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There are many things that might disrupt an official’s concentration during a game. They might be internal or external and could happen during play as well as during dead-ball periods. However, there are things an official can do, and some you should have the discipline to ignore.

An official must be able to put on hold a personal problem for the duration of the contest. You can’t be thinking about friction with your spouse or employer and still referee.

A nagging injury can be the source of concern and repetitive distractions. To prevent that, you have to implement appropriate support for the injury and test it, to ensure it works.

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Case in point: There was a basketball official who had a surgical repair to his elbow, resulting in a cast on the right arm. The official practiced refereeing left-handed and one-handed in front of a mirror and worked a high school game before attempting a college game. He also realized that some people might have negative reactions to his refereeing with a cast on his arm. He was prepared to silence those by demonstrating his capability.

Physical and mental preparation provides confidence

Physical and mental preparation provided the confidence he needed to take on the added handicap of the injury without detracting from his performance. That kind of preparation and testing is important for any slightly injured official, lest a twinge of pain or unanticipated mobility problems cause distractions.

There are a number of things an official can address before a game to eliminate potential distractions later. Have players get all jewelry off right away. Stay away from the coaches as they may try to plant seeds that could sprout later. Preventing those minor irritating events during the game will maintain its flow and avoid breaks in concentration.

An equally important aspect of preparation is to have a firm grasp on your officiating philosophy. It is essential if you are to avoid being distracted by chippy coaches and griping players. Having a clear picture of when you have to take care of business with complaints goes a long way toward keeping you focused. If a situation arises, you must have the resolve and confidence to deal with it. Those virtues come only from having a sound philosophy.

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Perhaps the most distracting situation is when you feel you might have blown a call and the coach’s protest might have validity. Many officials have self-talk practiced for those inevitable situations. They remind themselves, “Forget that one. Get the next one right.” Those who practice yoga often have a self-centering mental process for dispelling negative thoughts. In contentious situations, you can help by verbalizing your support. “Good call, partner,” goes a long way to reassuring the players and refocusing your crewmate.

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You know the derivation of the word “fan” is fanatic. Unless your safety or that of the players is at risk, the fans need to be ignored. Some officials find that difficult. Some engage in angry discourse with fans in the stands. Here again, a strong officiating philosophy is the key to keeping focused. You cannot reasonably expect everyone will agree with a call even when it is correct and obvious. You have the training. Let the fans do the shouting. A lot has been written about “dead-ball efficiency” in avoiding mistakes. Those principles apply to keeping one’s concentration as well.

Timeouts provide a great opportunity to go brain dead. It happens. Basketball officials will erroneously let the thrower run the endline when it should be a designated spot throw-in. An umpire will lose the count after a mound visit or football officials will charge a timeout to the wrong team.

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Protect against that by having a word with your partner(s) at the start of the stoppage. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to discuss a game situation if need be, but don’t socialize. Keep your focus rather than checking out fans in the stands.

Other dead-ball periods, such as free throws, injury timeouts, measurements or pitching changes provide a moment to communicate a message to a captain or a troubled player. Those instances keep your mind in the game and help you relate to the players.

Finish strong

The final challenge is to finish strong. That is generally easier in close games when there is much to do and the adrenaline is flowing. There are generally enough timeouts so you and your partner(s) have plenty of opportunities to communicate.

Finishing strong may be a bigger problem when the game is a blowout. Many officials just want to get that kind of game over with. That can be a very bad idea if someone gets hurt or a fight breaks out. If the last minutes are foul-plagued, talk to the players. Challenge them to play some foul-free minutes. Be alert for any kids showing hostility and get the captain to address the situation. Verbally encourage good play to let the athletes know you still care about the game and them. If positive actions can’t keep your mind off thoughts of postgame refreshment, remind yourself that some of the losing team and its supporters will be looking for an excuse to blame the loss on you. Be determined to keep refereeing until the final horn, pitch or play.

One useful way to keep focused throughout the game is to emulate what baseball players do: Run through possible play scenarios and remind yourself what the proper reaction should be to each. One might be able to interpret the coach’s signals to anticipate play situations and share those thoughts with partners during breaks in play.

The more you are mentally involved in the game, the less likely you are to lose focus.

Adapted from a column that appeared in the 10/04 issue of Referee.

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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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