Paging through any issue of Referee magazine, you’ll see many advertisements by companies that sell officiating-related uniforms and equipment. The choices have never been so plentiful.
The average multi-sport official spends hundreds, even thousands, of dollars buying officiating gear. In fact, for many people considering getting into officiating, buying uniforms and other items is a drawback that may just persuade a person to seek another hobby.
Today, with so many uniform requirements and so many choices, you must be a careful shopper — no different from most other types of shopping.
Follow these gear-buying commandments:
1. Wait to make goal-oriented buys. If you’re dreaming of advancing to the proverbial “next level” in officiating, but the dream is a few years away from becoming reality, there’s no need to rush out and buy the necessary equipment until it’s needed. For example, many small college football conferences want position placards (“U” for the umpire position, etc.) on the back of the striped shirt. For those referees, it means purchasing the placards and possibly a few extra short- and long-sleeved striped shirts to attach them to. If that small college official is still working high school games on Friday nights, that official must also have striped shirts without the placards. Wanting to be a small college referee is an admirable goal, but save your money until that goal is closer to becoming a reality.
If you’re on the cusp of advancing and may get a phone call from the supervisor any day now, you should go ahead and make the buy. That way, you’re not scrambling for the right stuff days before your first game at that level.
2. Measure yourself. Most officiating-related purchases are made via catalog mail order. When you call or go to a website to place your order, have your measurements ready. Use a measuring tape to get your exact measurements. Many customer-service representatives from reputable stores will be able to recommend sizes based on your measurements. That’s certainly better than guessing between a large and an extra-large.
3. Do you really need that? Judge the level of officiating you’re doing and estimate the number of games per week you’re working to make a smart purchase. If you’re working relatively few games and at the youth softball level, for example, you may not need the top-of-the-line chest protector that is designed for baseball players throwing the ball 90-plus miles an hour.
It also might be cheaper to buy a 12-pack of basketball lanyards, but just how many do you think you’ll need in the next three to five years? Don’t buy more than two sets of anything unless you’re likely to use them.
4. Look for quality. Buy the type of equipment and clothing that makes you feel protected and that looks sharp. Avoid that uneasy feeling that comes with going behind the plate in a baseball game with a chest protector you know wouldn’t stop a ping pong ball. If you’ve ever had a fleeting thought during any of your games that your equipment might not protect you, it’s time to buy better equipment. You can’t concentrate on the job at hand if you’re worried about getting hurt.
5. Talk to others. One of the best ways to find out about quality equipment and reputable companies is to talk to other officials. At local association meetings around the country, officials often talk about equipment. Rumors of shoddy material or poor customer service run rampant through the officiating grapevine. Don’t take every rumor as gospel but look for patterns. If you hear a number of sports officials bad-mouthing a certain product or company, chances are pretty good they’re right.
Also, look at what the pro and college referees are using. Most of the time, those officials are using high-quality gear because they’ve got to be heavily protected and look professional at all times.
The difficulty in recent years is that it has gotten very expensive to look like the pros because the uniforms keep changing. Just ask any umpire who now owns a light blue shirt, a dark blue shirt, a red shirt, plus a new pullover with a red turtleneck (or sometimes a blue undershirt). You need an oversized suitcase just to pack for the game!
6. Watch out for fads. Yes, marketers love to test “new” and “improved” stuff on referees, too. While advancements and upgrades are welcome, be careful of the items designed to revolutionize your officiating. The old adage is on target: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
7. Ask about the return policy. Since most items are purchased through mail order, be sure to carefully examine the return policy. You don’t want to be stuck with shoes that don’t fit.
As with all purchases in life: Buyer beware. Stick with the good companies that sell high-quality gear and you’ll be better for it. Cheaper prices are not always better.