Have you ever wondered how rah-rah pep talks can move athletes toward great performances? It’s because the athletes themselves have an innate desire to perform well and that outside stimuli merely provides an emotional shove.
Officials too may benefit from a pep talk, and psychologists say that the most persuasive talks are those we give ourselves. People often have maps in their heads of how they are going to perform. Those blueprints may have been inscribed by previous experiences, including training (overt) or subtle conditioning (covert), or they may be outlined by deliberate (or inadvertent) self-programming.
Here are some axioms that can help program people into operating in positive and productive modes. The suggestions are from a list offered by Minneapolis author and columnist Harvey Mackay and can be applied to the outlook of sports officials.
“Do more than receive; reciprocate!” That is one of Mackay’s maxims, recollected as a result of his father’s philosophy of life. What do you do when an official presents you with a useful tip for working a game? “Always hold your ready-for-play whistle after an incomplete pass until all receivers have returned across the scrimmage line,” former Big 10 football referee Tom Quinn once advised at a meeting.
Referees who heard that not only adopted his philosophical tip, but also passed it on to their crew members and to officials not at the meeting. As a result, that practice became standard in Quinn’s home area of Chicago. Many officials reminded players that once they were moving toward their own huddle, the play-clock would be started.
Quinn also advocated having the timer stop the clock at one minute to go before game time, giving pregame activities an opportunity to finish before the seconds turn to zero. That was a psychological ploy to give the impression that the game was starting on time. Officials again passed the word on, and the tactic slid into regular status, widely accepted.
That adage could easily have been restated: If you help others, you’ll be helping yourself. One other way of reciprocating is to help someone else advance. Someone undoubtedly helped you get games or move up the ladder. Why not return the favor?
Herman Rohrig, former supervisor of football officials in the Big 10, once stated that officials are often their own worst enemies. “Some people spend much of their careers knocking each other,” he asserted. Why? Envy is an insidious thing. It drags you down to the level of an idle gossip.
In addition to chipping about other officials instead of boosting them, another thing officials don’t do enough of is to pass on discoveries of useful techniques. Big 12 basketball official Denny Freund once said to a colleague, “Whenever I whistle a foul, I freeze for a second and let the whole scene sink in. That gives me a chance to process the act, to pick up the players’ numbers and to make sure no retaliatory action erupts.”
Former Mid-America baseball umpire Charlie Esposito agrees. “I hesitate for at least two heartbeats on steals … to make sure the ball has been caught and a genuine tag applied. And if there is a post-play reaction such as a runner coming in with spikes up, I want to be right on top of it in an instant.”
Reluctance to share potentially useful hints is often not deliberate. Officials don’t analyze their own moves sufficiently so that they can articulate them to others. Mackay would say that overlooking chances to assist others means that a person is short-changing himself in two other categories of philosophy, namely those covered in these aphorisms: “Do more than encourage; inspire! Do more than change; improve!”
Inspire means pushing others to excel. Improve means to inspire yourself. The first step toward making yourself better is to be forthright. Am I moving into position fast enough?Am I helping my partners to operate effectively? How are my judgments?
Another key question to ask: How am I reacting to players and coaches? Am I dealing with criticism in a mature way?
It may be difficult to confront those issues honestly. Everyone has hidden blind spots that rationalize shortcomings. One way to make the inventory a straight shot is to query partners directly, those you trust. If you’re going to move confidently toward your dreams, you’ve got to reach out and ask for assistance — not help in getting big games but help in getting your head on right.
Mackay said he once encountered a cynic who said, “No one’s going to appreciate it if you do more than is expected of you. You’ll just generate resentment.” But Mackay’s father replied, “At length the guy who gives a dime’s worth of work for a nickel will be the one handing the nickels to the lazy slug who’s content to get by with minimal effort.”
Giving back the help you received, motivating and promoting others and striving for beneficial personal change will help you realize another of Mackay’s pithy watchwords: “Do more than reach; stretch!”
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