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Photo Credit: Ralph Echtinaw

One night I drove to a rink in Amherst, N.Y., to watch the Empire State Games, an Olympic-style event for amateur high school athletes. The hockey game I watched was standing room only. I found a spot in the back corner and saw a my role model of mine step on the ice.

Was it a player? No, it was a referee. I watched him work that game nearly flawlessly. Every call seemed to be perfect, and he acted so confidently even when surrounded by players during controversy. I asked myself how I could do the same thing. Since that day, I looked to him as a role model.

Everybody is a role model. Did you ever stop to think about that? All of us are, to one degree or another, influencing the behavior of others through our actions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at home, at work or officiating a Little League baseball game on Sunday morning.

I like the saying: “What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” That is true in all areas of life, but it is especially true as a game manager in officiating. We tend to be evaluated on our calls and judgment rather than on what we say — especially in this age of technology and the ease to record games on smartphones, tablets and other devices.

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Players, coaches and fans will respect an official who acts like a role model, regardless of their calls. Other officials will not only respect the official, but look up to him or her. Imagine that: being a person that others admire and see as a good role model.

You can become such a person by following these four principles:

Act with a healthy attitude

Our actions can impact the actions of others. Our game environment can only produce a corresponding effect, and the cause of that effect is our attitude. We get what we expect. Many officials say, “If only coaches would respect me, I would respect them in return.” They’re like the person sitting in front of the cold stove waiting for the heat, as Earl Nightingale used to point out. Don’t ask for the heat. Put the fuel in first, then you can expect heat. Similarly, you must carry a good attitude before you can expect the same in return.

Act with integrity

The role model in officiating is a person with integrity; that official is true to himself or herself. An official with integrity is one of the mentally strongest people. With integrity, it is extremely hard for somebody else to question his or her judgment. It becomes easier for others to communicate with the official without having to scream at him or her. Other officials treat the official with integrity as a role model — a leader who carries the crew over the obstacles of each game. And for younger, aspiring officials, that official is somebody who inspires them to become better as both officials and people.

Act with character

Character is what one does when nobody’s watching. Why is it important for us to always be on our best behavior? Well, how many times have you officiated a game with nobody present? While we may not be watched at all times during a game, we certainly should act like we are, especially when it really counts.

For example, it is important for a referee in a hockey game to hustle to the goalline when play breaks into the end zone. If he doesn’t, the referee risks missing a close play at the goal, and perhaps misses the puck crossing the goalline. Now, nobody is actually watching the referee skate to the goalline, but once he or she is there, all eyes turn to the official when he or she must make that decision of “goal” or “no goal.” Could we become better role models by simply acting out of “character”? Of course.

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Act as an ambassador

An official is an ambassador of the game. An ambassador is defined as a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity, and an official does exactly that in every single game. We are representatives of the sport we work, the league we work under, and the association we choose to represent. We are promoters of the playing rules, the safety of the game and the fairness of the game. All of those things contribute to the successful outcome of a contest, but they also contribute to the character of the official and the role model he or she is.

Practice those attributes, work on them consistently, and you’ll find yourself becoming the person others call a role model — not just in officiating, but in every area of your life.

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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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