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At some point the seats that have been vacant will be filled with fans again. Players, coaches and fans will be expecting officials to be at their best, just like always. Will you be ready when the time comes? (Photo Credit: MAX DI CAPUA ON UNSPLASH)

How will you feel when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the games resume? Ecstatic? Relieved? Anxious?

How about prepared?

We will be experiencing a new normal in many ways in the wake of the pandemic and that includes how we go about our officiating business. Whether you have jumped back in already or you have some more idle time before you get going again, there are some things to do and think about.

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Obligations

Some state and local associations may have extended their cutoff dates for fees, registrations, exams, online rules presentations and other prerequisites. Check in with those entities before you miss any of those deadlines. It may seem counter-intuitive to pay dues when you’re not working, but the organizations that operate sports need to keep operating so we all have games to come back to.

Your local association may have had to make adjustments. If you used to meet at a school, that facility may not be available for a variety of reasons. The night and time may have changed as well. Check your chapter’s website or get in touch with someone in the know, then help spread the word to other members.

Assignments

Leagues may reconfigure their schedules and play a reduced number of games, which means fewer opportunities for officials. While the assigner will likely be happy to know you’re available to work, this isn’t a time to get greedy. Work will be important to lots of people, many of whom will be needing the income as much or more than you.

Be extra diligent about keeping your online schedule up to date so you don’t double-book yourself and assigners are confident you are available when you say you are.

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Assignments accepted before the pandemic caused postponements and cancellations, may no longer be valid. Any game for which you have a contract may be canceled, rescheduled or subject to a time change. Assume nothing. Check often.

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If you are furloughed from your regular place of employment at any point, check with the boss before you accept assignments that mean you’ll leave work early. That’s a good idea under the best of circumstances, but as businesses try to recover from the downturn, your presence at the job may be vital and may require extra work that could interfere with your officiating.

Fitness.

Unless you have your own fitness equipment, you’ve been idle for a while. Getting back into game shape is important, but be smart about it. Don’t try to catch up all at once. Ease back into shape or you’ll hurt yourself to a point you won’t be able to resume officiating.

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Remember little things that don’t require a gym membership. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away from the door of the office or the store.

If working from home and the easy availability of food caused you to stray from a healthy diet, get back on track.

Gear.

Lockdown or no lockdown, it’s always a good idea to double-check your uniforms and officiating equipment. If the aforementioned snacking or previous wear and tear have caused your pants or shirts to no longer fit right or become shabby, replace them. Summer heat and humidity result in unsightly sweat stains on hats. Have one or two extra so you’ll be sure to look sharp.

Education and study.

If you’re one who loves to dig into the rules, being cooped up for an extended period means you had even more time to peruse the books. You’re up to speed on the latest points of emphasis and interpretations.

Others, who are only reasonably diligent in their rules study, need to brush up, particularly on the most recent rule changes.

But if when the cancellations began you said to yourself, “Yippee! Finally, a break from having to read that (deleted) book,” you have some major catching up to do. If you have already taken required exams, look them over again. Look up the ones you got wrong and cement those in your mind. There are any number of officiating bulletin boards and online quizzes that can help your rules knowledge any time, especially if your officiating mind has been idle for a while. You can also check out the Referee Training Center, which has the world’s largest collection of officiating training books, guides and videos

One bright side during the pandemic was the creation of podcasts and other educational offerings that sprang up. If you didn’t take advantage of them during stay-at-home time, find them now and catch up. They will get your head back into the game and expand your overall officiating knowledge.

Emotions.

We’re all going to react differently to the new world we’ll be living in when the games resume. We need to prepare ourselves for how we approach situations and interact with others when we step back onto the courts and fields.

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Depending on where you live, a great many people involved in the leagues and programs in which you work may have died or been affected by the virus. Some may have been fellow officials. Things may be a bit more somber than joyful, at least for a while, as those individuals are honored and remembered. When the games begin after any ceremonies, try your best to adopt a “business as usual” attitude while keeping the pain of others in the back reaches of your mind.

When the NFL ended its 2012 lockout of officials and the replacements were themselves replaced, the real officials were greeted as heroes — for a while. But before long, things returned to normal and the best football officials on the planet were booed, heckled and vilified in print, electronic and social media.

We may enjoy that kind of “honeymoon” period as well. Coaches and players may well be so happy to be playing again that they accept decisions the way we wish they always would. If you should enjoy that glorious peace in your games, enjoy it while it lasts. And don’t be surprised and disappointed when the bubble bursts.

This will be a tough road. It is hoped you and yours come through it OK. But it will end at some point and then let us, once again, be the best team on the field or court.

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor. He officiated high school and collegiate football and umpired high school baseball.

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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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