Stepping onto the court or field for the big game takes a combination of factors that vary with different officials. A positive attitude and training combined with proper networking will help toward achieving your goal. High school official Darryl Giles, Horsham, Pa. (Photo Credit: Jack Kappenstein)

There’s a common human urge to improve. It runs through our work lives, the activities we undertake for enjoyment and our officiating endeavors. That urge manifests itself in sports officiating most often in a desire to get the “big” game, that dream assignment.

That might be the conference championship, state championship or crosstown rivalry game. Regardless of the venue, in your mind you’ve set yourself up, so seek something higher and attain a goal. It all revolves around getting an assignment from someone who has authority over you.

Getting a plum assignment isn’t something that mysteriously arrives in your email. A text message doesn’t suddenly ding into your smart phone, letting you know you got a state semifinal match-up. There are a lot of factors that get you to a stage in your officiating career in which you are prepared, engaged and visible enough so assigners and supervisors are confident in your abilities to take on the “big one.”

Here are nine tips gleaned over the years from other officials and personal experience:

1. Take your time

Simon and Garfunkel sang decades ago, “Slow down, you move too fast, gotta make the morning last.” You’re not trying to slow down when you work your way toward that top assignment, but you must recognize it doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t walk into your association, take the test, work two years and start saying, “Why didn’t I get the city championship?” At that stage of your officiating career, you’ll be fortunate to get a varsity game. Keep that in mind and develop patience.

2. There are no shortcuts

Tied to patience is remembering that there are no shortcuts. You can’t bypass training. There is no substitute for working six nights a week in-season for five years when you’re younger and starting out. You have the energy and typically more career flexibility at that time, so invest in every game to get experience and exposure to build bridges with your supervisor and other officials.

3. Know the supervisor

Though there are still many independent contracting situations for officials, more likely you’ll deal with an assigner/supervisor at some point. If not at the local level, at least at the state level. Get to know those people. Ask questions when you attend meetings with your assigner. He or she will see you are inquisitive and someone who wants to learn and develop. Be yourself, be available and be honest. There’s a lot of merit to having open discussions with that individual about what you need for advancement.

4. Find some buddies

Having a group of friends in your officiating field is both fun and good for your mental health. Your friends are your network and they can help you advance with a good word to the right person or send you in the opposite direction. Friends will provide advice when you are down and can be the people who help you get to the top. Don’t expect someone else to get it done for you — you still need to demonstrate your skills on the court or field. But your buddies can provide an extra nudge at the right time so you move to the top tier of assignments.

5. Volunteer

Help younger officials once you get enough experience to share lessons with others and become the wiser man on the hill. You can’t do that your first few years because you’re on your own steep learning curve. Consult with your buddies to see when they think you’ve reached a stage where you can provide constructive advice to others as a mentor or big brother/sister. Stepping into that role gives you greater visibility. By giving back to others, you also cultivate the spirit of reciprocity. That makes you a better official, and a better human being. Supervisors look for that when assigning critical games.

6. “Thank you” letter

It’s always nice to receive a letter in the mail, isn’t it? Typically you read it, as long as it’s not junk. Send a “thank you” letter to your supervisor after you officiated a game that had special meaning for you, or just to thank him or her for the job he or she does. Be sincere, specific and short. Their positions are thankless a lot of the time, so your support will be noted. It helps them put a name and face together, too, which is often a complicated development for an assigner busy with hundreds or thousands of games over a three-to-four-month period and hundreds of names of officials to remember.

7. Be positive

In our whiny, negative culture, it’s easier to point fingers and assess blame. Officials have human emotions like everyone else. Suppress them to the best of your ability. Instead, find ways to praise officials you see working, and convey that to your supervisor and the individual. You’ll be appreciated.

8. Keep training

Keep your skills and body in shape by going to camps and training clinics. That will make you better. That’s the most important ingredient to prepare yourself for the top assignment. When you attend camps, you’ll also hear from camp clinicians who’ve been to the top of the mountain. Their words of wisdom will enliven and inform your world.

9. Don’t give up

When you haven’t gotten a big assignment that you’ve worked hard for, look at it this way: Only one person or team gets to the top. Pick your battles. Enjoy every assignment because there may be 69 officials in your group who want to be in your shoes. Loving the game you officiate makes each contest special, and that’s what matters in the long run.

You may miss out on that top game, but you also must recognize the stage of your officiating career where you may never get that plum assignment you’ve been pining over. That’s another column — how to mentally negotiate that stage of your officiating career.

If you follow the tips above, you’re more likely to get the opportunity you’ve been seeking.

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