Here’s a list of qualities starting with D from Steve Shaw, coordinator of football officials for the Southeastern Conference, that, if employed, can help any official improve and find football success.
Without a desire to improve, we won’t be willing to do the little things and invest the time it takes to get to the top of the heap.
I plow through the rulebook and casebook and watch training videos week after week from late spring through the end of the season. I figure if I don’t stay ahead, I’ll fall behind.
Early in my football career, I did what I minimally could to get by. Somewhere in the late ’70s a couple of veteran officials woke me up to the fact that I was selling everyone short — myself, crewmates, players and coaches — with my laissez-fare attitude. Once I “got religion,” I got after it in terms of rules study and attitude, and I did a 180-degree turn so that I came to feel it is a crime to go out on the field ill-prepared. Because I had been there myself, it was easy to recognize when others didn’t have the desire to be the best they could be; that they really didn’t give a damn showed in their attitude and work.
Two other aspects of desire deserve attention. Over the years I’ve encountered officials who had the skill set to get into the collegiate ranks, but for whatever reason were never able to catch the break they needed to get a foot in the door. Some handled it well and did the best they could at the levels where they worked.
Others, however, were so eaten up by their failure to move up that they did little more than put in the time. They gave a half-assed effort, devoted no time to preparation, sat through meetings absorbing nothing, marking time until they could go to the beer joint and bored everyone to tears with their “woe is me” attitude. If objective self-analysis leads you to see that might describe you, I suggest an attitude adjustment. Be thankful for what you have and devote yourself to be the best you can be at that level, especially given that our onfield careers end all too quickly. Or do everyone a favor and just quit.
At the other end of the spectrum, some folks have no desire to go beyond a certain level, be it high school or Pop Warner. To not have loftier goals is fine, but it can’t be an excuse for not preparing to do the best job at that level. The participants at every level deserve our best, not the 50 percent effort of the guy (or gal) who’s content to be a lifer and thinks it’s OK to just go through the motions.
Desire and dedication go hand in hand. Dedication means attending clinics, watching videos of plays you’ll see at your position, dissecting rules and interpretations and staying in shape year-round, not just running a few sprints in the weeks before the season starts.
Many college and pro officials get together regularly in study groups in the offseason, and some have become “video junkies” because they are always watching videos of correct and incorrect foul calls and solid (and not-so-solid) mechanics. Video is so ubiquitous now that anyone with even a modest amount of want-to can find some, and there is no better way to learn. Yes, I realize that there is more exposure and compensation at the college and pro levels and thus more of an incentive to be so thorough in preparation. But the aspiring official or the one who just wants to take his game to the next level regardless of where he is working would do well to adopt the year-round-nose-in-thebook- and-video approach taken by top-shelf officials. That will pay huge dividends in terms of your performance as well as the prospects of your moving up the ladder.
It’s trite but true to say that when we’re working a game we have to concentrate 100 percent on each play. We can’t take a play off.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a game where someone, including myself, lost focus for a split second and we butchered a rule, were not ready for an onside kick, didn’t see a runner step out of bounds en route to a touchdown, etc.
In a game last season, the crew had a play where flags were down and once they worked their way to the point where the penalty was declined, no one had the correct spot. They ended up playing fourth and 10 rather than fourth and seven, which didn’t matter because team A was going to punt anyway. But in a different scenario, the mistake could have been a game-changer and negated everything good that the crew had done beforehand. Everyone forgot the principle of Officiating 101 that says that someone needs to hold the spot and if you have to leave it to report a foul, get someone else to hold it before you do.
In another game, a team was down by a touchdown and driving with slightly more than two minutes left. A seemingly innocuous off-tackle play gained a first down. The Southeastern Conference uses the crew communication system, so I heard the defensive coach ask an official on the field if replay was looking at that play upstairs. We called the TV producer to ask for different angles and, sure enough, the ball was loose before the runner was down. The runner and ball rolled over. There was no scrum like there usually is on a fumble, so it never caught my attention. I stopped the game and we ended up awarding the ball to the defense, which ran out the clock. Had it not been for the crew-com system, my momentary lack of focus might have cost that team a victory.
One last word about concentration. I’ve written before about the fact that I think officials — especially young, eager ones — err if they grab every game they can. That can have an adverse effect on family lives. I’ve seen divorces result from guys always being on a field somewhere. But I don’t think there’s any way we can maintain the concentration level we need if we work virtually every day of the week.
The will to improve every day. Even those of us who have been doing that awhile will never achieve perfection. It’s an unattainable goal. I’m still waiting to be in that “perfect game,” and I know I’ll still be waiting the day I retire. But we can’t afford to let that realization prevent us from having the attitude that we can always get better.
Pro and college officials study rules and mechanics and watch videos year-round. During the season they take weekly rules quizzes. The crews meet the night before their game to go over the written critique of the previous game and watch selected plays in which they might have done things better. Usually the referee has done his own tape review even before the grader has.
Often a crewmember shows film clips highlighting offensive and defensive tendencies of the teams playing the next day. On game day the officials spend roughly two hours watching the training tape and reviewing their responsibilities. They discuss kicks, passing and running plays, etc., as well as communication with the sidelines, how to handle measurements and sundry other things that will help them turn in a solid performance that day.
Time constraints may prevent officials at other levels from going about things that intensely, but there is no reason why you can’t do a lot of those things. If you’re in crews, you likely can get video of games you’ve worked and pick them apart. Develop quizzes to take every week (or get them elsewhere) and work them through individually or together. Talk with other officials or use other sources to learn the tendencies of the teams you’ll be officiating so that you’ll be better prepared. The goal of all of that effort is to try to get just a little bit better, individually and as a crew. If you stay stationary, you move backward.
Call the stuff that matters. No ticky-tack foul calls that have no material effect on the play. Now, I admit that what qualifies as a quality foul may not always be readily apparent, especially to younger officials. But that needs to be the goal.
I’ve always said that to be called, a foul should be so obvious that my wife, who doesn’t know if the ball is pumped or stuffed, should be able to spot it. When in doubt, err on the side of not throwing a flag. The exception is when player safety is involved. In that case, the converse is true. One of the few black-and-whites in officiating is that the participants will forgive a flag not thrown when it should have been rather than they will a “phantom call” (a flag thrown that shouldn’t have been).
The only way that we can turn in the kind of performance that should be our goal is by preparing as thoroughly as we can, concentrating 100 percent from start to finish and having the guts to do what’s right.
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