Photo Credit: Bob Messina

The best way for you to judge the effectiveness of a clinic or camp is to count the number of habits or procedures that have later changed your personal approach. In other words, the question should be: Are you renewed or are you dejected? After all, one solid definition of learning is that it involves a change in behavior.

For the “delivery person,” the clinician or director, the success ratio should be measured the same way: Did attendees walk away from the experience with new insights and advanced techniques? Another way to phrase it would be to conclude that the clinic generated more fresh air than hot air.

In view of such preferred outcomes, both attendees and presenters have an obligation to expect something new and to seek it aggressively. That is, if a presenter is relying basically on a recapitulation of the manual, participants should raise questions about angles of approach that are not treated in the manual. The audience must assume part of the obligation for acquiring special knowledge. For example, what is the best way to deal with animosity between opponents, both players and coaches? What are some techniques for covering unusual plays such as two runners caught between bases, a kickoff return with wild passes across the gridiron to teammates, persistent fouling of a soccer team’s star player, or length-of-court passes at the close of a tight basketball game?

Every clinician who sees you work usually has some advice to offer. Sometimes fellow campers will give you their own take on a situation. Your job, and it can often be a daunting one, is to create a list of the feedback and take it with you as you move into your respective season. You may not agree with all the feedback that you are given at a camp, but some or most of it is beneficial for your career.

Take advantage of the opportunity to probe experts

Participants should also take advantage of opportunities to probe the experts for philosophical attitudes during off times, such as at lunch or during a break in the sessions. To make that dimension truly beneficial, an official should jot down a few key questions in advance. That is, if an official listed a half-dozen areas in which doubt existed, it could be a basis for genuine inquiry, either during formal instructional operations or at times when respected individuals (not only the clinic speakers) were free to be interviewed.

Some of the most fruitful exchanges often take place in bull sessions with those whom participants admire.

Another idea to carry to a clinic: If you’ve invented and been successful with a special technique, share it with the group (or ask an expert about it if you’re not sure about its usefulness).

But what is the best way for officiating seminars themselves to operate? That question boils down to: How do people learn? Professional educators usually make the learning process sound very complex. That is not necessarily the case. Just recall how you gained any skill, such as hitting a golf ball or driving a car. First came the “image” of what the act required, including an explanation, a visual depiction, a demonstration, and then slow-motion participation. All phases also require careful thinking, combining physical behavior with analytic processing. You can’t improve onfield or oncourt functioning unless you have tried special mechanics in person, just as you can’t learn to drive an auto without squeezing behind the wheel.

Therefore, the ideal clinic will provide a judicious combination of those elements. Classwork is best accompanied by overhead slides, walk-through simulations and videos. The videos should show appropriate and productive techniques, not just officiating misdemeanors. Many camps send participants home with videos of each of their onfield or oncourt camp work. For some, clinicians provide a “play-by-play” from an official’s perspective. That has proved to be an important tool time and time again. The camper can watch the film multiple times over the course of a year — the camp gift that keeps on giving.

Not every camp can feature live action for attendees’ participation, of course, with accompanying critiques by experts. But that is the ideal. It doesn’t have to be a real game or intense scrimmages. For example, clinic volunteers can move from base to base on a diamond while umpires shift to appropriate coverage after someone hits a ball. Football plays can take place in walk-through fashion while officials practice following keys. Live action followed by on-site and video assessments are excellent, but simulations can break down phases of the game too in useful ways.

Idea exchanges are an excellent opportunity to learn new techniques

If the classroom sessions can encompass discussions, so much the better. Idea exchanges are another fine opportunity to garner new techniques. Most camps consist of various sessions to attend over the course of the weekend. Take a small pad of paper or an electronic notebook to jot down a few notes while you’re in “class.” It helps maintain focus and gives you something tangible to take away from the camp. Keep those notes in a binder in your officiating bag to reference over the course of the season.

Keep in mind which type of camp you are attending. Is it a, “I wanna get better” camp or a, “I wanna get hired” camp? Even if it’s the former, know that every camp you attend gives you a chance to be observed and you never know who is watching. There are some awesome stories of “luck” happening at camps where the right campers were seen by the right people at the right time. Advancement can come in various forms. Be ready for it, should it come your way. It may not come right away, but your dedication shown by going to camp doesn’t go unnoticed. You will be rewarded in due time.

The receptive official should be determined to extract as much as possible from presenters, but for such a result, the experience has to be approached with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Presenters look for those recipients of wisdom, people eager to partake and just as eager to try something stimulating. If you go to a clinic out of a sense of obligation or simply to see and be seen, as some people do, you are letting yourself down.

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