When I accepted the offer to join Referee as an associate editor in January, I had next to no concerns about how I’d fit in with my soon-to-be co-workers. I had the opportunity to interview with several of them both via telephone and in person and knew we would have an instant kinship forged by working in journalism devoted to the common passion of officiating.
My bigger concern was how long it would take for me to find acceptance and trust as the “new” guy trying to break into high school sports officiating in Wisconsin.
We all know the reality that there is a numbers crunch in the officiating ranks and that in some locations the only initial requirement is that you be a warm body. Still, there is a vast difference between that bare minimum and indoctrinating yourself as someone whom your new brothers or sisters in stripes not only accept, but want to work with and will vouch for with other officials and assigners.
Fortunately, I had been down this road before. After working four years as a three-sport official in California, I relocated to Utah for a new job in March 2014 and had to quickly make connections and impressions at the outset of the high school baseball season. Unfortunately, my move to Wisconsin the first week of February meant trying to gain some sort of foothold not at the start of a season, but 80 percent of the way through the high school basketball campaign.
Early indications are I did something right. I had the opportunity to not only work immediately — my first game assignment took place less than 72 hours after my arrival in the state — but with several good crews. In many ways it mirrored my experience in Utah, where the local baseball unit made me feel at home from Day One. I’d like to think both positive experiences were the result of following a basic blueprint in my effort to make a smooth transition from “the new guy” to “one of the guys.”
The first key to making connections as the new guy is being willing to put yourself out there by opening the lines of communication with your new officiating brethren. In these times of advanced technology, we have so many tools at our disposal with which to offer an initial introduction to local assigners, be it a phone call, an email, a Facebook friend request or some other method. You don’t want to be pushy or overbearing, but you also must be willing to make the first move and get your name and information in their hands. Assigners can’t help you if they don’t know who you are or what you are all about. So, give them the basics and build from there.
When making your initial contact and in subsequent follow-ups, be honest in describing your officiating background and your abilities. Don’t try to bluff new assigners in the hopes of making an early favorable impression. Remember, technology and accessibility are a two-way street and the officiating community is a tight one. If you claim you have collegiate experience, your new assigners are going to investigate to make sure it’s true. If you say you worked the state tournament last winter, you can bet your former assigner will be getting a call. Don’t get off on the wrong foot by giving your new assigners a reason to doubt how trustworthy you are.
So now you have made some connections, your new assigners have done their homework and formed an initial impression about your abilities and assignments start coming your way. The very first one is the time to start proving you are a partner that your assigner and your crewmates can count on. Don’t just be on time — arrive early. Be dressed and groomed appropriately. Have everything you need in your game bag ready to go. And make sure you repeat that same process with the same diligence every single game. Sure, we all have issues that crop up from time to time in our officiating careers. But the first few weeks are when you are going to make the impression that’s going to stick with your new mates. Be where you are supposed to be, when you said you would be and how you said you would be.
The time has come to show your abilities calling a game. Now, you must step up and show you can be a vital contributor to your crew. Be aware of your environment and what is necessary to work well with your partners. Be an active participant in pregame, halftime and postgame discussions. But don’t be the know-it-all and don’t be the, “Well, this is how we did it in my last unit” guy. It’s your job to find out what it takes to work seamlessly in your new association and with your new partners. Show them your first priority is to be on the same page with them, to call the same game as them and to be a trusted part of the team.
We’ve all worked with rigid partners who make life difficult for other members on their crew or their assigners. Perhaps it’s their unwillingness to work what they feel are “inferior” games, whether it’s a lower-level contest, or a girls’ game instead of a boys’ tilt. Or they don’t want to travel more than 20 miles from home. Or they don’t want to work on Thursday nights, even though they have the availability to do so. Don’t be that person. Take the games your assigner needs you to work. And if your assigner is in a pinch and you can help out, do it. You want to be someone your assigners can count on, not someone who makes their already incredibly difficult job even more so. Plus, it’s always good to have a little extra officiating karma on your side.
We all want to work the best games with the best partners. There is nothing wrong with that motivation. However, we also need to be realistic in understanding that we’re not going to walk into a new association and have those assignments handed to us instead of officials who have spent years earning those coveted games. That doesn’t mean seniority trumps all. It means come in, work hard, get noticed and let your ability speak for itself and ultimately reap the rewards rather than having a pre-determined timetable that says even though you are the new guy, you expect some type of unwarranted pampering.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Fake it till you make it.” Don’t confuse that with being fake or inauthentic as an official. You owe it to yourself, your partners, your assigners and your unit to be the real you, so that everyone knows exactly what to expect on game night. You’ll do your best job if you are comfortable in your own skin and call your own game without the added pressure of trying to be someone you’re not. And you’ll discover it’s also the biggest key to your success as an official.
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