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16 tips to be a better official or referee
Laser focus, as demonstrated by Amy Milton, Durham, N.C., is one of the most important aspects of officiating. Regardless of level of the teams or how well they are playing, officials must pay attention from start to finish. (Photo Credit: Carin Goodall-Gosnell)

Tens of thousands of words have been devoted to helping officials improve their performance. No attempt has been made here to identify these as the best tips. But you would have to agree that if such a list were compiled, these 16 would belong.

Watch them warm up

Make use of that dead time before the game. Watch players warm up. Does the point guard carry the ball? What range does the field-goal kicker have? Which outfielder has the strongest arm? Which player can “bend it like Beckham?” Those things and more provide info that might come in handy.

Head off trouble

Make a casual visual inspection of players before a game and you may avoid a future headache. If you see a player whose uniform is illegal or who is wearing jewelry, point it out to the coach. That will give the player time to make an adjustment or take off the illegal item.

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Pick up your presence

Presence is hard to define, but you want it. Physical appearance is part of it, but it goes further. How you stand before the start of the game, shoulders upright with head held high, never folding the arms in front of the body, gives an air of confidence and approachability that is noticed. Look people in the eye while communicating and keep your cool when emotions around you boil over as well.

Get noticed or go home

Has anyone ever told you that the best-officiated games are the ones in which you do not know the officials are there? They are wrong. You want game participants and fans to notice you positively for your appearance, your hustle, proper mechanics and great calls. Officials who are not noticed are not doing something right.

Don’t go there

Do you exhibit the appearance of being impartial? Great officials know the difference between perception and reality and act accordingly. Do not be extra friendly with one of the coaches prior to a game, just because you have seen his or her team more often than the other coach’s team. Be upfront with conflicts of interest to your assigner, even if you know you can be impartial no matter what.

Call what must be called

There is a difference between preventive officiating and failing to penalize when in possession of knowledge that a violation or foul occurred. Officials who cannot or will not penalize taunting and baiting, unnecessary roughness, illegal and dangerous tactics, and equipment and uniform violations cannot, by definition, call a good game, nor can they practice effective risk management.

Adjust your attitude

There is an old officiating axiom: “If you go to the game with a bad attitude, you’ll have a bad game.” Your attitude affects those around you. A positive attitude helps you perform difficult tasks. If you have had a bad day on your job or a driver cuts you off on your way to a game, set aside minor frustrations and strive to develop a positive attitude toward the game.

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Move on from mistakes

Remember, you only have control of the present moment. The call you made five minutes ago is beyond your control and the future is always out of your reach. Keep an active mind and stop yourself whenever your mind wants to shift back to a “mistake” or worries about what’s going to happen.

Focus throughout

Focus and keep your attention on the task at hand — the game you are working. Whether it is a blowout or tight ballgame, keep your concentration. If you feel yourself becoming distracted, focus on specific mechanics during a game. By telling yourself you need to improve a specific part of your game, it will help you to avoid being distracted.

Know everyone is ready

After a stoppage, ensure that your partners are ready before putting the ball back into play and/or resuming the game. There does not need to be any extended communication, just eye contact, a nod of the head or a thumbs-up so that you know everyone is ready to go.

Offer latitude at times

When a coach complains, ask yourself if you got the call right. If you think the call was questionable, give the coach some latitude. Do not allow him or her to interfere with your concentration but lend an ear. When you feel you got the call correct, your limit on what you will hear goes down. Most importantly, do not be afraid to use warnings. Those warnings can prevent situations from escalating further.

Be a great dead-ball official

It is amazing how a game that progressed smoothly and without incident can go downhill if officials miss something that happens away from the play or after the ball is dead. Dead-ball officiating is one of the factors that separates average officials from great ones. Fouls or rule violations happen even when the ball is not live.

Get the game moving again

When the game is stopped because of a call — one that results in controversy — the best way to turn down the heat is to get play started again as soon as possible. If the coaches, players and fans have something else to watch or think about, they will turn their attention to the play and will not have as much time to bark about the last one. If a complicated rule is involved and you need to explain things to a coach, do it. And do not resume the action if it puts another official or either team at a disadvantage. But you will often find that the noise will dissipate if a new play develops.

Set the pace

Games go more smoothly when you set an even tempo. A game that “flows” allows players, coaches and officials to interact without disruption. In such a game, players usually do not commit an inordinate number of fouls or violations. In turn, your mechanics become second nature. You can help set the pace by hustling, encouraging teams to return to the field or court after timeouts and by being ready to resume play when the players are.

Stretch and rehydrate

The postgame stretch is just as important — maybe more important — than the one before the contest. Stretching helps warm muscles retain their elasticity and can prevent cramping. And do not forget your fluid intake. You must replace what you lost by drinking water or sports drinks. Even chocolate milk can help replenish necessary nutrients.

Become the rules guru

Every association has that individual who is known as the rules guy or gal. He or she is well-versed in the rules and is the go-to person in meetings and on the field or court. That individual is respected and for good reason. Make it your goal this season (and write it down) to be the most educated official in your area. Then dig into the numerous resources available, like our rules guides, to help you reach your goal.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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