Photo Credit: Jack Kapenstein

Many officials can cite large swaths of the rulebook from memory. Others know down to the inch where the mechanics manual says they’re supposed to be on the field or court. But to be a great official, there are skills needed beyond making the call.

How Do You Learn Tolerance?

“Years of experience. You go through different people who act different ways to you. You have to be tolerant of everybody. You can’t accept things on that level, but you tolerate a lot of things. Once you get to a point where you don’t tolerate things and you’ve had enough, then you’ve had enough. It comes from all sorts of people, whether it be players, or whether it be the scorekeeper, or whether it be the fans, or whatever. You have to take it all in, process it, and spit it out being as cool and calm as you can.”

— John Higgins, of Omaha, Neb., NCAA Division I men’s basketball referee 

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What Are Your Thoughts On Giving And Getting Constructive Criticism?

“We can’t be afraid to have somebody tell us something that we did wrong. It’s not that they’re trying to put us down, if it’s done correctly of course. But it really is meant in that heartfelt, ‘Hey, we want you to become the best you can be.’ And when you’re presenting it, so when you are criticizing somebody — obviously you have to watch your verbiage, you have to be careful of the topic that you’re discussing — but ideally you have to give them that honest feedback that they need so that they can improve. And they have to be able to understand that it’s not a personal matter, that it’s not an attack on them, but rather you’re trying to provide them with some knowledge and some skills to become better.”

— Greg Pohl, of St. Louis, chairman of the ASA National Umpire Committee and International Softball Federation World Certified Umpire 

How Is A Sense Of Humor Important For Officials?

“You need to have a sense of humor to be a referee. In our country, in Australia, to bag the referee, to criticize the referee, to sit there and yell out abuse at the referee at a game is almost like a sport within a sport to some spectators. … If you have a sense of humor, a player will often say something and if you have a bit of a laugh about it, it tends to relax the situation. There are a lot of funny things that are said. The only time that fine line between something that’s funny and something that’s offensive, if something is said personally about you or your family, you don’t wear that. But there are a lot of funny things that happen in the world of officiating. You need to have a sense of humor to ride the roller coaster, which is what I call it. When you’re a referee or an umpire or an official, it’s a roller coaster ride. You’ve got ups and you’ve got downs, and you’ve always got to be able to have that sense of humor and say, ‘Well, it is what it is,’ and get on with it.”

— Steve Clark, of New South Wales, Australia, national development office for Australia’s National Rugby League 

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In What Ways — Besides Judging Playing Action — Does Good Judgment Help Officials?

“Any time you’re involved with sports you know that the athletes are out there working very hard, and they’re providing entertainment for spectators, but they’re also people who deserve respect, along with the coaches and anybody you’re dealing with. They certainly have emotions dealing with the games themselves. I think it’s important as an official to recognize that even though things are said on the field, or things happen on the field that you don’t like, that you still need to show respect to everybody that you’re working with. That’s part of having good judgment, how you control yourself and your own emotions even when situations sometimes seem like they would warrant other types of behavior.”

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— Margaret Domka, of Milwaukee, FIFA referee 

How Do You Ensure Your Body Language Is Conveying The Right Message?

“Tape work. From watching my tape, I know when my body is giving away my brain, so to speak. When I’m feeling uncomfortable I know there are certain mannerisms I have, when I’m feeling unsure, or when I’m also feeling confident. There are certain ways that I hold myself that demonstrate that. Just from doing tape work I can identify it, so I’ll go back and watch a tape and I’ll say, ‘Man, I was feeling uncomfortable with this,’ and now I can see what I’m doing with my hands, with my face, my movements. The point in doing that is so that in the future, there are going to be things that are uncomfortable for me in the game, but having that information about myself now I can adjust that, and I can fix that, and I can at least get to the point where my body doesn’t give my brain away.”

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— Lauren Holtkamp, of Atlanta, NBA referee 

How Important Is The Ability To Relate To Others?

“Vital. If you’re in your own world, if you don’t understand what the coach is going through, what sort of pressure they’re under, and then balance that against what the other coach is going through, and again, the officiating team, it’s a problem. … I hope everybody is taking time after a match to talk with their partners. What happened? What could we have done? How could we have recognized it sooner and prevented it from happening? Situations seldom go nuclear on the spot. If you trace it back, you can find something that would defuse it. It would be nice to snip the fuse then.”

— Tim Countryman, of Newburgh, N.Y., officials’ chair of the Garden-Empire Volleyball Association 

Why Do You Think Honesty Is Important In Officiating?

“Because that’s what it’s all about. The only thing we sell other than our ability to deal with, communicate and know the rules is our integrity. It’s like the be-all, end-all.”

— Bob Berg, of Centralia, Wash., Washington Officials Association executive board member 

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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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