Getting the big game — a state playoff contest, a showdown between traditional rivals or a game to decide a conference championship — is the goal of many officials. Chances are good the contest will be televised, broadcast on the radio or covered by scores of print reporters. The pressure will be ramped up. What does all of that mean to you? Are you prepared to handle the extra attention?
Beyond those external distractions, are you ready mentally?
On game day, you’ll likely sense a different atmosphere when you drive into town or arrive at the site. In fact, you may want to plan your arrival earlier than normal to avoid traffic near the school or facility.
There will be a sort of electricity in the air when you take the field or court. Soak it in and enjoy it; after all, you’ve worked hard to get the assignment. But your pregame preparations and routine should remain the same. Although you may feel a bit anxious beforehand, you’ll want to work the game as if it were a run-of-the-mill contest. That attitude begins before the game.
The crew should conduct a thorough pregame meeting. Discuss how, as a crew, you are going to have a consistent approach to officiating philosophy and mechanics during the game. No game needs multiple officials doing their own thing, under the guise that each one is experienced and it is therefore OK. You are a crew. You need to handle rulings and situations consistently so that the players and coaches know what to expect from all the officials.
Keep the pregame centered on the teams playing in that contest. Chances are a seasoned crew has already seen one or both of the teams, either that year or during a recent season. Use that institutional knowledge to your benefit to discuss strategic tendencies, whether they are extremely aggressive or more methodical, whether the coaches are going to be a constant issue or are simply going to allow you to work.
If pregame meetings with coaches are required, cover everything required by the rules of your sport but keep the meeting as brief as possible. Forget clichés such as, “We want a good, clean game.”
Sidestep any suggestions from the coaches that you need to be especially vigilant. Avoid a response such as, “Coach, this is just another game to us,” which implies a casual attitude to your job. A better response would be something like, “Coach, the best teams are here, including the officials. Let’s all go out and have a great game.”
Once the game begins, don’t fall into the trap of playing to the camera. Give your signals crisply but don’t exaggerate them.
Avoid false hustle. If the increased pace is better, why aren’t you using it all of the time?
The bigger the game, the more people will try to capture the action visually. That means photographers or TV camera operators will try to position themselves closer to the field or court. Be as cooperative with them as you can while remembering the safety of players and officials (and the media as well for that matter) is paramount. If you need help from game management to establish boundaries for the media, do so.
Remember there may be microphones near the playing surface. You don’t want to say something unprofessional when dealing with sideline personnel, players and crewmates.
If you are wearing a microphone as part of your duties, think of it as being live all of the time. When you do activate it, know what you’re going to say beforehand so you sound confident and measured. Also, be sure you’re away from players, who may spew unpleasantries that could be picked up and come across on TV or over the stadium loudspeakers.
If a controversial play occurs during the game, the press may approach you for a clarification or comment. If a conference supervisor or similar official is on site, refer the reporters to that person. If not, you’re better off declining comment.
Reporters, especially those on tight deadlines, often don’t have time to get the sort of detailed explanation an unusual or controversial play requires. Sadly, some even have an agenda to make the officials look as bad as possible and can take your words out of context to cast you in a negative light.
Even live TV has its pitfalls. Avoid them by leaving the comments for someone else.
When possible, get a copy of the telecast. Because television usually offers multiple camera angles, the tape is a great learning tool. Beyond that, it’s a great keepsake and a reminder of the fruits of your labor.
Doing things the right way not only ensures a good experience this time. It may pave the way for more of the same in the future.
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