It’s not always easy to be an official. That’s not anything you don’t already know. Sports officials are the targets of media, fans and players alike. And only on the rarest occasions do we hear acknowledgment of the skill and talent that we bring to the table. And when we do, it’s typically a comment along the lines of, “Well, they finally got that one right,” or, “The officials are doing a good job letting the players play today.” Hmmmm. How complimentary.
So yeah, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. All of us have had the desire to walk away because of frustration, exhaustion or simply being “fed up.” This may happen after a missed call in an important game. It may happen when confronted by angry parents on the way to your car after the contest. Or it may happen when looking at your schedule for the coming season and realizing that you’re giving up every weekend for the next 12 to 16 weeks to a bunch of strangers because of the love of your sport, when you could be doing any number of other things.
We have all had these moments. Some decide enough is enough. But when it seems like there is no other solution, consider the following before you walk away from the avocation you love so much.
If it makes you feel any better, coaches, fans and players don’t know that they don’t know. Obnoxious fans, players and coaches can make it very inviting to simply walk away from the game. But the fact is, Americans know more about “Keeping Up with the Kardishians” than they do about their own local and state governments. So how much do you think they really know about the intricacies of the rules of the games they watch? Not to mention they often consider themselves expert at every level from high school to professional. Officials are highly trained and they know their stuff. Comments from the uneducated should be easy to ignore.
When the tough gets tougher, look to others for inspiration. Those who are professionally accomplished, or who simply exude values that we admire, can serve as motivating figures in challenging times. It can be someone as close by as the crewmate with whom you worked for years — the one who possesses the admirable qualities of patience and caring. Or the one who, amid a crazy locker room, will be the person of sound wisdom and patience. The highest levels of officiating offer fantastic role models as well, even if your goal is not to get to the big leagues. Take Ken Hudson, the first full-time African American NBA referee, Sarah Thomas, the first female official on the NFL staff, or Dale Scott, the first openly gay MLB umpire. All three are models of integrity, class and the highest levels of professional success.
Call your mentor
We all have individuals in our lives to whom we reach out during tough times and we depend on them greatly. These are individuals we can call in the car on the way home after an inadvertent whistle, a timing error or when we misapply a rule. They are the ones who will be open and honest with us, recommend ways to improve, suggest different ideas, make us laugh and comfort us when we are feeling down. Humans have a remarkable desire to reach out and offer consolation to one another. Officials are notoriously independent, strong and Type A. Don’t let the “I can look after myself” frame of mind keep you from the company of others who can help.
Learn to think differently
The majority of our performance is based on how we think and how we see the game. As far back as 1974, W. Timothy Gallwey’s book, The Inner Game of Tennis challenged athletes to see themselves differently and open their minds. Gallwey argued that 90 percent of performance is driven by the mind and while processes, rules and procedures matter, the way we think matters more. Specifically, how we make meaning, perceive the world around us and make decisions. Getting in touch with our approach releases us from our natural tendency to stay within the realm of thought in which we find the most comfort. It allows us to adopt an, “I’m not quitting” mindset, even though everything around us is telling us that it would be the right thing to do. Problems are simply solutions waiting to happen. Open your mind to new ways of contributing, preparing and performing.
Try something new
If things are becoming stale on the field or court, try something you’ve never done before. For example, try a new position. As any official knows, learning a new position is fraught with difficulties on a number of fronts. Mechanics and movement will no doubt be different. You may find yourself calling fouls that you have never called in your entire career and to make matters worse, you must know the penalty enforcements for each of those fouls. Your visual perspective on the game will change, offering a new possibility for excitement in how you literally “see” the game.
Another option for a new contribution is to get involved with training and development of officials in your sport. Make a presentation at a local officials association meeting. It provides a sense of satisfaction in contributing to the overall good of the avocation. And it’s kind of fun.
Finally, get involved with training and development of officials in your sport. It’s a great way to give back and may be just the fuel you need to stay motivated.
Learn from failure
We spend much of our lives being conditioned to believe that failure is a bad thing. Granted, we strive for perfection, ensuring that our calls are accurate and enforcements are clear. News flash: Recognize you’ll never be perfect. Kilian McDonnell of St. John’s University and Abbey in Minnesota challenged those of us driven to perfection by reminding us in his poem “Perfection Perfection” that the chiseled form of Michelangelo’s David actually squints, that the Venus de Milo has no arms and that the Liberty Bell is cracked.
The fact is much more can be learned from failure as supposed to success. When we are successful, we end up trying to replicate the activities that led to our success, which proves a fertile ground for a stagnant way of thinking. Instead, embrace failures, both individually and as a crew, as opportunities to learn new ways of preparation. Greet failure with an enthusiastic and inquisitive mind. Ask questions and contemplate. Since “all of us are smarter than one of us,” officiating crews are in an excellent position to do this either pregame or postgame. Failure is never a reason to quit; it’s a reason to get better.
Remember you are making a difference
Sports officials are the impeccable combination of intellectual preparation, technical skill, poise and presentation. Sporting events do not happen without them. And while most of us would agree that the less the official is part of the game the better, it doesn’t mean that the officials do not play an essential role.
Officials who politely banter back and forth with nervous young men and women about to perform in a challenging sports event may just be the catalyst that a young athlete needs to perform their best, perhaps even achieve a state record. The referee who helps a coach keep his or her composure after a disputed call might have just given that coach the intellectual capacity to make a better decision about a future play. That contributes directly to the success of their team.
Sports officials attend to everyone, so let’s be honest — fans are consumed with their team, coaches are consumed with their players and players are consumed with their performance. But officials are the lynchpin. They serve as the glue that keeps the contest on track. They are the conductors of the sporting orchestra. Without them, nothing starts and everything stops. Most importantly, officials who look sharp, carry themselves with professionalism and do so with humility are the best ambassadors for any sport. I can’t think of a better reason not to quit.
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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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