My wife asked me, “Where are you headed tonight?”
My kids asked me, “Are you coming to watch my game?”
My response to my wife and kids was, “You know I have a game.”
My son looks at me with pleading eyes. “When are you going to make it to one of my games?”
I am sure officials have had those conversations many times in their lives, just as I have had them for the past 20 years. I get those questions not just from my kids, but from family and friends. Officials often struggle when they are assigned a game on the same day or weekend as another activity, such as a family wedding, child’s school event, sporting event, etc.
Some assigners will be gracious and allow you to turn back an assignment if an unexpected mid-season event pops up. But dates for out-of-town trips and other occasions should be blocked out before assignments come out, thus preventing headaches for the assigner.
In 2002, I was selected to work in the Arena Football2 (AF2) football league. I did not have any kids at that time, so I was available for more games. That same year, several of my high school buddies were getting married. One friend in particular was getting married on the same weekend of a huge AF2 game. I was in my first season and did not want to let down the assigner. The wedding was in another state. I had a big decision to make. I decided to officiate the football game. To this day we are still friends, but he was pretty upset, and I figure he had the right to be. Meanwhile, AF2 folded.
Fast forward many years. I have three young children of different ages and they are all active in sports and other extracurricular activities. Each a unique personality and coping mechanisms in dealing with participating in an event without their dad being in attendance. By the way, I also have a great day job that requires my utmost dedication and commitment.
If I have to miss an event, I hope another parent took pictures or even a video to help recapture the moment. Then I can discuss the event with my child when I get home.
When communicating with my kids, I would prefer that they tell me a story about the game. One strategy I have developed is called “Re-tell the Story.” When they do that, I can see the excitement build in them and it provides them confidence in telling a story to me about the game that I missed.
With one son, I ask him to start at the beginning and take me through the journey of the game before telling me the score. That helps him to think about how to structure a story with a beginning, middle and end.
With my other children that approach does not work and I need to have a different method. It is very difficult to use the re-tell game strategy with them as all they want to do is tell me the score and move on.
One child allows me to ask a few questions, but no more than three about the event. If I ask too many questions, I’m told I’m being a bother.
My other son is the combination of the other two. He does not mind that I miss the event, as he would prefer I would not attend at all or even watch his functions. He gets embarrassed when I attend, but I think that is just an age situation and that will change. If that son is in a good mood, I get every detail I can imagine, though he will not allow me to ask questions. If his day is not going well, asking him questions will frustrate him.
Every child is different and sometimes I have to get information out of them any way that I can using any of my unorthodox approaches or simply just settling for the final score.
So that’s a few things that I do with my kids, but I have not addressed how I, the sports official, deal with all of this. What am I to do? How do I cope? I have to treat my games as a business trip as it is part of my weekly routine. It does not mean that I officiate and travel five days a week because that is not my everyday job. Sports officials need to make an interpersonal commitment to two parts of their lives: A dedication to the officiating avocation that requires studying the rules and mechanics, and a second commitment to family and kids.
When I am not officiating, I do not make plans to go out with my friends, though I would like to. In my real job, I always hear that you have to strike the right work-life balance. With me, I have re-phrased it and embodied a new slogan called “Life’s Official Balance.” What is the difference between those two slogans, other than official? Not much really, because you officially need to think about striking a balance between taking too many games (called travel days for work) and attending your kids’ events.
It is the “official” part you need to re-think, as it is just an avocation and not real work per se. The word “balance” in the slogan you are all familiar with as it is the key to a successful and happy lifestyle for you and your family. There will come a time and place in your sports officiating career that will require you to take a backseat (if you choose to). Your kids grow up only once and will only play varsity sports for maybe one or two seasons, or act in a school play maybe only once or twice.
After you read this, you may be considering your own situation. I wrote this story from the perspective of a father with three boys, who loves officiating just as much as the next official and cannot stop doing it. As my children get older, more milestones are coming, and I need to prepare for my final departure.
When I have to leave sports officiating, I do not want to regret that I missed so much of my family’s personal adventures and events. Today, I have adjusted my officiating calendar. I went from officiating five games a week to three games a week. At the end of day, you need to decide how many games you can handle and cope with missing your family’s events. Just think about what you are doing and how you want to remember your offspring and their childhood. It is possible to enjoy both, but it takes a time sacrifice on both ends.
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