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The physical differences between sports officials.

Officiating is a difficult job and the physical requirements vary significantly depending on the sport you work.

You must meet the unique physical demands of your sport, be they running multiple miles up and down a court every single game, or be able to comfortably (and safely) hunker down on your haunches.

This post reviews the various physical demands that sports officials encounter in four sports: football, basketball, baseball and soccer. Other sports will have some similarities as well as their own unique aspects.

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Fitness Level Differences

Football: Regardless of where you are on the field, the start/stop nature of football requires every member of a crew to start rapidly, change direction and propel yourself forward and then coming to a necessary, abrupt stop. You may stand still for some of the game, but when you need to move, you need to move now.

Basketball: Endurance is key here. You’re covering some massive ground (anywhere between 4 and 5 miles per game on average!) and you’re doing most of that in the 4th quarter. You aren’t a member of either team, but you might as well be for how much you have to move.

Soccer: When it comes to running almost constantly, soccer referees have few equals. During competitive matches soccer referees run even more than basketball (anywhere between 5 and 8 miles per game).

Baseball: Umpires remain mainly in the same general area during most of the game (home plate umpire, first base umpire, third base umpire). Umpires are required to assume proper positioning for each pitch and be prepared to move quickly when play develops. You don’t have to move as much, so cardiovascular endurance isn’t the primary focus, but strength and endurance to hold certain positions is.

Dominant Body Movement Differences

Football referees have to move quickly in a combination of linear and lateral movements. You have to be quick and nimble, especially because you may sprinting or backpedaling depending on your position on the field.

Basketball referees are constantly moving, and do so in a more linear fashion, covering 94ft in every turn of possession. You may not be squatting or darting, but you need to be able to move your whole body efficiently for very long periods of time and change direction at a moments notice.

Again, soccer referees are similar to basketball officials with their linear movements, but primarily for the linesman. The head soccer referee moves both laterally and linearly, a pattern that mimics the midfielder in the game.

If you’re a baseball umpire, especially when you work the plate, your ability to get in and our of your stance safely is key to doing your job, as you must be able to repeat that movement for the entirety of the game. That’s considerable stress on your joints and you need to know how to get in and out of the stance safely, protecting your lower back and knees. By the end of a game, you’ve probably made the movement at least 270 times!

Decision-Making Differences

In a study done by the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, they found that a sports official’s decision-making decreases as the physical load increases (inverse relationship) which highlights the importance of staying in shape.

Football referees are expected to make calls on and off the ball, with the larger crew allowing for increased specialization.

Basketball referees are expected to make calls when the ball is in the air and on the ground while watching the movement and interactions of all 10 active players.

Baseball umpires, especially the home plate umpire, are expected to make very quick decisions, relying on intuition and judgment.

The home plate umpire has to determine whether a fastball is a ball or strike, while the infield umpires are responsible for determining whether a runner was safe or out.

Soccer referees (linesman) are responsible for making calls in relation between the ball and player (offsides) and the head referees are expected to make calls that happen on the ball.

Train the Right Way

Officiating any sport is difficult and it presents unique challenges. Training one way for multiple sports won’t do you any favors. You need to analyze the action that is required of you in each sport and position and determine where you might need specialized training to correct deficiencies. With the proper training, you will not only be able to meet the physical demands of your sport, but you will be able to exceed them.

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If you want expert training to get you through your sports-specific hurdles, consider participating in a guided online fitness class with Coach Duane Carlisle, who is the current fitness coach for NFL officials and has worked with the PAC-12. Multiple classes per week are available at CARLISLE PERFORMANCE ONLINE.

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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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