You show up at the game site. You’re pumped. You meet your partner. Something’s wrong. He or she is distracted, upset, not engaged. You can see right away there might be partner issues. Once again, you’re isolated. It’s up to you to figure out how to wake your partner up, get him or her ready for the contest.
Chuck Walters, a high school baseball umpire from Jackson, Mich., does his best to try and pick up the spirits of his partner in that situation. “We’ve all been there,” he acknowledged. “You need to get him back in the here and now. Tell him, ‘Hey, we need ya.”
It doesn’t matter which sport, according to Walters, who also works football. You can get with him or her right away, or bide your time waiting for the proper moment. Either way, choose carefully what you say and how you say it. “Everyone needs a pat on the back,” he said. “Remember, we’re often harder on other officials than the fans or coaches are.”
Susan Bargo, a former NCAA Division I women’s basketball official who currently helps administer six leagues, circles back to the pregame. Check the pulse then and get issues out on the table right away. Resolve them before you get on the court. “You must have good chemistry and communication,” she said. “Choose the right spot to help. It can be a little more delicate when things happen on the court. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and make it worse.”
Specifically, Bargo suggested a technique of asking your partner a question to get him or her out of the funk, or giving an encouraging sign like a thumbs up. “Everyone has times like that,” Bargo said. “You need to let them know that they’re not alone.
“It could be something really small you do to keep your partner queued into the game. For example, you could make a game within the game, finding something your partner is doing right and letting him or her know.
“Officiating is an art form. Like athletes, we get tight, then we don’t perform as well,” Bargo explained.
Kelly Witt, an NCAA soccer official, lined up with Bargo’s approach, agreeing that “little games” within the contest help keep partners involved and you less alone in your duties. She also supported the “thumbs up” gesture as a way to engage your officiating teammate.
Eye contact, smiling and verbally communicating with your partner are also important techniques, she continued.
Mike McCarron, a San Francisco and Bay Area football official, said dealing with a partner who is not fully there is a challenge because then you’re alone and doing two jobs — theirs and yours. “Anything I can help with, I will, but you can’t be rough and jump on him or he’ll crawl away and you’ll never see him again,” McCarron said.
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