Photo Credit: Dale Garvey

In the sports world, a team’s success is determined by wins and losses and, to a major extent, by the number of championships it wins. Most fans care less about individual performances than they do about how they add up to the shiny trophy the team wins and the parade that follows. My experience observing sports, as a player, fan and an official, has shaped my opinion identifying the elements that determine a team’s success.

Many teams are stacked with superstars and talented players, yet they don’t succeed in winning championships. Others with less skill and experience often win the title. I believe the difference makers are passion, trust, care and support for one another. It’s how well the team members communicate and complement each other. Some people say that is chemistry, but describing it as such does not codify the elements needed to win.

Having passion is a strength, whether it’s from loving one another, writing a manuscript, playing a sport or simply watching water cascade down a hill.

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Which brings us to the point of the story. While players are evaluated individually by an endless array of statistics and teams by the number of victories, most amateur officials are almost always evaluated as individuals. Our associations seem hell-bent on developing good officials, but not great crews. Shouldn’t the interaction with our crew members matter? Certainly, the better we communicate and work together has a lot to say about how effectively, fairly (and well) we officiate the game.

Subjective and undocumented factors still lead to plum assignments

In big league baseball, crews work together throughout the regular season. In the postseason, MLB crews are composed of the highest rated or most experienced officials. Thus, the supervisors have evaluated their arbiters and created teams of superstars who may not succeed any better than any crew that worked together all season.

What distinguishes a good official from the ones who are regularly assigned the plum regular-season games and the playoffs? Despite objective and analytic methods of evaluating officials, the result will likely end up being based on subjectivity and factors you are unlikely to find documented. So how do they get on the list of the best?

To begin, what separates the haves from the have nots? Coaches must often compare players of equal ability and decide who plays and who rides the bench. How is the tie broken? The X-factors might be a player’s geniality and communication skills. It could be how well he or she looks on the field or court. In their quest to work the big game, officials should eliminate the “how do I look” factor by simply standing in front of a mirror.

The unfit, overweight official will move slower, fatigue sooner and have trouble running hard to properly cover a play. That deficiency is further exacerbated by modern hurry-up and up-tempo offenses. Who will get the call — the fit or the fat? How we look is a difference maker that we should address not only to accelerate our career, but more importantly to improve our health. Losing that extra baggage around the waist and trimming down will improve your quality of life.

Some things are easy for us to manage. It’s a given that we enter the field or court with a clean, immaculate uniform. Successful players train and condition themselves throughout the year to optimize their physical performance. When they show up for the game, everyone including their opponent takes notice. Officials are similarly observed and scrutinized. While an official must not care which team wins, everyone else in our workplace does.

Communication is another key. A seasoned observer can tell if a crew is sending messages, be it verbally or non-verbally. An occasional conference to clear up a point is generally acceptable but too many indicates a lack of cohesion between officials. Similarly, a running conversation with a player or players may draw an angry response from the coach who believes you are stealing players’ concentration. But a quiet word during a break in the action in the guise of preventive officiating is acceptable.

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While hardly anyone goes to a game to watch the officials, the majority in attendance are sure to voice their displeasure with a call with which they disagree, especially when they have the opportunity to see it on replay. Unfortunately, fans, coaches and announcers often lack proper understanding of the rules, or confuse Friday night rules with what they see during pro or college games.

A fan or coach may tolerate or accept an official’s judgment call with which they disagree, but not if the official in question was out of position to properly cover the play.

Adding Your Name to the List of the “Best”

Eventually, your hard work will pay off, and your name will be added to the list of the best. It’s not the same for everyone. The voyage may take longer than you’d like it to, and there’s still no guarantee that you will be selected for the big game. It’s unfortunate, but at some point, your fate may be determined not by how good you are, but instead by the petty, subjective opinions of a selection committee whose criteria is neither documented nor clearly understood.

The time has come for officials associations to objectively evaluate their crews and make selections for playoff games and the top assignments based on how well those groups administrate the game as a team. Doing so gives officials the incentive and motivation to work as hard as possible, to elevate their game and to make each member of the crew be the best they can be.

In officiating as in competition, team does matter.

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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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