A few seasons ago, I felt like I was on the “up and up.” I felt personal improvement in my play calling, physique and general confidence in what I was doing. I was also seeing improvement in my game schedule. I ended up missing half the season for the birth of my son. I wouldn’t trade that for anything! However, when I returned for the next season’s camps, I felt like a fish out of water.
I hadn’t kept my mind in officiating mode. I felt like I needed to retrain my brain. Leaves of absence happen for all kinds of reasons and often for much longer than a couple months. How do you come back to officiating after you have been away for any given amount of time?
Rekindle your officiating friendships.
Some people have had a profound impact on your career; and some are just good people to have in your life. Find the people who can help you get up to speed or use their connection to set you on the right path.
Get in shape.
This seems obvious but with athletes getting faster all the time, officials have to keep up. Being in shape allows you to keep your mind sharp for the duration of the game or match. If the opportunity to work a scrimmage presents itself, do it! The more practice you get before working your first game back, the better.
Tune-up your rules knowledge.
There may have been a rule change or 30 since you’ve been away. Make sure you know what they are and get your nose back in that rulebook. There may be some new mechanics and philosophies that have changed. Association meetings can be very helpful in getting you up to speed. Be a sponge. Remember your enthusiasm for learning everything you possibly could when you first started? That same enthusiasm can help get you back up and running.
If you’ve been away for a while, the way your association and/or assigners use technology has certainly changed. There is game video everywhere. Find some and watch it to help get your mind back in it. Most assigning is done online and so it is important to become proficient in whatever is being used. You don’t want to lose an assignment over a lack of technological understanding.
Every blocked date is a lost opportunity. An officiating friend once told me, “Availability trumps ability.” Ability is incredibly important, but if you aren’t available, you won’t get games. By the same token, birthdays, holidays and anniversaries are important life things that you don’t want to miss. Don’t wait until your assigner contacts you to decide you need to be with family.
When starting over, there is a learning curve that will require patience. Chances are you aren’t where you were when you left. That’s OK. We all wish we could get the type of ovation that Gene Steratore and crew did the first night the NFL officials returned from the lockout in 2012. However, allowing yourself time to properly reacquaint yourself with your sport can put you in the position to say, “It’s good to be back!” with the same confidence that Steratore did that night.
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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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