Sometimes you can do everything in your power to get a call right and still blow it. That’s a tough regret to live with, but it’s even tougher to live with the regrets that you could have avoided. You can do things while the action unfolds in front of you so you have no officiating regrets and you can do things away from the game for your career that will have you looking in life’s rear-view mirror a lot less.
Be aware, put yourself in position and be prepared, not just to make the right call in a contest, but to make the right career moves. Let’s take a look at how you can avoid some of the most common regrets from officials.
I Regret … Not Taking Care of Personalities
Officiating requires dealing with difficult people who are often at their worst, especially under the stress of a close contest. Letting their behavior get to you personally can take you away from the game, but ignoring it brings its own issues. There’s a delicate balance to keeping control of the game and yourself but, like it or not, sometimes you have to face it head on.
You may tell yourself that the hot-headed, foul-mouthed coach with the explosive personality disorder is just blowing off steam. You may reason that addressing the situation will only escalate the disruption. You could be rationalizing your way out of a situation that you should address.
“When a coach is getting vocal it takes away your concentration. You wind up babysitting him or her instead of paying attention to what’s happening between the lines and your concentration isn’t on the floor,” Michael Price, an NCAA Division I basketball referee, says. “If a coach or a player breaks your concentration, you need to deal with it.”
For Price it’s not about his ego or punishment for the obnoxious coach; it is about addressing a factor that is interfering with his ability to call the game. Take the personalities out of it and keep it simple. It’s about doing your job.
Despite what many fans and coaches may think, officials are flesh and blood. Each individual has a different level of tolerance. For some, the gnawing relentless heckling from the bench blends into the white noise of the contest. For others, it becomes a thorn in the side of focused attention.
Knowing you’re not the only official in the world is important, too. Keep in my mind that if you don’t take care of business you might be leaving a mess for another official to clean up later in the season.
“I may know the personality of a coach and the things he or she says may not offend me,” says Robbie Guest, an NCAA Division I softball and baseball umpire. “Still, I have to address it because if what he or she is saying is inappropriate and he or she says it to another official later on, it’s going to cause a problem.”
Taking care of the situation and dealing with poor behavior so that the game can progress naturally does not mean escalating the situation. Be direct, assertive and responsible without throwing gas on the coach’s sizzling embers. Check your own ego at the door and rely on the subtle confidence your experience has brought.
“My job is to be a calming influence and if I escalate things I really regret that,” Randy Wetzel, a NCAA College World Series baseball umpire, says. “It makes me look bad as a professional.”
Walking the thin line of addressing the situation without escalating it is as much art as it is science. A fair amount of social skills, body language and a few choice words can get the job done and it is an easier strategy than taking on an ego-driven coach wanting to go head-to-head.
“The first time I hear something out of line I might look toward the dugout with my mask on. The second time I might take my mask off, give a look and let them know that I don’t want to hear any more. The third time they do something it means time for an ejection,” Guest says.
Keep your mind clear, leave personalities out of the situation and deal with what’s in front of you before it becomes an unmanageable problem that you wish you had taken care of earlier.
I Regret … Not Making the Big Call
A good official knows the game is about the contest and the participants. By nature, officiating is not about garnering attention.
Many like to say, “When you do your job well, you are invisible to everyone.” But that sentiment can get in the way of optimal performance. The rules and games often call for difficult and unpopular calls at crucial times. Those attention-drawing calls have to be made, but sometimes an official won’t make them because he or she wants to stay in the background. That is a mistake and one that can linger.
“The big call in the big moment is why we’re there. It is the point where all of your training and study comes to a head,” Guest says. “You don’t want to let the excitement of the moment influence you. When I know a game is on the line, I want to be sure that I’m in position and in the right place so I can slow the game down in my mind. At that point I just rely on muscle memory to make the call. A lot of times I don’t realize how big the call was until after the game.”
Keep in mind the players are responsible for their actions. Officials are there to enforce the rules and manage the contest. It is up to you to assess what you see and take action. It is not your fault or responsibility when a player screws up at a crucial time.
“Sometimes we carry the burden of the situation rather than examining the facts. We’re there to make the decision and to uphold the rules. It is not our job to think of the circumstances around it,” says Ben Trevino, NCAA Division I soccer referee.
Avoid feeling responsible for how the contest will ultimately be decided. Make the calls you need to make based on what the players do while in front of you. Let the chips fall where they may and go to your next assignment without regret.
I Regret … Failing to Write the Report
A good part of any profession, in or out of officiating, is taken up with what can seem to be an excruciating amount of minutiae. It’s a necessary evil.
Adopt that type of attitude and don’t expect to get a lot of assignments. The reporting requirements to conference and association leaders are there for a reason. You may get all the calls right when you blow the whistle or call safes and outs, but you’ll live to regret not taking care of business after the buzzer sounds or the final out is called.
“Not doing reports correctly can hurt referees,” Trevino says. “I’ve seen it. Basically it’s part of the job and a requirement. They are hiring you for your services and not doing them puts a strain on administration.”
Internet blogs are set up to criticize officials, so supervisors can be aided by backup documentation to support decisions that wind up under the microscope. Supervisors want to support you and cover themselves because their reputations are on the line as well. Information is power and organized documentation can help you, your supervisor and your organization come out with your respect intact.
“Getting your reports done correctly and on time isn’t glamorous, but it is important,” Wetzel says. “I’m an assistant vice principal of a high school so I’m used to writing reports. Don’t editorialize, treat your writing like it’s a court case and get the facts. Leave your emotions out.”
The attention to detail is vital. It will help for down the road when the situation is called into question.
“I write down facts that will be hard to remember later on,” Guest says. “When something happens I jot down the inning, the coaches and assistant coaches’ names and the important circumstances that will go into a full report.”
Report writing is tedious and isn’t glamorous, but we know the devil is in the details. If you want to avoid your own private hell get the reports done on time and in order. It will save you headaches down the road.
“Failing to complete the required reports puts a strain on administration,” Trevino says. “You can wind up putting people in a bind and ultimately, I believe you’ll be less likely to get a future assignment.”
I Regret … Not Taking Care of My Appearance
You probably didn’t get into this because you liked the show “America’s Next Top Model.” You love the game and you want to be close to it. You care about getting the rules right, staying in position and keeping the contest fair. You have no interest in walking down a runway, so why focus on appearance?
“People form an impression of you in the first seven to 10 seconds,” Wetzel says. “You can be the greatest official in the world, but if they have already made up their minds about you because of the way you look, you’re fighting an uphill battle. If I was a young guy trying to break in I’d do everything I could to look my best.”
Looking good is superficial, but much of your responsibility hinges on the intangibles of things like respect, leadership and confidence. A waist line with the Michelin stamp on it or having as much trouble navigating the field of play as Oprah would have doing a chin up isn’t going to help perceptions. A lean physique and a pressed uniform gives off the message you want conveyed. Keep it simple and give yourself an advantage that is easily in your control.
“Half the battle is won by looking the part,” said Wetzel. “If you’re at your best appearance-wise you’ll look like an official who knows what he or she is doing. Give yourself that advantage.”
I Regret … Not Taking the Extra Career Step
It is common for officials to feel like their careers have grown stagnant. If you’ve been stuck at the same level, doing the same games in the same conference for years and you want to break out, you have to ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can to advance?
You can build your career or you can choose to not take those steps because they cost money, involve travel or are inconvenient. Make the latter choice and you’ll live with the regret.
One of the simplest ways to open up doors is to attend camps and clinics.
“In today’s world it is the only way to advance yourself,” said Wetzel. “Attend as many camps and clinics as you can, even if you’re not getting assignments. Simply put, if people don’t know your name and who you are, you simply are not going to get games.”
Part of the formula is honing your game skills and staying on top of rule changes and approaches, but the networking and face-to-face contact is just as important as any education. That isn’t about manipulative do-anything-to-get ahead salesmanship. It is about making connections, developing camaraderie and letting the industry know who you are. In our world of Facebook, iPhones and Blackberries, sometimes it is easy to forget face-to-face meetings.
“It is important career-wise and it is important on a personal level,” Guest says. “Many of the camps have a real reunion feel to them and you get a chance to visit with people you see only a handful of times a year. It also translates into better performance because you develop relationships with people who you will wind up working with on the field.”
The fact of the matter is that people have to know who you are to assign you. Word of mouth isn’t efficient and it is only natural for those doing the assigning to go with officials they are familiar with. Instead of getting resentful of those who seem to have an “in” you can take the necessary steps to promote yourself.
“If you’re an excellent official and no one knows you — and I’m not talking about a good ol’ boy network — you’re not going to be noticed,” said Wetzel. “They have to be able to put a face to a name.”
You could make the next step in your career. It might mean joining a new association, paying the dues and traveling to camps and clinics across the country. Sure, it’ll take some cash out of your pocket, some time off from work and a few days away from the family, but the rewards are likely to mean a step up in your officiating career.
Failing to make the move to put yourself into that position will certainly be a tough regret to live with.
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