Most of us lead a simple life. We’ll never have to go through the drudgery of another game at Soldier Field or Madison Square Garden. Hey, if you live in a rural place, some of the fancier venues we get to work in stand out just because Siri doesn’t instruct you to ”turn left at the water tower.” The best big game we can hope for is receiving that long-awaited invitation to present ourselves at the state finals. Those games are often played in some large cathedral, normally the haunt of the local pro or D-I college team.

This Assignment IS Different

That’s where problems can start: As much of a blast as it can be working in a place like that, the assignment comes with some challenges. They boil down to, “Do I have to do anything differently in a huge place like this?”

“Do I have to do anything differently in a huge place like this?”

Oh, yeah. The honor of working an assignment like that can quickly go down in flames if you aren’t prepared for the bombardment to your senses that comes with it. Here’s what you might face.

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Before The Big Game

First, gone are the days when you and your crew just roll onto the parking lot and the AD looks after you. Now, you’re just another one of umpteen important people needing the proper ID to get in through the correct gate at the right time. There might be a representative from the state association or governing body waiting for you, but first you have to get there. If you can, speak to a fellow official who is familiar with the layout of the venue. He or she knows how to beat the crowds, the best place to park and how to get to the dressing room. That guardian angel knows all the little things that will help you blend in and avoid trouble before you even get your uniform on.

When you’re safely inside, everything’s bigger. The locker room is a relative warehouse, the plumbing fixtures have been recently sanitized and there are just a bunch of things available to make you feel like a somebody. Don’t get swept away in the narcissism of concluding you are somebody because of your new digs, though. Take all the extras merely as the courtesies extended to any official and focus on the job ahead.

Game Time

Once on the job, the scale of your world changes forever.

Once on the job, the scale of your world changes forever. Yes, the dimensions of the field or court are probably the same, but the surroundings make the experience so much different. Depending on the event and the venue, it tends to be louder — loud enough that it really is hard to hear yourself think. Where you used to be able to hear background noises and make out what a person was screaming from 20 feet away, there’s now an incessant buzz, a pressure wave that makes your whole body vibrate at times. That’s when the importance of effective signals and rock-solid mechanics suddenly comes home to roost. You now have to know where to look for your crewmates and expect them to do certain things in a given situation, where simply hearing them and speaking to them used to suffice. And if a coach or a player wants to say something to you, you might find yourself having to get closer than you’ve learned to be comfortable with. Your sense of security changes.

If the stadium or arena has a video board, be prepared for the sound of crowd reaction when a replay is shown.

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Visually, the flight of a ball or the movements of a player are different. Brighter lighting makes everything more dazzling than you might be used to. The bland relief of a featureless skyline is replaced by a backdrop of objects and people that tends to amplify every movement you see. More than the ball or players seems to be crossing your field of view, competing for your attention. You have to learn to close down your focus to avoid being mesmerized. You’ll experience a change in depth perception that makes zeroing in on calls a little harder.

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Don’t Get Overwhelmed

Tactilely, you experience the true sense of being surrounded. It feels like the difference between walking through a museum and a busy airport: The sidelines are more crowded and the spectators are often right on top of you. The players, because they’re a cut above the norm just to have made it to your game, fill up more space and get where they’re going more quickly. That means you have to raise your game proportionately.

First, since the game moves faster, you have to respond more and think less. Despite all the potential distractions around you, you have to bear down that much more or the pace will overwhelm you. Second, with all those people around, you have to be more assertive about staking out the space you need to do your job and control the activities of the hangers-on. Coaches and photographers will stand on the team logo if you let them. You’ll find yourself working harder to maintain control instead of regain control of situations than in the past.

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Generally, the bad things happen when you’re surprised by what you encounter and there’s definitely an adjustment to be made under the bright lights. Don’t blow it off with the notion that you can handle anything. It will be a different experience.

Things are different in the stratosphere of officiating, but don’t be apprehensive.

Be Prepared

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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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