There are lots of ways an official can screw up a game. But there are five errors in particular a crew or official can commit from which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to recover. See how many are on your list as well.

1. Blow a rule
That may seem self-evident, but it constantly bears repeating. If a rule is erroneously applied (especially if the mistake has a bearing on the outcome of the game), you may find yourself in hip-high quicksand for a long time to come. Indeed, careers have been lost because of that.

One mistake that often gets made is the rest of the crew relies on the referee or crew chief to handle everything. In football, all officials should know how many yards should be walked off on all penalties. All umpires should know how many bases are awarded on an overthrow. It shouldn’t be left to the most veteran referee to determine if a correctable error situation has occurred.

Even if you’re a rookie and/or the only person on the crew who thinks the crew is about to screw up, step in and make your voice heard. If you’re right, you can save the entire crew and if you’re wrong, so what? If a rules error occurs in a game, it is ultimately the fault of every person on that crew.

2. Employ poor verbal and nonverbal communication skills
If coaches get the idea you’re unapproachable, if you come across as overbearing, you’re fighting a losing battle from then on.

The communication effort must start from the time you arrive at the game site. Be polite to the school people you encounter. Don’t act like some big shot who expects everyone to bend over backward to accommodate you.

Be professional when you visit with the coaches before the game. Don’t take a cookie-cutter approach and treat all coaches the same way. Some want to talk but some just want you to take care of business and get out of there. If you prattle on endlessly, you’ll turn them off. Don’t make borderline jokes because, despite what you assume, your audience may not appreciate that brand of humor. And don’t make throwaway comments that can come back to haunt you.

During the game, ignore the static from the sidelines when you can. But when you’ve had enough, especially from an assistant coach, don’t go on the attack. Just say, “Coach, I’ve heard enough. It’s time to turn the page.” Or say to the head coach, “I need you to get your assistant calmed down.” Stay away from threats. If it continues and you have no choice but to penalize with a flag, technical or card, don’t make it look like you’re enjoying doing it.
If coaches ask for explanations, provide them when you can do so without interfering with your own duties. Treat the players with respect; don’t call them “son” or the like.

3. Blank out mentally
Between downs members of a football crew should have a signaling routine with each other. Don’t just go through the motions. If someone is not on the same page, stop the game and confer. Don’t sit back and assume that because you’ve got third down and everyone else has second, you’re wrong. Maybe a penalty that included a loss of down led to confusion for your crewmates.

Umpires shouldn’t trust the scoreboard for the count and number of outs. The person running the board may be distracted. If you’re in doubt, ask your partner for help.

4. Be a nitpicker
A real good way to irretrievably screw up a game is to call things in a hyper-technical manner from the start. No one, least of all the coaches, players and spectators, wants to watch a series of stops and starts. Call the violations that really matter and use preventive officiating techniques to correct minor flaws rather than penalizing them.

Call a lot of ticky-tack fouls and you’ll destroy the game and develop a reputation in your area that is not conducive to good schedules or to advancement. Any foul that threatens a player’s safety must be called, however.

5. Don’t be a good dead-ball official
We can’t afford to take our eyes off the players too quickly just because the ball is dead or they aren’t directly involved in play. Good officials have a sixth sense and can tell when opposing players are becoming agitated with each other. In those cases, just letting players know you see what’s going on is enough to dissuade them from acting up. Stepping in between them without touching them can also be effective in some cases.

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