By Jeffrey Stern

Officials who work a single sport sometimes have a tendency to be a little myopic. If football is their game, they follow football, read about football and learn from football officials. Same thing if it’s soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball or softball. To get better, however, maybe it’s time to think outside the box.

Multisport officials are often more open to seeing the possibilities offered by studying another sport. They’ve lived it.

While it’s true that a confirmed football-only official, for example, will never need to know the rules pertaining to free throws, hit batters, net faults or corner kicks, I have long believed that officials in one sport can find common ground with officials who work other sports by taking a peek at what officials in other sports are learning.

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You don’t have to start attending meetings at the local officials association or attend a camp to get that info.

I’ve long had the impression that a single-sport official regardless of sport could pick up some valuable tips by flipping through a few pages in an issue of this magazine they might otherwise gloss over. To see if I was right, I re-read some columns that appeared in the last year.

For instance, many officials think they need to run from Point A to Point B regardless of the situation just so people will think they’re working hard. But a soccer column in the 9/17 issue addressed the notion of running vs. trotting vs. walking. According to the column, “While running ability is vital to a soccer referee, it is a skill that must be combined with wisdom in order to experience the greatest degree of success. It is equally important for the referee to know when and where to run, and when energy should be conserved by walking or trotting.”

The column cited a U.S. Youth Soccer study by Jay H. Williams, Ph.D. Dr. Williams found that a referee who works an 80-minute high school match typically runs between 5-6 miles. Yet some referees cover the same distance and have better foul recognition than others who seem to be all over the field.

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The key to running effectively, Williams concluded, is not to just run for the sake of running, but to be in the right place at the right time regardless of the speed it took to get there.

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Working a full schedule has many benefits, but it has drawbacks as well. NCAA volleyball official Steve Thorpe decided to cut back on his schedule so he could watch his daughter play. He advocated balancing life and officiating in an interview in the 8/17 issue.

“I am a firm believer that sports officials should take ‘vacations’ during the season. … Taking a weekend off once or twice during that season keeps an official fresh and able to plan time with family or friends that may not be involved in officiating. Officiating at any level can be tremendously stressful. Taking some mental health time away from officiating duties pays dividends by the end of the season.”

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You don’t have to officiate long before you’re run headlong into a dispute with a player or coach. It doesn’t seem fair, but officials aren’t supposed to respond to anger with anger or extend an argument. We have to be above all of that. The 7/17 baseball column offered five “Maxims of Communication” to guide officials through those rocky situations. They are:

  • Listen to the players/coaches with all of your senses.
  • When appropriate, ask, don’t tell players/coaches to do something.
  • When appropriate explain and set the context for your calls/decisions.
  • Give players/coaches options rather than threats.
  • When appropriate, give players/coaches a second chance.

“As long as the behavior doesn’t reach a level that is unsportsmanlike,” the column offered, “then give them a second chance. Address the behavior respectfully and professionally.”

In the 4/17 football column, the keys to having good judgment were offered. Since officials in any sport must make judgment calls, it follows that such a column would help any official — even those who don’t work football.

The elements to good judgment are proper mechanics, rules knowledge, experience, concentration, anticipation and attitude.

Each sport seemingly has at least one confounding rule. In softball, it’s the DP/Flex. Cody Little, a nine-year veteran of NCAA Division I softball, described in the 5/17 issue how he mastered the rule. Officials in other sports can extrapolate his method to a troublesome rule in their sport.

“Just gaining experience on the field,” Little said, “and a lot of time, it’s sitting down and talking about it with other umpires — talking it out with a lineup in front of you, writing changes down and learning what teams can and can’t do. If you just open the rulebook and read the DP/Flex section … the chances of understanding it the way it’s intended are slim.”

Six different sports, but information and advice that any official can use. When it comes down to it, we all do pretty much the same thing and share passion for the games we work. Thinking outside your sport can open new vistas.

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor.

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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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