The late Bill Klem, perhaps the greatest umpire in the history of baseball, was once shown a photo that supposedly proved he blew a call.
“Gentlemen,” the old arbiter replied, “he was out because I said he was out.”
That was the sort of stance officials had to take in those days or they likely wouldn’t have survived in the game. Times have changed.
Oh, sure, there are still times when the iron fist that Klem and his brethren employed with regularity is needed. Depending on the game situation and circumstances, it can benefit an official to take a hard line. More often, though, these days the best officials are less dictators than facilitators. “We want to manage the game” is the phrase of the day.
Does the following description sound like someone you know?
Like any general personality type, nobody will fit the bill perfectly as a dictatorial-type. There may be aspects of a person’s personality that lean toward a dictatorial-type but other aspects do not. With that qualifier in mind, officials who lean toward a dictatorial-type personality most likely possess the following characteristics:
• They control the game to their tempo — they want things to unfold or evolve to their own accord or pace, as opposed to the natural flow of the game that comes from the players.
• They refuse to treat athletes and coaches with respect — they view themselves as the king of the jungle and they are the boss. It’s that old, “This is my game!” mentality.
• They act like fascists — they believe they are the law and literally act like police officers gone overboard. Basically, their sense of authority crosses into authoritarianism, even totalitarianism.
• They are poor communicators — they refuse to listen to input offered by partners, assistants, linesmen, athletes and coaches.
• They “always” make perfect calls — they believe all of their calls are the right calls. Even when they make mistakes, they refuse to admit to them.
• They enjoy the chorus of boos — they bask in the chorus of boos because that’s when they are receiving as much attention as the athletes.
Reading that list, did you see yourself possessing any of those qualities? Don’t worry too much if you see yourself only periodically in one or two of those categories. After all, there are times when we love it when they boo, and who is a perfect communicator all the time? But if you see a lot of yourself in that list, it might be time to make a minor tune-up on your attitude or make a major overhaul on your officiating attitudes.
So what is a better way to approach officiating? Currently, the most popular and effective “style” is to employ a facilitator-type personality. That’s embodied by the notion that officials are there to manage the game, as opposed to control the game.
Perhaps the two best words to sum up the qualities of a facilitator-type of official are management and communication. Good officials know how to keep the best interest of the players, coaches and fans in check. They also know how to keep the lines of communication open between themselves and everyone else involved with the game.
The best types of facilitators on the playing field are most likely to possess many of these attributes:
• They are active listeners — not only do they hear what players, coaches and other officials are saying, but they are listening to them, absorbing and understanding the information.
• They ask questions — whenever they are unsure of something, they seek clarification, especially from their partners and crewmates.
• They intervene when necessary — they let players and coaches know what is going to be tolerated and offer fair warnings. They don’t interject themselves unless they have to.
• They treat everyone involved in the game with respect — they realize they have a job to do and that everyone else at the game has a job to do, too. They understand that only with everyone working in unison with professionalism on everyone’s part can the game flow. Of course, they understand they can’t control the professionalism of others, but strive to maintain their own.
• They value constructive criticism — good officials welcome feedback, whether it is positive or negative, so they can improve their game.
• They allow the game to flow — they allow players to create the tempo and flow of the game and only intervene to do their job, rather than create work for themselves where none exists.
• They prefer remaining in the background — the less heard from the officials, the better the game is. At the same time, when the game action dictates they must come to the forefront, they do so without hesitation, professionally putting the game back on course again.
• They get simple enjoyment from the game — much like athletes enjoy playing, coaches coaching and fans watching, facilitator-type officials derive pleasure from their jobs.
Which type are you? The choice is yours.
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