was a young guy trying to break in I’d do everything I could to look my best.”

Looking good is superficial, but much of your responsibility hinges on the intangibles of things like respect, leadership and confidence. A waist line with the Michelin stamp on it or having as much trouble navigating the field of play as Oprah would have doing a chin up isn’t going to help perceptions. A lean physique and a pressed uniform gives off the message you want conveyed. Keep it simple and give yourself an advantage that is easily in your control.

“Half the battle is won by looking the part,” said Wetzel. “If you’re at your best appearance-wise you’ll look like an official who knows what he or she is doing. Give yourself that advantage.”

I Regret … Not Taking the Extra Career Step

It is common for officials to feel like their careers have grown stagnant. If you’ve been stuck at the same level, doing the same games in the same conference for years and you want to break out, you have to ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can to advance?

You can build your career or you can choose to not take those steps because they cost money, involve travel or are inconvenient. Make the latter choice and you’ll live with the regret.

One of the simplest ways to open up doors is to attend camps and clinics.

“In today’s world it is the only way to advance yourself,” said Wetzel. “Attend as many camps and clinics as you can, even if you’re not getting assignments. Simply put, if people don’t know your name and who you are, you simply are not going to get games.”

Part of the formula is honing your game skills and staying on top of rule changes and approaches, but the networking and face-to-face contact is just as important as any education. That isn’t about manipulative do-anything-to-get ahead salesmanship. It is about making connections, developing camaraderie and letting the industry know who you are. In our world of Facebook, iPhones and Blackberries, sometimes it is easy to forget face-to-face meetings.

“It is important career-wise and it is important on a personal level,” Guest says. “Many of the camps have a real reunion feel to them and you get a chance to visit with people you see only a handful of times a year. It also translates into better performance because you develop relationships with people who you will wind up working with on the field.”

The fact of the matter is that people have to know who you are to assign you. Word of mouth isn’t efficient and it is only natural for those doing the assigning to go with officials they are familiar with. Instead of getting resentful of those who seem to have an “in” you can take the necessary steps to promote yourself.

“If you’re an excellent official and no one knows you — and I’m not talking about a good ol’ boy network — you’re not going to be noticed,” said Wetzel. “They have to be able to put a face to a name.”

You could make the next step in your career. It might mean joining a new association, paying the dues and traveling to camps and clinics across the country. Sure, it’ll take some cash out of your pocket, some time off from work and a few days away from the family, but the rewards are likely to mean a step up in your officiating career.

Failing to make the move to put yourself into that position will certainly be a tough regret to live with.

Tom Schreck is a writer and a professional boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 7/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – 9 Easy Ways to Kill Your Career

There are a lot of long and promising careers available for officials of all levels. … And then there are career-killers. You don’t want to dig your own grave. Put down the shovel and know the actions to avoid.

9-Easy-Ways-to-Kill-Your-Career

By Tim Sloan

Call it what you want: The funnel, the meat grinder, the system, the process; whatever the metaphor, the concept is the same: If there’s something worth doing in life, chances are there are more people who want to do it than there are places for them all. Some will be discarded. Not everyone who goes in one end comes out the other.

The world of sports takes no prisoners in that regard. If you’re an athlete, the odds are far better that you’ll be a starter on your high school team, then the number three person in regional sales before you retire from your last pro athlete contract. When the talent is that good, and the opportunities so few, you don’t have to be that bad to fall by the wayside somewhere.

Arguably, officiating has become the same way. There might have been a time when hard work, spunk, knowing the game and a willingness to make the commitment was all it took to move up. If you were willing to sacrifice your home life for your avocation, there were more people willing to let you try. Nowadays, we seem waist-deep in fellow officials who always want more than they have and, in the true spirit of the rat race, will do whatever they can to get to “The Show.” But it isn’t always clear who will succeed: Some of the can’t-miss people we know wash out, while others less gifted slug it out and eventually wave to us from the tube every Sunday afternoon.

Referee development has become such a concerted process today. One of the consequences is that the people who identify and promote officials can point to many different ways that someone in the mix can do him- or herself in, despite their ability. Rising players derail themselves with bad choices, immaturity and burnout mostly. So do promising officials. They lose sight of the fact that assigners have plenty of people willing to work with them; they can do without people who think they have diplomatic immunity to the law of the jungle. Here is a list of nine such showstoppers to fine careers and some feedback from people who work with the up-and-comers about how it all really works.

1. Fall to Adequately Prepare

To many of us, that may sound like nothing more than not staying in game shape or keeping your uniform and appearance in order. There’s an element of truth in that and, particularly as we all get older, the people who realize that it’s easier to stay in shape than get in shape carry the day. Darrin Sealey, however, thinks poor preparation runs deeper than that at the higher levels. Sealey is the college baseball umpire coordinator for Mid-Atlantic Officials and is well known in NCAA circles; he worked the 2009 College World Series. His job is to identify and develop umpires along parts of the East Coast and has worked with some who were their own worst enemies. He says he sees some umpires with good potential become stranded at the lower levels for reasons having nothing to do with balls and strikes. He thinks some umpires fall into a “high school” mentality of squeezing games into their schedule and not devoting the level of preparation to them they require.

“A lot of people think pregames happen an hour before game time,” Sealey says. “Pregames start days, if not months, before that first game. If (an umpire) is showing up 30 minutes before game time because he’s not leaving work on time and driving through D.C. traffic and then he’s rushing to get his plate gear on, he’s going to have problems. His mind-set then is ‘everything’s sped up; everything’s sped up’ and everything does speed up in his mind.”

That makes his onfield work suffer because he hasn’t had the time to focus and get into the groove that’s required to perform at that level before the game starts.

J.B. Caldwell is an NCAA basketball official who also assigns and trains college officials in Florida and he agrees with Sealey. “One of the biggest issues I’ve had with people trying to sustain themselves at the college level has nothing to do with being on the floor but managing issues off the floor,” says Caldwell. “I lean on saying that someone that fundamentally is not well organized is going to have a tough time.”

In an eagerness to move up, some officials take on too much and don’t give themselves the hours in the day necessary to mentally prepare for their assignments. Succeeding at the upper levels requires a strategic approach to travel, study, exercise and rest that some handle better than others. Some try to work beyond their limitations and their work suffers.

2. Don’t Follow Through on your word

Gil Urban wears a number of hats around Michigan soccer through his work with U.S. Soccer and says moving up in the soccer world requires a couple of things. One is meeting the requirements of U.S. Soccer’s assessment process. The other is keeping up your image and the demand for your skills through all the games you have to work in the process. Urban calls it being unprofessional when officials start missing assignments they agreed to work.

“Someone who has a tendency to be late, or even worse than that, misses an assignment,” gets a rep he or she doesn’t need, Urban explains. “People will say, ‘He’s a great ref, but there’s a 10 percent chance he won’t show up,’ because he’s just not professional enough to manage his calendar, his time and his lead time.” Many assigners will take their chances with Jimmy Olsen if they’re worried Superman might have to flake at the last minute.

Being reliable extends to more than just making it to assignments, however. Nowadays, competent officials are called upon more to help evaluate other officials, attend meetings, show up for camps and whatever else their bosses deem desirable. It’s all part of the deal and it’s no longer acceptable to play elitist and tell your boss what you will or won’t do.

3. Trash Talk

Some would call that biting the hand that feeds you. Whatever the term, it’s never good to run down your boss to others. The way things work today, the grapevine will strangle anyone who thinks slagging others is an anonymous crime. When that kind of intrigue gets back to Sealey, he says it isn’t so much a question of his own sensitivity to criticism; more that it’s a symptom of a more serious disease.

“One in 10 guys is always complaining,” according to Sealey — about his assignments, his partners or even how they came up with the names for the planets. “Two or three out of 10 will always have some complaints, too.

“Zero of the hardcore complainers ever makes it because they burn themselves out,” he says. Officials who choose to take issue with others eventually end up having too many demons to fight and their reputation collapses. That happens because they’re guilty of the next item on the list.

4. Shirk Accountability

Caldwell says there are some officials an assigner can never do enough for and it manifests itself in a lack of self-effacement. “Not accepting responsibility or taking ownership,” for your success, he says, is no way to operate. “If you’ve got people in denial when you’re working with them, it’s hard to overcome their deficiencies.”

Face it, every official has work to do to get better and some officials either don’t see that or believe any admission of weakness will lower them in the eyes of the assigner. Sealey contends that just the opposite is true. “The first thing I’m looking for,” he says, “is an eagerness to learn.” And that, for him, implies the understanding that you have something to learn.

“I want the new guy to love the game of baseball,” Sealey adds. “If he doesn’t, he has some other motive for working for me and that scares me.”

5. Don’t Pay Attention to the Boss

A good way to learn is to consider that the assigner, assessor or crew chief has something worthwhile to say. Urban sees officials who will instead react by blowing off the credentials of a trained assessor when a less-than-glowing report is turned in. OK, maybe one afternoon can be a bit rough, but Urban believes you have to look at all your evaluations as a body of work, often presenting a recurring theme. Give the people who pass those judgments some credit and heed what they tell you.

There’s more to it than taking criticism well, though. Sealey has had people come to camps who say, “I’m just here to be evaluated, not to do the education sessions.”

“Ninety-nine percent of mechanics are the same way everywhere,” says Sealey. “Different coordinators have their own interpretation of the other one percent and, if you don’t educate yourself in your assigners’ expectations, you’ll have trouble.”

Maybe that’s the Me generation at work, rebelling against anything we didn’t think of first, but one can see how that causes problems. Working on any officiating crew is not an exercise for mavericks. If an official is glugging his or her own bathwater instead of working within the system, everyone suffers. That is generally followed by the boss having strange phone conversations when he or she should be in bed sleeping. If you establish a reputation for not serving the boss, it will be a short-lived one.

6. Be Fake

I remember Andy Dufresne offering some career advice to a fellow inmate in The Shawshank Redemption. That fellow had been in and out of jail since the age of 10. “Perhaps you should consider another line of work because you’re obviously not a very good crook,” Dufresne said. Caldwell has similar advice for officials who choose to be less than truthful with him or anyone else.

“People that give me fantasy reasons why they can’t attend meetings or manufacture excuses that simply are not true — I don’t go on missions to check these people out but the grapevine is healthy and alive,” says Caldwell. Most assigners can handle the truth and accept that life sometimes gets in the way of officiating. As long as it’s still an avocation for 99 percent of all officials, Caldwell would prefer people tell him what he might not want to hear than manufacture something they think he does want to hear. It’s called credibility.

Sealey is amazed at how many people will lie on their resumés when they apply for a job with him. They’ll say that they worked in a certain league or with certain partners when, charitably, their memory apparently fails them. “Especially with the Internet these days,” he says, “it’s so easy to go online and check people out.”

To continue the Dufresne analogy, Andy created an alter-ego as an imaginary financier to help launder money extorted by the evil warden. He eventually took on that identity to abscond to Mexico with millions. It helped that he really had been a bank president before going to prison; it made it so much easier to have other people take him seriously. Those would-be officials, who tell prospective bosses they’re something they’re not, will eventually be found out … probably the first time they step on the field. Typically, they pad their resumés to gain an edge, and that’s because they’re trying to …

7. Force the Close

“I’ve never had an umpire tell me he thought he was moving too quickly in his career,” assures Sealey. There might be some officials who prefer to take a little more time to pause and smell the flowers along the road of life, but most are willing to have it all thrown at them: Bring it on! In fact, some of them are so sure of their abilities that they tend to reject the process for being checked out by a potential new boss.

Caldwell says there are a lot of things he can do to appraise talent, including evaluating their athleticism, spending time with them, giving rules tests and the like. He can also find out a lot anecdotally about their relationships with their peers and things like aptitude, values and character … but until he sees them in a pressure-packed situation, he never knows for sure how they’re going to respond.

“And you really can’t manufacture that in a summer camp setting,” says Caldwell.

So, that is the rub. Officials have to accept that they won’t get to work for someone without having been personally observed by that person or someone he or she trusts. Sealey says, “I’ve had people who said, ‘I don’t try out for anybody,’” when asked for their schedule to check up on their application. All of them have been wished the best of luck in their future endeavors: they won’t work for him.

Relax. Networking among assigners is very common and that means the fear of “trying out” shouldn’t be that big of a deal: The assigner’s probably heard enough favorable things already about a candidate to warrant a look-see at all. The flip side of that is that sometimes officials just don’t work out in some leagues. Caldwell and Sealey say that’s not often the end of the road. When somebody inquires about the ability of an umpire who’s seeking greener pastures than his, Sealey has no hard feelings. He says he’ll give an honest assessment of the person’s strengths and weaknesses but never render a personal opinion in the process. Most assigners see an official’s success as a combination of ability and the right environment, so moving on from a bad situation isn’t necessarily the kiss of death.

8. Misidentify Where You should be in your Career

Urban sees officials who view progression as a sort of checklist to be ticked off, as tasks are completed. “You hear, I’ve now worked 122 games at this level, so I’m ready to be upgraded,’” he says. Perhaps because an experience factor is defined in the U.S. Soccer progression, some officials take it as the only thing they have to do — especially if they don’t like the tone of some of their assessments. In fact, a lot of sports have their share of officials who believe that “time served” should be the only true measurement of promotability. In that case, maybe the system is as often to blame for the official’s frustration. The human mind, in absence of the concrete, can conjure tremendous fantasy. Competitive officials need honest and actionable feedback and, if they don’t receive it, make things worse by guessing at their true weaknesses and fixing the wrong things.

Urban, Sealey and Caldwell all agree that the systems now exist to provide feedback from myriad sources — coaches, officials, assigners, observers — and present it coherently to the officials who need it. At the high school level, some states do a better job than others, however, due to the availability of resources: That’s a problem, and it may reflect itself in the retention rates of officials. At the college and professional levels, the case is usually one of ample feedback, sometimes brutally rendered. Those organizations have realized the value of, and invested in, developing officials thoroughly and keeping them for the long haul.

9. Don’t Self-Analyze

Ultimately it all comes down to the effort of the official to improve. You can reduce your chances of lung cancer by quitting smoking. Same with cirrhosis of the liver and quitting drinking. But you can’t avoid disappointment by quitting listening. No matter what you say on your resumé, what you think of the assigner and how bad the coaches are in your league, some officials still succeed, while others don’t. If you find that things aren’t going well for you as an official, ultimately it comes back to what you have decided to do about it, or not. If you aren’t prepared to be honest with yourself about what has to change and then commit to do it, all of those other issues are moot. And in some cases, it really is the end of the road; you’ve reached your level of incompetence: Get used to it.

When officials have conflict and trouble in their careers, the experts say that it often stems from asking the wrong question: “What’s in it for me?” Conversely, the great officials continue to persevere and to learn and they never think it’s about them. Sealey remembers finding that epiphany when he went to Omaha in 2009 and looked around at all the great umpires he worked with. To him, flourishing as an official is now simple: “Focus more on who you’re with and what you’re doing than where you’re at and who’s playing,” Sealey says.

Never be bigger than the game.

Tim Sloan, Bettendorf, Iowa, officiates high school football, basketball and volleyball. He is a former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 9/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – I’ve Been Meaning to Say …

Sometimes the path of least resistance leads to a dead end in officiating. It’s time to say what you need to say. Just make sure you say it the right way.

story

By the Referee editors

We’re used to practicing restraint in conversations with coaches and players, because saying it like it is could cost us our careers. But should being “safe” in what we say extend to those in and outside the industry who are on our side? So often we want to say something to improve our crew, association and career, but don’t because we’re afraid we might offend someone or don’t know how to say it the proper way.

It’s time to speak up … and we’ll provide you with the guidance to say the right things when it’s time to talk to your partners, crew chiefs, assigners, local and state association leaders and spouse.

PARTNER/CREWMATE

1. “You’re not good; you stink.”

As much as you want to and as much as it might be warranted, that’s an example of what not to say. But you should say something. Confronting a partner who is not making the grade is difficult but important. Start by bringing up some positives (there must be a few) in his or her game, and then share some aspects your partner needs to work on and offer positive suggestions on how he or she can improve.

2. “Just shut up.”

Some officials like to talk and they need a reminder to zip it. Cover the topic in your pregame or postgame. Stress the importance of staying focused on the game and the perception problem caused by talking to the nearest coach between every inning or break in the action. It might take video of the game along with your words to really drive the problem home. Seeing is believing and will hopefully lead to golden silence when appropriate.

3. “Stay for the postgame.”

Games can go long, but the partners that “can’t” take an extra five minutes for a postgame talk can drive you crazy. We’ve all got things to do and we want to get home, but a few minutes now could help tremendously in the long run. If your partner is flying out of the locker room as soon as you enter it, unless it is for an emergency, insist that the official stays. Flat out tell your partner he or she needs to stay. And explain why you are insisting. Most officials will stay, possibly grudgingly, but that’s a start.

4. “Lose weight; take a shower.”

If your partner literally cleaned up his or her act and dropped a few pounds, bigger and better assignments would likely be waiting. Sometimes it takes a crewmate who is a close friend to tell the official. It’s easy to ignore issues if no one brings them up. But if you tell your peer the need for improvement, it might be the kick in the pants he or she needs. Before having the talk, you better makes sure your look and hygiene are in order.

Sure, your partner has to want to make a change, but hearing from you that it’s necessary is important. Explain that it’s all part of a professional approach, a little thing that pays dividends toward overall perception. If you’re fat and obviously not in good physical condition, you’ll be perceived as lazy, whether you are or not.

5. “Go to a camp.”

If your crewmate would get it through his or her thick head about the benefits of attending a camp, maybe he or she wouldn’t be whining so much about not getting better assignments. After you attend a camp, share with your partner how much you have learned. Encourage your crewmate to attend with you next time. Highlight the benefits of attending a camp: learning new philosophies and being seen by the people who are in position to give you better assignments.

Tell your peer, “If you can show the clinicians what you can do, you just may get a chance to show them during the season and postseason as well.” That’s a message he or she can’t refuse.

6. “Stop calling in my area.”

When your partner calls in your area, it’s fairly obvious he or she doesn’t trust you or doesn’t know where to be looking. Either way, your partner’s not watching his or her own area.

Show and tell your partner, “I can handle my area and I don’t appreciate getting shown up by you on a play or situation that is there for me to judge. Worse, now I have to explain to the coach standing next to me why I didn’t make that call and you did. You’re not making my job any easier. You don’t have to be Superman out there. Let’s work as a crew to manage this game.”

Speaking your mind is important. Then you must listen. Maybe your partner doesn’t trust you (and for good reason). Earn that trust.

7. “Be on time.”

Talking to your partner about showing up on time will help him or her in the long run. Maybe work commitments are an issue, but by being consistently late or rolling up five to 10 minutes before the game begins, your partner is harming the reputation of the whole crew. Some reasons for promptness to stress include: It offers a chance for a pregame to work on mechanics, crew communication, presence, rules enforcement, etc. That will help your crew to get into a productive mind-set for games.

8. “You’re not a player anymore.”

A lot of former players move toward officiating to be a part of the game. They just need to remember that they’re not playing the game anymore. A reminder that the glory days are over can be important at times. Stress that, as a sports official, he or she needs to act like one and dress like one. Showing up to a game wearing sweatpants, the latest name-brand basketball shoes and a T shirt are no-nos. It’s about the game. A good way to show respect toward it is how you dress while arriving to the event, during the event and afterward.

CREW CHIEF

9. “Get rid of Joe Smith.”

If a crewmate isn’t good enough or capable enough anymore, and your crew chief is keeping the official around when he or she should be gone, it’s important to talk about it. The conversation should be done privately without the other crewmates. Then you have to ask some questions: “Why do you insist on keeping this guy or gal on the crew? I know you two are friends and have worked together a long time, but it’s affecting the crew’s overall performance. Have you talked to him or her about performance or retirement?”

By avoiding the problem, you may prevent an awkward conversation, but your crew’s rankings will likely take a hit. Make clear to the crew chief potential issues with inaction: there’s a good chance others will gradually leave, state tournament assignments will not be in our future, etc.

10. “Relax.”

If a crew chief is on edge, crewmates are likely going to be as well. With so many responsibilities, it’s no wonder some crew chiefs get a little uptight. If something goes wrong, it’s their fault. But if a crew chief is uptight, it’s difficult for the rest of the crew to remain calm and officiate the game. Advising your crew chief to “relax” is important, but along with that should be an offering of assistance from the crew. Maybe officials could volunteer to rotate leading a pregame or postgame discussion.

11. “Be prepared. Have a pregame.”

Some crew chiefs are so relaxed or lackadaisical that they don’t even have a pregame. In that case, you need to ask for one and get the backing from the rest of the crew when you do. Pregames are important, no matter what the level of experience of each member in the crew. Just because you’ve been working together for years doesn’t mean that everything will run like clockwork. Your crew chief needs to be reminded of that. A heads-up on the teams, coaches, game management and everyone’s assignments will go a long way. If a pregame gets old, vary the style/format.

13. “It’s OK to say ‘no’ to games.”

Burnout is real. If you think your crew’s assignments were too much to handle the previous year. Talk to your crew chief as early as possible before the next year’s scheduling and explain that it’s OK to take a break and say no to a few games. In fact, it would be healthy for the crew to have a few more days off. The rest will pay off late in the season.

14. “Get off your high horse.”

We don’t recommend using those words, but getting the message across is important or you and your crewmates may grow to resent your leader. Getting the message across should begin with a positive: “We all know that you’re a good official and that’s a major reason why we selected you to be the crew chief, but understand that it’s not all about you. Put others on the crew up on a pedestal here and there. Positive reinforcement is a good thing, too. As good of an official as you are, you can be even better by adjusting your attitude.”

SUPERVISOR/ASSIGNER

15. “My schedule sucks.”

If you’re not happy with your schedule, it’s OK to voice some concerns. Saying it “sucks” might give you no schedule at all, which would suck even more. So how do you get the message across without using the wrong words? Ask the supervisor/assigner what you need to do in order to get better or more games? By asking the question, you’re conveying your displeasure with your schedule in a productive way.

16. “Why was he or she on this game?”

Assignments don’t always make sense, but questioning the assigner’s judgment isn’t recommended. If you don’t agree with an official assigned to a game with you, use the methods within the system to question it. Maybe it’s a peer evaluation or maybe you ask the assigner if he or she will review the game video and evaluate your crew. That brings your partner’s faults to the forefront without throwing him or her under the bus.

17. “How about standing up for your officials?”

“You know what that coach did was wrong, but you aren’t doing anything about it. We elected you and you are a member of our board. Why should we have to put up with that from a coach?” Assigners and supervisors should have officials’ backs when tough times arise. In order to expect a lot from them, officials must work with high integrity and professionalism.

18. “Take care of the coaches.”

If it goes beyond one incident and coaches show a pattern of behavior, officials have a responsibility to the game to ask assigners/supervisors to take further action. Tougher sporting behavior requirements are a possible solution. Fair is fair. Tell the assigner, “Don’t ask us to be professional without expecting the same from them.”

19. “Don’t forget where you came from!”

Administrative duties can cause some assigners and supervisors to forget their oncourt and onfield roots. So how do you remind them? You might want to say, “You are one of us … or at least you were! You know our personalities, our good traits and our bad. You know what sets us off. Don’t just sit in your office and schedule games … be an effective champion for us!” A better approach might be to talk to the assigner about a specific issue, asking how he or she would have handled it when officiating. It reminds assigners/supervisors of their background and reintroduces the challenges you’re facing.

21. “Evaluate more!”

Evaluating is another topic that should be brought up by the group. If you and the members of your officials association want the assigner to see and evaluate more games, you should list it as part of his or her formal duties. That gets the message across from the masses and will make more of an impact on the individual. And as a result, the assigner will better see who can really officiate and who can’t.

LOCAL ASSOCIATION

22. “The meetings are lame.”

It’s obviously boring to have someone read from the rulebook at meetings and most officials associations have moved beyond that. But some local association meetings are indeed boring and lame. If you are not happy with your association’s meetings, it’s OK to voice your concern to leadership. But along with your constructive criticism, you better have some meaningful suggestions on how to engage and challenge membership in another way. Without the ideas, why should anyone listen to you?

23. “It’s the 21st  Century! Use technology.”

One way to instantly boost your local association’s meetings is through the use of technology. Suggest to your leadership that a PowerPoint presentation would add wonders to meetings. Oh, and video plays would make them even better! If you are good with technology, leaders may even solicit your help in preparing some of the multi-media presentations.

24. “Nobody cares about the war stories.”

If meeting presenters are using too much time to regale members about that “one game in Brown County,” it might be time to ask that presentations stay on point and remain focused on education. If leaders want to share their war stories, they can do so after the meeting over a beer (with the few members who haven’t heard them before). The best time to address a long-winded presenter is after the meeting in private. Don’t embarrass your leadership by asking them to zip it during the meeting presentation.

25. “Join NASO en masse.”

If you’re a National Association of Sports Officials member, you know the benefits of membership. Don’t keep those to yourself. Pitch NASO group membership to the leaders in your local association. Group membership allows all the officials in your association to get insurance, educational discounts, MICP consultation and more from NASO through a discounted group membership rate. The details of group membership, available on the NASO website (naso.org) provide leaders what they need to know to join.

26. “I’m leaving for a better association.”

It’s never easy saying goodbye, but sometimes it’s necessary to cut ties with an officials association if it isn’t living up to your expectations and helping to make you a better official. Have the courage to tell your group’s leadership in person that you are leaving for another association. And go the next step. Tell them why. It may hurt or upset the leaders at the moment, but it may actually help them grow in the future.

27. “Give us a voice.”

If association board members are making key directional decisions without the input of the general membership, it’s appropriate for you and others to speak up and ask board members how your voice can be heard. But understand that sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions. With too many different voices, nothing gets accomplished.

STATE OFFICE

29. “Stop using coaches’ ratings (unless they work).”

The fact that most zeros are from coaches that lose and the high scores come from winning coaches should clue state office leaders in on a problem. Coaches often aren’t objective when they’re emotionally invested. But the problem is that studies have shown that officials aren’t very objective when it comes to rating peers either, so there is no easy solution. Ideally you can suggest that assigners, retired officials and administrators evaluate periodically to check accuracy of the scores. Beyond that, ask the state office to throw out the really high and low ratings.

30. “No one does the test by themselves.”

The truth is a lot of officials share answers on rules tests. Painting fellow officials in a bad light to state associations isn’t exactly recommended. But bringing such a problem to the attention of your local leadership to address with the state is appropriate. Suggest that the state office vary the order of the questions or provide other requirements. It will help to weed out those who are taking the easy way out.

31. “Give us some real training.”

Yes, there are some officials who cut corners on tests, but there are many who want to learn as much as possible about officiating. In order to do that, it’s OK to ask state associations to expect more of local associations in their educating roles. Maybe they can require associations to be certified and to provide proper training for officials. On a greater scale, suggest the state office host a state officiating day each year to provide extra education and motivation. State offices won’t know what you want unless you ask for it.

32. “Watch a game.”

In order to know what we’re going through, in order to have a handle on the sportsmanship issues we’re dealing with, in order to understand the professionalism we exhibit day in and night out, state office leaders need to watch some games. State office leaders should watch officials work in various sports once in a while. Inviting a state leader to your next game probably isn’t the way to make an impact, but working through your local association to ask state leaders how often they get to see a game or inviting them to a big rivalry game, might be a way to say what you want to say.

33. “Give us the benefit of the doubt.”

Officials understand that they make mistakes. But whether they make a mistake or not, they are doing their best on the field and court, and they hope and expect the state office to support their efforts. State office personnel should have your back when coaches are “crying” that you lost the game for their team. One call, no matter what time in the game it occurs, is just a call. Teams win and lose games. If your state doesn’t support you like it should, contacting state leaders with the backing of fellow officials is appropriate.

SPOUSE

34. “It’s not all fun and games.”

We all know there is more to officiating than getting on the field or court to ply our trade. In order to do the job properly, there is a lot of work to do and not all of it is fun or glamorous.

If all you ever talk about with your spouse is the after-game dinner you have with your crew, instead of the difficult run-ins with the visiting coach, he or she won’t understand the full picture. Share the ups and downs of officiating with your significant other.

35. “Where do you think all the money comes from?”

Seems a bit sarcastic to go over well with any spouse. But reminding him or her how officiating positively impacts the family is important. The more games we work, the more money we make. That money buys steak once in a while instead of hamburger. It means one more night’s stay at the theme park hotel on vacation with the kids. It allows us to set a few extra dollars aside for emergencies, like car repairs or a new furnace.

36. “Officiate with me.”

Talk about killing two birds with one stone. The shortage of officials is addressed and couples get some “us time” by officiating together. Working with a spouse means you have a partner you know and trust. It means double the extra cash flow and a lot of shared experiences to discuss around the dinner table. Be prepared for the answer, though. If your officiating is an escape from work and family issues, bringing your spouse along might not be the brightest idea.

37. “How come I’m always right outside the house but never inside it?”

An official knows in his or her heart when a correct call has been made. While coaches, players and fans may not like the decision, they have to live with it. That doesn’t work away from the court or field, so when a spouse disputes a “call,” it can be more frustrating than when it happens in a game. But if your spouse is the crew chief in your household, you might just have to live with it. It doesn’t hurt to ask the question though (or maybe it will, but it would be worth it to hear your spouse’s answer).

Ahh … deep breath. Doesn’t it feel good to speak your mind? It’s amazing what you can accomplish with the right words.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 10/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Frenemies

Coaches can be our friends and enemies. How do we manage to have a more effective relationship with our counterparts on the field and court?

Frenemies

By Tim Sloan

was working a boys’ basketball game a few years back and the home team was getting shelled. They couldn’t shoot, pass, handle the ball or defend. By the third quarter, the margin was 30 points and I was standing in front of their coach, with whom I had a decent relationship.

“I’m telling you, Sloan — you mark my words: Next game, I’m only dressing seven players,” he promised.

“Really?” I responded, beginning a scan of the floor to pick out who he might have in mind.

“Yep. The rest will just have to start dressing themselves from now on.”

Now, that was a fellow who I’d seen chew up and spit out officials in the past. I’m not suggesting I have some kind of gift with coaches. There are others who snoot me out and seem to be buddies with some of my confreres. I often think about why that is and how to have more successful relationships with coaches. And in some places, like in Iowa, there’s more to gain from understanding because it’s a “recommendation” state: Coaches name officials whom they would like to see reffing playoff games. They aren’t asked why, only who. There are some officials who gel with some coaches and, statistically, the ones who get along get further ahead. What’s their secret?

Recently I asked a former coach, who is an assigner, to sum up what related refereeing to recommendations. He said it came down to general personality — a sense for the coaches and officials being in it together — and consistency of calls. That’s a short list, but the Holy Grail to most. We all strive for consistency, but the esprit de corps thing surprised me. How can we be in it together when our job is to do what’s best for the game and the coaches’ is to do what’s best for the team?

It’s all about relationships, and how you get by with coaches is a big part of that. I’m not saying graduating, cum laude, from Referee Charm School is a prerequisite for success; officials who overtly pander to coaches seldom get far. But learning how to empathize is important. When you understand how coaches think, it’s easier to know what annoys them or makes them comfortable with you. That’s all well and good. But it often contrasts with our style as officials: We call games a certain way and have standards, which mesh well with some coaches’ outlooks, but not others. With all that, there’s still a great middle ground, where accepting that there are some forces at work and then working proactively in response makes for more success as an official.

Let’s understand some basic things about coaches at the high school level. First, most are teachers. Next, few I’ve run into didn’t consider the job to be fulfillment of a significant ambition: They’re doing it because they want to and, with rare exceptions, were selected. Third, they work in school systems that pander to society’s demand for winners. Fourth, they are under demand to put time into their efforts to produce a competitive product against the resistance of family, profession, the limitations of players and their own stamina. Fifth (choose one), they either feel the love or the noose tightening. Finally, every one of them handles the pressure of success or failure differently.

My wife just handed me a coffee as I was typing and remarked, “Hmm: So, getting along with coaches is just like being married. … Are you going to be able to cut the lawn today?”

She is right! Some marriages click: The spouses are so alike they naturally interact in a way that is smooth and largely non-confrontational. For others, it takes work and the pair learns what annoys/enamors the other. They decide that some issues are better overlooked. And then there are The Honeymooners, who disagree on everything. Few enter marriage because they look forward to a life of discord. More likely, they lack the skills to manage conflict.

By that rationale, many good relationships with coaches might be accidental. That is, we don’t all comprehend that many relationships take work to work. If a coach and official see the game-related things the same way, few bad things happen. So, where I tend to reward teams that have good skills and can avoid violations, coaches who emphasize the same get along with me. If they coach aggressive play in the paint while I jump post players who sit on each other’s laps, we have a problem. One of us has to give in if the relationship is to be smoother. That creates a crisis, where two facts apply: We need the coaches more than they need us. The two of us have conflicting pressures: The coach (hopefully) likes his or her job and has some need to behave, train and mentor. And I have a binder of memos from the state admonishing me to be alert to, and penalize, various behaviors. So, how do we do our jobs and have more effective relationships with coaches?

Accept that the majority will never see everything the same way you do: It shouldn’t be surprising that many coaches will carry on more than you think is acceptable. It’s not about you! Not everything sung to us in burps requires a response. The best officials keep the peace with coaches by reacting to the message and not the delivery until the delivery interrupts the game.

Accept that it helps to give a little when the conflict is insignificant: Sense when coaches are trying to be sensible about a bad situation and you need to tag along: Team A has travelled 41 times by halftime and appears unable to help it. Team B has driven 60 miles through the snow and is growing tired of rehearsing their inbound plays. It hopes to be home by midnight. Think about relaxing your standard a little and serving the teams. Work with the coaches to become part of a solution. Heresy, I know, but many coaches respect that over rigid consistency; in that regard, you can all be in it together.

Accept that your style needs to be flexible: Some crews develop reputations for being the threesome-of-choice for certain games: If the last meeting was contentious, send this crew because they’ll clean it up. For the rest of us, the game is what it is: It’s played by two teams with strengths and weaknesses and, if it makes for a fair game, let them set their tone. Take charge to avert conflict, not create it.

The best officials advance not by being the best rules people, the best athletes or the most committed, although those are important. They get there by being the most successful. They take each game as it comes and respond to what they see.

Tim Sloan lives in Davenport, Iowa. He’s a former football and soccer college official who now works high school football, basketball and volleyball.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 3/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – A Touchy Subject

Should game officials incorporate a hands-off approach during games? Get “in touch” with what is acceptable.

A-Touchy-Subject

By Tim Sloan

It doesn’t always take a feature-length movie to define a complicated issue. On one night during the volleyball season, it took about 10 seconds.

My partner and I were meeting with the coaches and captains, all females, prior to a much-anticipated varsity match. I politely greeted and shook hands with each one, while he was given an enthusiastic, long-time-no-see hug by the home team’s coach, a lady who might appear on The First Wives’ Club. The captains glanced quizzically at one another, while the athletic director, sitting at the scorer’s table, nearly fell off his chair. Meanwhile, the visiting coach looked to be thinking, “Hey, what about me?” For that matter, so was I.

There you had it: A microcosm of the way we now are, begging the question, “How did we ever get here?” Maybe Coach, who obviously wasn’t afraid of boys, was just being Coach, but her opponent was in a quandary. Was she thinking, (1) This tells me something about Coach; (2) This tells me something about the referee(s); or (3) What does this tell me about how many close ones I’m going to get after that close one?

My partner, meanwhile, was in a bind. While they might just have been on the same bowling team once upon a time, I know it crossed his mind that was the wrong thing to be seen doing, but what was he supposed to do? Reverse her into a half-nelson? The captains probably knew the school rules about displays of affection only to witness Coach do just that with my partner. I was thinking, “Here we go …” And nobody had even burned the net or gone out of rotation, yet there had been some prolonged contact. And who knows how many parents were looking up the superintendent’s number on their speed dial?

The issue of the propriety of any two human beings touching one another runs the gamut of the human condition; from liberal to conservative, man to woman, western to eastern. It has become a particular lightning rod in sports because at times it pits the perception of the officials’ impartiality against the notion that sport is a social endeavor, where human beings express themselves, sometimes by quasi-intimate contact. Nonetheless, the refereeing authorities will tell you that the best policy is to avoid touching players, coaches and each other as much as possible.

Oh, there are some exceptions and some issues of common sense, but many officiating leaders feel that drawing the line at zero is the best way to avert two issues. One is with officials who don’t see potential problems that could result. The other is with coaches, players, fans and media who are either paranoid enough or jaded enough to believe anything more than a handshake is proof of collusion.

“Because officials are under a microscope from the time they step onto the court until the final buzzer, it is best if they refrain from touching fellow officials, players, coaches and those working around the game due to the sensitivity many have toward touching,” says Debbie Williamson, NCAA women’s basketball consultant as national coordinator and secretary-rules editor. “Officials have numerous ways to communicate during the course of a game and when we can avoid touching others, it is best to do so.”

Times Have Changed

Randy Krejci is commissioner of the Mississippi Valley Conference, an enclave of 14 major high schools in eastern Iowa. He’s a recently retired middle school principal but also a veteran of numerous state finals as an official in football, basketball and volleyball. He’s been on both sides of the mirror.

“In Iowa, some officials have gotten in trouble for even inadvertently touching someone of the opposite sex,” says Krejci. “In the school setting, you have to be very careful that any kind of touching isn’t misconstrued.” He believes that most instances arise from perfectly innocuous events, but since officials are held to a higher standard, they receive less forgiveness.

“It can certainly ruin someone’s career if it gets embellished in the media,” he explains. Whether an official is exonerated or not, the mere publicity can be detrimental. Early in his career, Krejci says, he thought nothing of helping players up off the floor or, as an educator, driving a student home if he or she had missed the late bus. Those days are gone and his school district, as an example of most, has very clear policy on when, how and with whom present, to interact with students in any situation. In his own case, as with many of us, it’s led him down the road of having to modify little behaviors that had been natural to him.

“If you’re doing things the same way as you did five years ago,” says Dave Libbey, “you’re not keeping up with the times.” Libbey is an eight-time veteran of the men’s basketball Final Four and now the officiating coordinator for the Big West Conference.

It’s his perception that the attitude toward personal contact between officials and participants has changed that quickly. It has reached the point that his instructions to his staff are simple: If there’s no management purpose to touching a player or coach, don’t.

Avoid Buddy Perception

That plows a lot of acreage. Does it mean that from the time the crew walks out on the floor until it zips closed its overnight bags, it should avoid all physical contact with any and all life forms?

No, from his point of view, it means that his crews should do whatever is necessary to avoid any situation putting their impartiality or liability at risk.

Actually, that allows some leeway. If one of his officials is at Gonzaga and Coach Mark Few thrusts out his hand, is he supposed to spin move away from him? No, says Libbey, because that looks just as suspicious as what he witnesses more often, which is schmoozing ad nauseum. Is the touching that happens normal for the situation?

“It doesn’t look good when you’re out there being buddy-buddy (with a coach),” explains Libbey. Coaches at the college level are paranoid of the forces — imagined and real — working against them, he says; seeing the other coach apparently planning his next hunting trip with the zebras gets them going. Libbey even knows of some teams who have their ever-charting assistants keep track of the amount of face time the other coach spends with each official. What Libbey wants is a simple greeting and handshake with a coach and then to get across the floor to make some space.

Once there, the next inevitable challenge is the assistant coach who wants to sidle up while the officials are observing the warmup. A friendly handshake is OK there, too, but that’s when Libbey wants his people breaking it off if any attempt is made to start chatting them up.

“I just tell them to say, ‘Look, it’s good to see you, but I’ve got to go over here and watch this,’” he explains. That way, onlookers witness that the referee isn’t totally antisocial but is also present to do a job, which doesn’t include exchanging baby pictures.

More and more, players on some teams, during introductions, will shake hands with their opponent, the opponent’s coach and then work their way to the nearby officials. The traditionalists will see that as a simple act of sportsmanship. Others may see it as an early indication of one-upsmanship. Officials are again in a bind, because they can more easily look silly rebuffing the overture than they can look suspicious by accepting it.

Hands-Off is Best

Some of his officials, Libbey says, are still “old school” and used to a more familial approach, including man hugs and friendly pats. Taking the hands-off approach is one of the things both he and John Adams, NCAA men’s basketball national coordinator, look for in sizing up officials. As far as touching players, Libbey says he can see the point of prudently getting between two players if it helps avert a fight but, other than that, you should never touch them. Laying hands on players who have hit the floor, for example, is definitely out because it might make an injury worse. That’s a good thing to think about the next time you want to help untangle a pile of football players, too. Libbey also reminds us that players and coaches have varying responses to any kind of physical contact when under duress; why risk a short left hook?

OK, basketball’s a sport in which the opportunity for physical interaction between officials and participants isn’t great when the clock’s running. There are other sports, like baseball or softball, in which the proximity of the umpire to the catcher, for example, can invite contact, but is that a good thing? Gene McArtor doesn’t think so and, in his role as national coordinator of NCAA baseball umpires, he carries some weight. He agrees with Libbey that there are few good reasons to be touching players or coaches.

Baseball, in one respect, is different from other sports because it traditionally tolerates heated confrontations between umpire and contestant. As a Band-Aid, it also promises that touching an umpire will earn a quick thumb and the promise of further penalties. For McArtor, it’s fair, then, that the umpires shouldn’t touch players or coaches, either.

Often, though, we’ll see the plate umpire gently lay a hand on the back of the catcher to line up his strike zone, for example. McArtor understands that mechanic but doesn’t want the umpire to maintain that contact. In his view, it would be better if it didn’t happen at all, but he definitely doesn’t want it to persist once the pitcher begins his delivery. It’s an invitation for coaches to claim it distracts their player.

“My policy is not 100 percent agreed with by everyone,” McArtor admits, “because it differs from how some of them learned the job.

“In my view, though, that’s not the way the game is anymore.”

There was a time in soccer when officials in some parts of the world would give players a little shove to get their attention. Italy comes to mind, where some of the greats like Pierluigi Collina could do that and keep their jobs. It seems like wearing water skis to detect land mines in today’s world, but the prevailing powers accepted that the passion on a soccer field sometimes required a more personal touch.

Today, players have to settle for a shaved head and menacing look from the likes of England’s Howard Webb, and certainly the USSF frowns on touching, like everyone else. Tony Crush is a national level official with MLS experience and is responsible for referee instruction in Kentucky.

“It’s been U.S. Soccer’s position from a liability and game management perspective that we shouldn’t be touching players,” Crush explains. “It can be misconstrued.

“Our society asks us to be on the field what we would be in our normal lives. That’s what humanizes us and the players appreciate it.”

We also should consider whether touching a crewmate is out of bounds. Certainly, putting an arm around an official of the opposite sex isn’t likely to look much better than attempting the maneuver with a coach. He or she is simply a co-worker, not likely to be your spouse and not likely to appreciate the attention. When it comes to officials of the same gender, the best policy is to handle them no differently than the contestants.

Obviously a handshake or a fist bump, appropriately rendered before or after the contest, is sensible, but remember that fellow officials are under stress, too. If an arm around the shoulder, for example, is calculated to “relieve tension,” it might backfire if your confrere feels patronized, demeaned, cornered or worse. It also doesn’t portray any confidence in your fellow official to the players and coaches if you do that while huddling to discuss a play. It gives the impression that the official is weak and needs a helping hand. A good policy is to treat your relationship with your partners no differently than anyone else.

Another Rule to Enforce

Sport, all the way down to Little League and Pop Warner, has become big business; an eating machine consuming the passions of all involved, including officials. In anything other than professional wrestling, the arbiters play a big part — and more frequently the decisive part — in maintaining a measure of sanity when the ball’s in play. They help protect the legitimacy that doping, huge salaries and overstated egos have been eroding. Officials are on a big stage with big people and maybe it isn’t asking too much for them to accomplish more by actually doing less when it comes to fraternizing with the participants.

Fans are more willing to cast a jaundiced eye on what takes place on the court or field. Psychologists can tell a lot about people by handing them a picture and asking them to make up a story about it. Then they’ll hand the subject a blank card and still hear moving commentaries, but from a much smaller group. More often, the blank card gets no reaction because there’s no stimulus to the imagination. Officials must be that blank card today.

Whenever they’re in public they must portray impartiality. Supervisors are telling us that touching a person any differently on the field than you would in the office or gym or church can bring that impartiality into question. Like Krejci says, that question of propriety doesn’t have to have an answer. Like Crush says, people want to see us fit the bill, so back-patting, group hugging or an arm around the waist doesn’t cut it anymore.

Many of the referees who would push back on a hands-off policy would argue, “I gotta be me.” Asking them to keep their hands in their pockets would be like asking them to work the game on crutches, as the rationale goes. Crush, for one, disagrees. He sees all sorts of Type A personalities walk in off the street and manage to comply with federation policy. It’s just another rule to enforce, albeit a personal one.

The reality is that 50 people could have been interviewed for this story with the likelihood of few, if any, disagreeing that an absolute no-touching policy is best. Most people at a game have no idea what officials are thinking and few can hear what they say, but they can see what they do and what they look like. Body type is equated with fitness. Sculpting of signals is a measure of commitment. Mannerisms are a predictor of emotion. Invading someone’s personal space with a pat or a full-length hug is an indication of what?

Those other things tie to what people expect an official to do, while touching a person goes outside the lines. It’s more likely to be considered a sign of personal interest: That’s not the image assigners want, nor is it what most officials want. Not touching someone, other than when it’s the polite thing to do, is the order of the day.

Remember this: What would someone you care about think if they were told where you had your hands on another person, without telling them you were working a game when you did it? If you would have some explaining to do, you probably shouldn’t have been doing it.

Use your head, not your hands.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 4/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Unwritten Rules

Every official knows the importance of the rules of the game. Regardless of sport, there are some unwritten rules you should follow as well.

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By the Referee editors

 

1. When you “think” you saw something, YOU DIDN’T.

There are times you will be focused on action in your coverage area but something on the farthest edge of your peripheral vision will draw your attention. “Gee whiz,” you’ll say to yourself. “That looked like a foul, but I didn’t see the whole thing. My gut says it was a foul. Better safe than sorry. I’m gonna call it.”

Missing a call is never a positive thing. But most assigners, coordinators and observers will tell you that failing to call something that did occur is more acceptable than calling something you aren’t absolutely positive happened.

Gut feeling is a valuable officiating tool. Many times your instincts will guide you in the right direction. But your eyes trump all. See what you call and call only what you see. Period.

2. The CAPTAIN is not always the team leader.

For whatever reason, the so-called team leader or “captain” can sometimes be anything but a player that will help you to defuse a situation and respond positively with other players during a game. That player can often be the one causing problems for you and others.

When that’s the case, make every effort to demote that captain. Tell the coach that you need another player to serve as captain because the current captain isn’t doing his or her job. Or tell the captain that he or she will no longer be serving as the leader for his or her team for that game because of his or her actions.

Just because a player attends a captains’ meeting before the game doesn’t mean that he or she will be the player with the best sportsmanship.

3. Keep the game MOVING.

There are few officials who want to be on the field or court for a really long game.

However, there are some games that are just going to be longer than others. That football game that features two teams that throw the ball on every down and have porous defenses can result in a 63-60 shootout that legitimately takes every bit of three hours to finish.

What is not acceptable is for officials to be the cause of a game going long. Do everything possible to make a dead ball live again or to get the clock running as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean neglecting important duties or rushing teams. It does mean being efficient with recording substitutions or enforcing penalties, hustling to your next position and getting the next play started or the next pitch thrown.

4. Provide COURTESY to players when it’s needed.

While an official should strive to keep the game moving, there are times when you need to it slow down. A baseball or softball catcher works extremely hard during a game and that hard work generally keeps you from getting hit.

So when you see him or her get hit and in pain (but not enough to bring out the certified athletic trainer), take some extra time — dust off a clean plate or walk the ball out to the pitcher.

Buy that catcher a few minutes and, in turn, he or she will probably appreciate it and work even harder for you the rest of the game.

The same thing can sometimes apply to other sports when tensions get high. Take a moment to put the ball in play and use that time to give a friendly reminder as opposed to a premature penalty. When you feel the situation has had a moment to calm down, blow the whistle and get the game moving.

5. Give a LONGER LEASH to those in charge.

Maybe more important is the flip side of this rule: Those who aren’t in charge don’t get a long leash. Yes, you should listen to head coaches and managers who give their thoughts to you about a call or situation — as long as they don’t cross the line. Communication, including listening to perceived grievances, is part of game management.

But assistant coaches, players and other bench personnel should not be given the same patience or privilege. Unsportsmanlike talk and actions by those individuals need to be addressed right away. If warranted, you can give head coaches a chance to take care of other game participants. But if they don’t take care of business, you need to step up and penalize appropriately.

There has to be some form of hierarchy of tolerance. And head coaches are at the top. Use preventive officiating whenever you can and tolerate a bit more from them. Work with them until their behavior becomes a distraction.

6. Give the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT to those who have earned respect.

There will be times — probably in every game — when you get questioned on a decision you made or a penalty you called. How you respond to that question should be determined in part by how you are asked.

Think about the ranting, raving head coach. Anything that doesn’t go exactly how he or she wants, and the blame is pointed toward you or your crewmates. You are to blame for his or her team’s woes. Now think about the coach who worries about his or her team throughout the game but doesn’t get upset at you when penalties are reported. Instead, that coach focuses on “coaching” his or her players.

In a tight moment, both coaches question a call. The coach who doesn’t go ballistic on every call deserves a more thorough response than the lunatic. It is as simple as that.

Because it is so out of character for that calmer head coach to question a call, maybe he or she saw something that didn’t make sense or was done wrong by the rule. Taking the time to acknowledge the concern or clarify a ruling is time well-spent. The ranter may have seen the same thing, but doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt since that coach has been on your case about everything.

7. Look COACHES in the eye.

Police will tell you that suspects who lower or turn their heads when providing alibis are withholding information. It is difficult to obfuscate when you are looking someone right in the eye.

Whether you are introducing yourself to the coach before the game or answering his or her question during the course of play, communication should be done face to face and straight on. Even if you are delivering bad news, you will have more credibility and gain more respect by looking the coach in the eye.

Understand that advice applies only when the ball is dead, such as during a timeout or other intermission. If you need to communicate with the coach during play, keep your eyes on the action and wait for action to cease.

8. WHEN IN DOUBT, do what is expected.

An official takes on the task of applying mainly descriptive rules to fluid situations, but there are times in games when that official may not be immediately certain what action to take after observing a play or an incident. Rulebooks will spell out the intent and guiding principles of the rules and the better officials figure out how to apply them equitably, in context. But there are times when an official faces doubt at the moment he or she is expected to make a call or no-call. When that happens, it’s best to do what is expected.

Does it appear that a player sustained a possible concussion even though he or she does not have a loss of consciousness after a play? If there is any doubt, it is best to take that player out of the game to get checked. Should a baseball or softball umpire call a borderline pitch a ball or strike? It is expected that the umpire follow through by calling that pitch a strike. A basketball referee may have doubt when two players collide and go flying to the floor. Block or charge? Rule one or the other.

In any event, do not try to run away from the play or shrug your shoulders. You’ll lose credibility fast.

Officials will never be 100 percent sure of what they see 100 percent of the time. That’s not humanly possible. In those gray-area moments when a call is necessary, do what is expected and make the call or ruling with a clear conscience.

9. Answer QUESTIONS, not statements.

“That’s a bad call.” “That was a interference.” “He pushed him.”

What do all those comments have in common? Ding, ding. You’re correct if you answered, “They are statements that coaches say/yell/shout, etc.”

Coaches say a lot to officials during a game. And much of what they have to say, whether it is a valid point or not, does not need a response. Statements don’t need an answer from officials. Often the only time you need to respond to a statement is when you are delivering a warning or a penalty for one that crosses the line.

What deserves a respectful response when time permits is a legitimate question. Officials can save themselves a lot of headaches and heartburn by answering only what is asked.

10. Don’t answer the questioyou  don’t have INFORMATION about.

You don’t need to answer every question, though. That most often relates to a coach asking a question about a play called by a crewmember. If you don’t know what happened, don’t guess. If you don’t have information, tell the coach you’ll find out for him or her at halftime or suggest the coach talk to your partner. Whatever you do, make sure you are supportive of your partner.

Sometimes a coach or player may ask you about a rule or situation that you are not sure about. If you don’t have the knowledge or information you need, don’t guess at the answer. You’ll lose all credibility if you answer the question wrong. Instead, seek assistance from a partner or find out the answer after the game and get back to the coach. Then vow to study the rules more, so that you can answer that question that might come up in the future.

11. Get the game going after a MISTAKE or EJECTION.

Sure, ejections and mistakes are a big deal. But it is the responsibility of officials to make sure they don’t become a huge deal and negatively impact a game.

When your game has a situation, such as an ejection or a rule controversy, the best thing you can do is to get the next pitch thrown or the next play started. Once game action resumes, players, coaches and fans will typically worry about that action and forget about the situation that caused the problem in the first place.

While participants will be forced to move on when action resumes, officials should keep the mistake/ejection in the back of their mind. Don’t dwell on what happened but keep in mind that it could lead to future issues. Managing the game by making sure your presence is felt even more after ejections for fighting, for example, is a good way to prevent future problems.

12. CREW TALKS should lean toward official with angle or experience.

Because coverage areas sometimes overlap, there are going to be situations in which more than one official has a call. What happens when you’re the other official and those calls conflict? If you are in the role of ultimate decision-maker, which way do you go?

To begin, the officials involved must express certainty. If either indicates doubt, go with the other crewmember. “I think” is not acceptable. There is a difference between calls and opinions.

If neither backs down, consider the angle or proximity to the play. Was one official significantly closer than the other? Was one straightlined? Position and distance are key considerations.

If you’re still at an impasse, lean toward the more experienced official who has likely seen that play more often and knows how best to cover it.

13. Be 100 percent sure if makinthe UNEXPECTED CALL.

Several years ago, a baseball state championship turned on a base umpire’s call. With two out, a player whose double seemingly drove in the winning run was called out for missing first base. The run was nullified, the inning ended and that team wound up losing the title.

The coach argued, but within the bounds of sportsmanship, asking the umpire if he was certain. “I am positive,” the umpire said. “I would never make that call unless I was absolutely sure.”

Afterward, the coach acknowledged the umpire. “He’s a good umpire,” the coach said. “If he was that sure, he must have seen it.”

It’s never a good idea to enforce an arcane rule just to let everyone know that you know the book. But if it needs to be called, sell it and be prepared to back it up with confidence. The more unusual the situation, the more sure you must be.

14. Don’t insert yourself or disrupt GAME RHYTHM if it’s not necessary.

Back off. If you’re an official — no matter the sport — and you somehow don’t feel “in the game” because little if anything to rule on has occurred in your coverage area, back off. Don’t be that official with a quick whistle or flag, looking for something, any kind of violation or penalty, to make it look like you’re “in the game.” Back off. It’s better for you, the crew and the game.

Many officials think they aren’t doing their job if they don’t enforce the rules, especially if they haven’t been heard from early in a game or an extended period of time during the game. It will be an uncomfortable situation for many, but the better officials know when to stay out of the way and call only what needs to be called. Under no circumstances should an official ignore fouls that involve safety of the players, but being too quick to insert yourself when you don’t need to will result in too many flags or whistles for minor violations or for phantom violations that are better handled with preventive officiating.

Making a call or ruling can be very straightforward and easy. But withholding a flag or whistle in a situation that is close but doesn’t warrant you to stop the game takes discipline and confidence. At some point the game will need you and when it does, be ready. In the meantime, back off.

15. Let the PLAYERS help you make the call.

Generally, players are not award-winning actors. And as you go down from the professional level, to college, to high school and eventually to sub-varsity, the acting skills are dramatically worse.

One of the toughest calls to get right in baseball or softball is the high-and-tight pitch that may have hit the bat or the hand first. Read the batter’s reaction: If the batter immediately screams, “Ouch!” and drops the bat, there’s a pretty good chance it hit his or her hand. But if the batter doesn’t react as the ball rolls into fair territory, in all likelihood, it’s a fair ball. Read the reaction of the player and use that to provide you the additional information to make a correct call.

If a player hustles to save a ball from going out of bounds, even if you didn’t see which player it touched last, you have an indication of the right call.

In this age of flopping and diving, the “rule” is a little tougher, but reading players’ initial reaction to many plays will often still help you when you need it.

16. When a game is obviously over, CONCENTRATION needs to be stronger.

In most any sport, there are games that are decided early on, sometimes in the first quarter or early innings. It’s about that time when teams will start going through the motions, if they haven’t already, and that makes it easy for officials to do the same.

Thoughts of home, work, meetings or your next game can easily grab your attention instead of the game in front of you. That’s the time to increase your focus as much as possible. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything. Focus on the game and use it as an opportunity to improve.

A blowout situation offers officials the perfect time to work on certain mechanics or habits or to experiment.

Above all, don’t physically quit on the game. Continue to hustle even though you may have the urge to loaf. Apply personal pride, vanity or your competitive streak. Draw upon any inner strength or collection of emotions or memories to stay in the game. Do anything necessary to keep your focus and not let up.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 6/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – I’m Working With Who?

By The Referee Editors

Officiating is never boring, especially when it comes to those we officiate with. Good officials can adjust to their partners … no matter who they are.

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Partners and crewmates come in all different shapes, sizes and personalities. There are a lot of good ones out there, but then there are others who will try your patience and test your ability to officiate nice, because their “offenses” are pretty bad. You probably have or will run across all of them during your career. … Hopefully it’s not because you’re seeing one in the mirror.

In life and officiating, you can’t always choose who you work with. So you have to deal with it. Since we’ve run across our share of unique officials working games in various sports, we’ll pass along some sure-fire counterattack plans you can apply if Grouchy Greg or Clyde the Clown walks into your locker room before a game.

Dominator Dan

Dominator-Dan--This guy is part control freak, part loudmouth and part overconfident. He dominates the pregame with partners, dominates in the pregame meeting with coaches and, of course, makes every effort to insert himself and dominate in the game.

If there is a problem in the game, even if Dan is remotely a part of the problem, he will “come to the rescue” whether welcomed or not and, in his eyes, save the day. Dan’s listening, but he really isn’t. He’ll do it his way always.

Counterattack

Do what you can to get a few words in during your pregame. Even if Dan doesn’t end up really listening, it’s important to at least try to get through to him. Conduct yourself in a professional manner, even if Dan doesn’t get the concept. It’s OK to let him have control, as long as he isn’t doing anything wrong. If he does and the rules permit a correction, it’s your responsibility to step up and play superhero, whether Dan likes to share the spotlight or not.

Techie Ted

Techie-TedHe is an enthusiast who is highly proficient about the technical field and how it relates to officiating. Ted’s smart phone has all the officiating information he needs to receive assignments, view video, take tests, study and communicate with other officials and assigners. That is all great. The problem is he is on his device all the time, checking email, texting and searching the Internet. He says he’s listening during the pregame and postgame, but it’s hard to tell because the latest text message from a friend or family members has his attention as well.

Counterattack

A partner with the latest in officiating technology is a positive. Use that technology as part of your pregame, showing video or utilizing a pregame board. If you’re not using technology in your pregame, make the extra effort to engage Ted more in the discussion. It doesn’t hurt to flat out ask him to put the device away. There may be some withdrawal shaking at first, but eventually Ted will be OK, and your prep for the game will be a lot better.

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Give-Me-My-Paycheck Peter

Give-Me-My-Paycheck-PeterPay me now or pay me now, preferably in cash. In Peter’s world, there really is no good reason why a school or organization doesn’t show him the money the moment he pulls into the parking lot. And if the game administrator doesn’t have a check ready and waiting, Peter will politely joke (but not really) how it sure would be nice to have received a check on game day, then ask when he can expect to receive the check.

For Peter, getting his hands on the check is seemingly more important than the game itself. His passion for collecting checks and cash on game days often supersedes his ambition to officiate.

Counterattack

There is nothing wrong with officiating to earn money, but a passion for the game and exhibiting professionalism for those surrounding the game are also important. Asking Peter why he started officiating might help to bring him back to the love of the game that probably got him into the avocation to start with.

Sal the Slob

Sal-the-SlobYou walk into the locker room with your neatly packed roller bag. You shined your shoes twice last night. Your pants are pressed. You even took the time to iron a crease into the sleeve of your striped shirt. You’ve heard it before — perception is reality. You’re controlling the things you can control; you’re really looking the part! As you begin to unfold your meticulous uniform, your partner barrels through the door in one big dust cloud.

“Hey there, name’s Sal!” bellows your partner as he extends his mustard stained hand. Sal looks frazzled at best. His hair is a mess, his dirty shirt is partly tucked in and it’s obvious his holey and untied shoes have seen one too many Guns N’ Roses concerts. Absolutely zero attention has been paid to his unkempt appearance and it quickly becomes evident that he does not care one bit. He unzips his bag and pulls out a balled-up shirt that looks like it hasn’t been washed since opening day, three years ago.

Counterattack

We might be embarrassed working with Sal, or be embarrassed for him. Part of being a (successful) sports official means taking pride in one’s appearance. Being a good partner might mean casually speaking up in the locker room before the game. “You know Sal, I’ve learned that my shirt best stays tucked in when I tuck it in my tights.” Unfortunately, having to take the floor with Sal can give a negative first impression of the entire crew. Expect it, and plan to work that much harder to gain respect.

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Grouchy Greg

Grouchy-Greg“Can you believe they gave him the championship game this year!? I can’t believe it, it’s all soooo political! I guess I gotta kiss more butt.”

Ahh, the always-exasperated Greg has entered the building. Some people see the glass as half-full, some see it as half-empty; Greg sees the glass as all-angry. The sun may be shining outside, but it is always miserable in Greg’s world. “I don’t know about you but I can’t stand this coach, he’s a real piece of work.” Greg’s partners often aren’t exempt from his wrath either. “Why do you guys go to those clinics anyway, you don’t learn a darn thing from those knuckleheads!”

From the weather being too cold, to the game check not sitting next to the water bottle and towel as you enter the locker room, Greg will always have that negative attitude: “All right, let’s get out there and get this thing over with.” For everything wrong in Greg’s world, someone else is always to blame. Heaven forbid it is ever his own fault.

Counterattack

Kill him with kindness. For every angry and negative comment, reply with something positive. Don’t stoop to Greg’s level; that just gives him more ammunition. Nothing can wear you out quicker than the guy who is negative 24/7. Our officiating careers (and life in general) are too short to be mad all the time. Ask Greg why he officiates? If everything is so awful and bad and wrong, ask him why he continues to do it if it makes him so miserable? Maybe you’ll finally hear something positive come out of his mouth.

Just-in-Time Terry

Just-in-Time-TerryEverything is last-minute for Terry. She’s the one who shows up 15 minutes prior to a game, even though she isn’t coming from work. Because you don’t want to walk on the field without her, you are taking the field late, making coaches wonder if you are even there.

If there’s paperwork to be filed, Terry’s waiting to the last minute as well. And then when her email system is down or she can’t find a fax machine or scanner that works, it’s your fault that her form isn’t in. And you are expected to understand that the world has to work on Terry’s time — Terry is a very important and very busy person and without her, things just wouldn’t be as good.

Counterattack

As long as everyone continues to cater to Terry, then Terry will never change. Deadlines must be enforced. Late arrivals must be pointed out to assigners. And even most drastically, go to the field at the right time, and let Terry be late. You can’t let Terry drag you down.

The first time Terry doesn’t get a playoff game because she inadvertently didn’t get the test taken on time, she’ll learn the importance of meeting the deadline. And when enough partners call the assigner or report back on an evaluation that she was late to the site and isn’t doing a proper pregame, it will start to hurt her schedule.

Everyone runs late every once in a while. But if Terry’s always behind and always pushing things to the very last minute, it’s going to look very bad for her eventually. Be proactive and don’t let Terry dictate your schedule or the way you do things.

Captain Obvious Orv

Captain-Obvious-OrvOrv oversells everything and must be seen doing it. The over-the-shoulder out pump when the play wasn’t close. The dramatic long whistle followed by the over-exuberant touchdown signal when everyone knows it was a score. Or the screaming of “FOUL BALL!” when it flies quickly over the fence behind the plate and into the parking lot.

Orv makes it a point of explaining even the most basic calls to players, coaches and even fans. He wants to make sure everyone knows that he knows what he knows and that he saw what he saw. Of course, then when Orv has to really sell a call, his credibility is in question because he can’t do anything more dramatic than he did for the super obvious calls.

Counterattack

Find someone that Orv looks up to and get that person to mentor Orv. Have Orv watch how officials at the higher levels and respected officials at his level use other techniques to command a game. Orv is probably a pretty good official who just hasn’t been shown or doesn’t realize the harm he is doing to himself by overselling the obvious calls.

Big-timer Bob

Big-Timer-BobBob isn’t shy about relating his experiences to people, selling himself based on the levels he’s worked, not his actual ability. In a meeting of high school officials, he’s not afraid to tell people, “This is how I do it when I work a college game.” Or, “This is how we did it when I worked with that professional official.”

Bob is also known to cite the experiences of his friends. “My buddy Larry told me that his crew in the college conference does it this way.”

Bob thinks the levels he’s worked means that he should get automatic respect at the lower levels and that his ways are always the best.

Counterattack

Put Bob in his place. Respectfully stand up to him and let him know that what is important is how we do it at our level and the proper rules, mechanics and philosophies for our level.

If your association has too many Bobs, it can fracture the association. People will want to do it Bob’s way, or worse yet, will want to adopt their own “higher level” mechanics. Soon, there will be no consistency in the way games in your association are called.

Long-for-the-Good-Ol’-Days Larry

Long-for-the-Good-Ol-Days-LarryRemember when gas was 50 cents a gallon? When a portable communication device was two tin cans and a length of string? When the games lasted only an hour and 15 minutes and the coaches never complained about the calls?

Larry does, and he reminds you over and over. And over.

He not only regales you with tales of how games used to be officiated, he actually employs those outdated mechanics and philosophies. Rulebooks? He don’t need no stinkin’ rulebooks! One of his favorite questions is, “When did they change that rule?”

Counterattack

For heaven’s sake, don’t enable Larry by asking him to elaborate on any of his stories. If he’s holding court before you hit the court, try to bring him back to the here and now by getting him involved in the pregame discussion. If it’s halftime or after the game, direct the conversation to situations that occurred today.

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Clyde the Clown

Clyde-the-ClownAs you watch both teams warm up, you can’t help but notice your partner Clyde down by the baseline. What the heck is he doing? Clyde is going through an elaborate (and very attention seeking) stretching routine. All of his jumps, twists and turns would make any yoga instructor proud. You shake your head as Clyde yuks it up with players and fans alike. Once the game starts, Clyde’s act doesn’t stop. His foul calls are theatrical and any time he blows his whistle you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next. Give this guy a red nose and some oversized shoes and you’ve got a real-life clown on your hands.

Working with Clyde can start out as comical and lighthearted, but it can quickly become too much. Clyde is often someone that’s been around awhile — and he has a reputation. Fans laugh at him, coaches tolerate him and partners shake their heads.   

Counterattack

When you work with Clyde, it’s best to stick to your game. Don’t change the way you officiate because you’re working with an amateur comedian. Go out and work hard like you always do. Clyde’s antics will eventually catch up with him. You should enjoy officiating, but don’t become a sideshow; just stay focused on the task at hand.

Invisible Ike

Invisible-IkeIke shows up for the game on time, looks the part of a solid official and says all the right things in the pregame. You have confidence going into a contest with him, but when it’s game time and the pressure is on, Ike is nowhere to be found. Where’s Ike?

When there is a crash and a call could go either way, but there should be something, Ike will often no-call it. When a coach is bashing you from the other side of the field or court right in front of Ike, you won’t be able to count on him for backing or for penalties. Ike likes to get through a game with as little controversy as possible by making as few decisions as possible. Ike follows the wrong thinking that “the best officiated games are the ones in which you don’t know the officials are there.”

Counterattack

Ike is a dangerous partner to deal with because he often won’t have your back. Plan on having to step up more during a game. You don’t want to overstep your coverage responsibilities, but at times, you may have to if it’s warranted. Encourage Ike to step up when it’s needed. Go over the importance of having a presence at halftime or after the game. The best officiating games are the ones that are actually officiated. Lead by example and call what needs to be called.

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Wanna-Be Willy

Wanna-Be-WillyMany are called to officiating. Few are chosen for the upper levels. Willy isn’t one of them, but that doesn’t stop him from dressing or acting the part.

To Willy, the approved signals and mechanics aren’t nearly as good as the ones the pros or college officials use. So he goes off the book and does it like the “big boys” do. The manual says white or blue beanbags. But Willy sports the black version used by college officials because he wants to draw attention to himself. The state has a “clean shirt” policy. Willy wears numbers on his sleeve so people will think he’s taking a busman’s holiday from the semi-pro league to work the youth contest.

Counterattack

When Willy is on your crew, let him know in advance he needs to bring the proper uniform and equipment, and that his nonsense will not be tolerated. Bring some extra equipment in case he “forgets,” so the crew can go out looking proper.

Fake-Hustle Harry

Fake-Hustle-HarryMaybe instead of Harry, we should call him Hurry or Harried. That’s because this guy moves like Jell-O in an earthquake. Problem is, all that energy is expended whether or not he’s covering plays. Someone watching Harry gets exhausted as he sprints to his between-innings spot in the outfield after the third out is made, flies from the goalline to his position on a kickoff (never bothering to slow down or stop to clean up the sideline along the way) or imitates Usain Bolt while doing the dreaded (and incorrect) long switch.

Counterattack

Not every Harry understands subtlety, so you may have to (figuratively) hit them over the head when you explain that he is hustling at the wrong times. False hustle is like yelling: If you do it all the time, people won’t be able to tell when you mean it. Harry needs to understand that.

Lackadaisical Len

Lackadaisical-LenThis character is cool as a cucumber when the heat is on. Or off. Also during the pregame. In fact, sometimes you want to shake him to make sure he’s still awake. Nothing fazes Len. He’s happy to let his partner or crewmates handle anything that may come up during the game. He just wants his check and a quick finish so he can get on with his life.

Counterattack

The remedy would seem to be a swift kick in the slats, but even if it weren’t wrong, it wouldn’t help anyway. Asking Len questions or soliciting his advice will get him involved in the pregame. Engaging him in quick conversations (“How’s my strike zone?” “Did you get a look at the block in the back I called during that kickoff return?” “Is it time for me to give a red card to number 10 if she pops off again?”) when appropriate during breaks in the action may light his fire.

Cocky Carl

Cocky-CarlConfidence in your officiating abilities is important, but Carl goes beyond confidence. If he is your partner, expect to hear about a great call or two or three that he made in previous games. Expect to hear that the game ahead should be no problem. And with all that talking, expect that having a proper pregame may be difficult. If fact, Carl may not think it is necessary. Many games at the high school level may actually be beneath him. So going through the motions with little focus or energy is something you will regularly see.

You might be a decent official, but Carl will likely know more than you and you can expect to hear his expertise offered in full following the game. There is no need to repay the critique, though. Carl won’t think it’s necessary.

Counterattack

Fight cockiness with humbleness and patience. There are some who can and should put Carl in his place (supervisors, coordinators, etc.), but you don’t need to be one of them. Try to do the right thing by pushing for a pregame and listening to Carl’s advice after the game. Present yourself in a friendly way to coaches and players, so the cockiness that Carl exudes is not reflective of the whole crew. Work hard no matter what the level or score, because Carl likely won’t.

Sam the Schmooze

Sam-the-SchmoozeCoaches, players, supervisors, officials, you name it, Sam will schmooze them. He knows the coaches’ names and nicknames, and probably even their kids’ names. Sam has the gift of gab and he’s not afraid to use it to further himself in a game or his career. Unfortunately the schmoozing doesn’t endear Sam to his fellow officials, because they can see right through it. By chatting up the coaches or complimenting the players after good plays, Sam often presents the crew in a bad light. While he’s an equal-opportunity schmoozer, a particular team often doesn’t see it that way and the objectivity of the officials can be called into question.

Counterattack

Sam is mostly harmless. If you’re his partner or crewmate, you just need to keep an eye on him and stress the importance of not talking to players and coaches too much during a contest. Sam should have a short leash. If you’re the one he’s complimenting, understand the source and don’t let your head get too big.

Gotta-Go Gabby

Gotta-Go-GabbyThere are very few postgame meetings that Gabby can’t weasel her way out of. She can’t stick around, because she has to go to a wedding or a funeral or her husband’s birthday dinner, etc. … You get the idea. Gabby likes officiating games, she likes working with the kids, exercising and getting her paychecks, but getting better is not all that important to her and it shows.

Counterattack

If Gabby is on your regular crew, make the postgame meetings mandatory. No excuses. If you just happen to have Gabby as your partner once in a while, it might be tough to counter the excuses. The best you may be able to do is try to talk her into at least a short postgame. Whether your partner stays or not, you should at least mentally review your game or watch video later, if available. Make sure improvement is important to you.

Maybe some of your partners look pretty good right now. … Or maybe not. At least you’re armed with some sure-fire ways to handle the bad ones.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 8/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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