Laws, foul recognition, acceptance, flow of the game, physical fitness, proper terminology, anticipating play and touchline management are all key components in an official’s toolbox. If one is serious about officiating, each of those tools will sharpen with time. In any sport as in life, officials transition through different referee career stages. As your physical ability begins to diminish, your knowledge of the game can help make up for any physical deficit.

At times in a career some tools become more important than others.

1. Younger and newly certified officials.

You’ve taken the course, you’ve passed the test and you are now a certified official. Nothing beats game experience. Get on the field as soon as you can, preferably with experienced or seasoned officials. Take feedback with an open mind and do not be insulted by constructive criticism. Ask questions and get clarification if you are unclear about any feedback you receive. Nothing beats an in-person, onfield experience as opposed to reading and learning in a book. After a less-than-stellar performance, get back on the field and apply what you learned from that last experience.

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Control what you can control. Be prepared, have the right gear, arrive early, inspect the field, watch the teams warm up, make sure your officiating team warms up, identify key players by watching the teams and have a comprehensive pregame and field inspection with your crew.

Develop good habits. Check the field and eliminate bad habits like not conducting a thorough check-in of players or allowing subs to enter before the substituted player exits. Know the Laws and use the appropriate terminology. “The ball went out of play at the halfway line,” rather than, “The ball went out of bounds at the 50.” One demonstrates professionalism, one does not. One sounds like the Laws have been studied and one does not.

New official Jovanny Torres, Newhall, Calif., says he is working on two things. First he is trying to focus on the game and not what is being said in the stands or touchlines. He is beginning to apply foul recognition at different levels. Request higher-level officials to help and mentor you.

The more quality games you officiate, the more you, players and coaches will begin to understand each other’s styles. Recognizing advantage and when play must be stopped for an injury will come easier.

2. Upgrading and advancing.

What areas do officials in that level need to be working on? Surprisingly, many who had reached their intended highest level had no answer to that question or had to think hard before answering. But USSF State and NFHS referee Justin Naranjo, Canyon Country, Calif., responded without hesitation: “proper mechanics, staying on top of play without being in the way and clearly communicating with players and coaches.” Reading the game and game flow were cited by Ted Norris, Saugus, Calif., (NFHS referee, assigner and USSF Grade 5 referee) as very important. He also said, “For any issuance of a card or stoppage of play for a foul, the referee should have an intended outcome in mind, the outcome being a change in behavior. If a booking occurs or there is a stoppage for a foul, players must be clear as to why the stoppage occurred and why a booking occurred. It must be clear what behavior must be altered. There should be no question in the offender’s mind or anyone else’s mind.”

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3. Seasoned officials.

Game flow, foul recognition at the highest levels, game management, continued passion, beginning the process of transition and not taking shortcuts are key. By that time, officials have had good games and some not so great. Continue to seek feedback, even if at your intended highest level. Request and pay for an assessment every other year at minimum. Your authority may be accepted more readily than a newer official. It is sad to hear a coach say: “Oh no, not that guy.” If you are on the end of that comment, expect little or no acceptance from the coach, making for a difficult game.

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When asked about acceptance at the seasoned level, Ali Hacock, Van Nuys, Calif., (USSF National Referee Emeritus and NFHS referee) said, “At this point you have acceptance or you do not, and likely if you do not, you stopped officiating a long time ago.”

Do you still have the passion? Are you paying it forward as a mentor, assessor, instructor, writing or volunteering? As you wind down your competitive career, start thinking about how involved you would like to remain.

As you wind down your competitive career, start thinking about how involved you would like to remain.

There are myriad areas where you could continue to contribute. You can also impart your knowledge at lower levels to new coaches, players and officials. The experiences gained and the information and tips that you could offer to newer participants can be invaluable and make you better. It keeps you sharp and on your toes.

4. Injured and returning.

After a double knee surgery (ACL, MCL), one official told me that his positioning and his anticipation of play were more important than ever. As he first came back still in pain and not in top shape, he realized that being smart with positioning was key. Even at lower levels, anticipating where play would be caused him to run less and change lateral direction less, which aided his recovery. It might also be smart not to return until fully healed and in shape.

If you’re not getting better, you’re likely getting worse. Don’t rest on your laurels. Thirst for knowledge, mentor a newer referee, teach a class — the questions asked will sharpen your knowledge. Read Advice to Referees and Interpretations of the Laws regularly. Ask questions about calls or situations you’re unsure of. If you are a newer referee, at some point you will have a challenging game to recap. Could you have done something to change how your officiating was perceived? Get back on the field as soon as possible.

Whatever stage you are in there are always areas to improve upon or knowledge you can impart to others. Keep the game beautiful at any level.

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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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