People expect a lot from sports officials. They’re expected to arrive at games on time and prepared. We know they attempt to officiate in a professional manner, be in the proper position and make decisive calls. Of course, expectations of the fans can border on the extreme. Flawless officiating, perfect decisions and no game delays are a minimal standard.
But officiating in today’s environment is not easy. Life can get in the way and officials may arrive for games late and unprepared. Offseason study can be interrupted by careers and family matters. That creates challenges for crew chiefs who want to field the best crew at game time.
The good news is the most beneficial tools within reach are the minds of those on their crew. Understanding and tapping into the mindsets of crewmembers can not only build synergy but open the door to better performance on the field or on the court.
Psychologist Susanne R. Cook- Grueter’s groundbreaking work on the developmental mind has direct application to sports officials. Understanding her research allows us to tap into specific mindsets possessed by those on our crew. As Cooke-Grueter points out, when we understand the mind we get a clearer picture of how well a particular individual is suited to the task at hand and how well the individual can read and interact with people who have different preferences.
While the breadth and depth of those various stages is significantly more intricate than can be addressed here, there are three mindsets that are of particular significance to sports officials. What follows is a description of the developmental stage and practical suggestions that crew leaders can use to create conditions for success.
Steven was a longtime high school lacrosse official. He was not well-liked by his fellow crew members. They tend to describe him as cutthroat. In a recent postgame meeting, he was quick to point the finger at a colleague, insisting that he missed a call that could have changed the momentum of the game. Crewmembers weren’t surprised because Steven never takes responsibility. In their experience, any time anyone offered constructive feedback, he quickly rejected it anyway.
Steven demonstrates one of the classic signs of an opportunist: A “me vs. the world” mentality. Opportunists are easy to spot. They tend to be self-oriented, manipulative and possess a drive to win in any way possible. To make matters worse, they feel their approach is completely rational. That is because they see the world as a place where everyone is out for themselves. In the opportunist’s view, people are simply competitors in a vast war-torn landscape.
Dealing with an opportunist is no easy task for the crew chief. They do very little for team cohesion and are often more effective working alone. People typically don’t like working for, or with, opportunists. They often feel a sense of betrayal and distrust when doing so.
Lead officials would do well to try to get the opportunist to see beyond their own perspective. Invest time in helping the opportunist recognize that their actions have an impact on the crew and the game in both small and large ways. The chances are you’ll need to begin that conversation by acknowledging the value the opportunist brings to the crew (self-directed, decisive). Establish rapport, as difficult as that may be. Once the opportunist opens up, it’s much easier to help them understand and appreciate the contributions of others on the crew.
Larry is very proud of being a college football official. In fact, he’s so proud he can be counted on to wear his Division III windbreaker all year long. As a line judge, he is well-liked by his crew, though they sometimes wish he would be a bit more decisive when discussing questionable calls at halftime, or in standing up to a barking coach. Larry is not one to rock the boat and angering others is something he avoids like the plague.
Diplomats define themselves they work and by the approval of others. As such, they are loyal souls who thrive on harmony. Confronting those they consider authority figures (like coaches and crew chiefs) is not their strong suit since it creates an atmosphere of conflict. They tend to do well in their roles, but you’re not likely to see them venture beyond the minimal requirements for the job. Likewise, diplomats are not the most talented at giving or receiving feedback, making halftime adjustments a bit of a challenge for the crew.
While it might seem dealing with diplomats would be easy, such is not the case. It is true that diplomats help create a supportive atmosphere, but their risk-averse nature creates tension and frustration among the crew. Not all work environments remain conflict free for long — and certainly not those populated by sports officials. Since diplomats define themselves through the approval of others, conflict puts them in a risky position they would prefer to avoid.
When handling diplomats, it’s important to help them build their confidence by aiding them in understanding that they have value beyond how they’re seen by others. Diplomats most certainly bring skillsets that are needed by the crew, but the ability of the diplomat to recognize that is often clouded by their lack of internal strength. A newly discovered self-confidence may help them develop the courage necessary to make tough decisions both on the field and off.
Laura is one of the more accomplished basketball officials in her association. She brings an exceptional depth of knowledge in rules, mechanics and enforcements. No one could argue her expertise, but many would admit she uses that expertise as leverage in any conflict. Worse, she’s been known to use it in a ridiculing and hostile manner. Some have confronted her about that. But without the requisite number of years and playoff assignments, their feedback falls on deaf ears.
Experts like Laura are very common in all lines of work where technical skill is rewarded and fostered. Experts are adept at using hard logic and data — the foundation of many of the rulebooks used in officiating. Logic rules in the world of experts and the average crewmate is easily impressed with their quick answers and airtight thinking. Unfortunately, that impressive intellectual palette comes with a price. Experts are often one-of- a-kind. As such, they are seldom challenged. When they are, they aren’t likely to accept the feedback with grace unless it comes from someone they consider to be their expert-equal.
Experts are much like diplomats in their need to feel they matter. What they lack are the fundamental skills or interest to work with others who may not have their professional background. Rookie officials would likely get signs of annoyance or disapproval from the expert on the crew. Lead officials are well-advised to help experts appreciate the roles of others in officiating the game. That won’t be easy, but experts are smart people. Once they become more aware of the contributions made by others, they are more likely to be able to accept other viewpoints as valid.
To be fair, the opportunist, diplomat and expert bring positive aspects to our officiating crews. Opportunists are driven and energetic. Diplomats can bring people together even in the most challenging times. And experts, through their extensive knowledge, can play very important roles in penalty enforcement and unique game situations. But taken to the extreme, all three mindsets have serious limitations. Tapping into the unexplored aspects of those minds can prove beneficial in building crew cohesion and meeting the expectations of colleagues and fans alike.
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