In the 44 years Referee has been in existence, tens of thousands of words have been devoted to helping officials improve their performance. Our editors have offered suggestions based on their own officiating experiences. We’ve sought advice from top pro and collegiate officials. And we’ve reached out to our readers to find out what works for them.
So why are we publishing a few hundred more words dedicated to tips and techniques? Because feedback from our readers tells us you like this sort of thing and that the advice is valuable.
No attempt has been made here to identify these as the best tips. But you’d have to agree that if such a list were compiled, these 16 would belong.
1. Watch ’em warm up.
Make use of that dead time before the game. Watch players warm up. Does the point guard carry the ball? What range does the field-goal kicker have? Which outfielder has the strongest arm? Which player can “bend it like Beckham?” Those things and more provide info that might come in handy.
2. Head off trouble.
Make a casual visual inspection of players before a game and you may avoid a future headache. If you see a player whose uniform is illegal or who is wearing jewelry, point it out to the coach. That will give the player time to make an adjustment or take off the illegal item.
3. Pick up your presence.
Presence is hard to define, but you want it. Physical appearance is part of it, but it goes further. How you stand before the start of the game, shoulders upright with head held high, never folding the arms in front of the body, gives an air of confidence and approachability that is noticed. Look people in the eye while communicating and keep your cool when emotions around you boil over as well.
4. Get noticed or go home.
Has anyone ever told you that the best-officiated games are the ones in which you don’t know the officials are there? They’re wrong. You want game participants and fans to notice you positively for your appearance, your hustle, proper mechanics and great calls. Officials who aren’t noticed aren’t doing something right.
5. Don’t go there.
Do you exhibit the appearance of being impartial? Great officials know the difference between perception and reality and act accordingly. Don’t be extra friendly with one of the coaches prior to a game, just because you’ve seen his or her team more often than the other coach’s team. Be upfront with conflicts of interest to your assigner, even if you know you can be impartial no matter what.
6. Call what must be called.
There is a difference between preventive officiating and failing to penalize when in possession of knowledge that a violation or foul occurred. Officials who cannot or will not penalize taunting and baiting, unnecessary roughness, illegal and dangerous tactics, and equipment and uniform violations cannot, by definition, call a good game, nor can they practice effective risk management.
7. Adjust your attitude.
There’s an old officiating axiom: “If you go to the game with a bad attitude, you’ll have a bad game.” Your attitude affects those around you. A positive attitude helps you perform difficult tasks. If you’ve had a bad day on your job or a driver cuts you off on your way to a game, set aside minor frustrations and strive to develop a positive attitude toward the game.
8. Move on from mistakes.
Remember, you only have control of the present moment. The call you made five minutes ago is beyond your control and the future is always out of your reach. Keep an active mind and stop yourself whenever your mind wants to shift back to a “mistake” or worries about what’s going to happen.
9. Focus throughout.
Focus and keep your attention on the task at hand — the game you are working. Whether it is a blowout or tight ballgame, keep your concentration. If you feel yourself becoming distracted, focus on specific mechanics during a game. By telling yourself you need to improve a specific part of your game, it will help you to avoid being distracted.
10. Know everyone is ready.
After a stoppage, ensure that your partners are ready before putting the ball back into play and/or resuming the game. There doesn’t need to be any extended communication, just eye contact, a nod of the head or a thumbs-up so that you know everyone is ready to go.
11. Offer latitude at times.
When a coach complains, ask yourself if you got the call right. If you think the call was questionable, give the coach some latitude. Don’t allow him or her to interfere with your concentration but lend an ear. When you feel you got the call correct, your limit on what you’ll hear goes down. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to use warnings. Those warnings can prevent situations from escalating further.
12. Be a great dead-ball official.
It’s amazing how a game that progressed smoothly and without incident can go to pot if officials miss something that happens away from the play or after the ball is dead. Dead-ball officiating is one of the factors that separates average officials from great ones. Fouls or rule violations happen even when the ball is not live.
13. Get the game moving again.
When the game is stopped because of a call — one that results in controversy — the best way to turn down the heat is to get play started again as soon as possible. If the coaches, players and fans have something else to watch or think about, they’ll turn their attention to the play and won’t have as much time to bark about the last one. If a complicated rule is involved and you need to explain things to a coach, do it. And don’t resume the action if it puts another official or either team at a disadvantage. But you’ll often find that the noise will dissipate if a new play develops.
14. Set the pace.
Games go more smoothly when you set an even tempo. A game that “flows” allows players, coaches and officials to interact without disruption. In such a game, players usually don’t commit an inordinate number of fouls or violations. In turn, your mechanics become second nature. You can help set the pace by hustling, encouraging teams to return to the field or court after timeouts and by being ready to resume play when the players are.
15. Stretch and rehydrate.
The postgame stretch is just as important — maybe more important — than the one before the contest. Stretching helps warm muscles retain their elasticity and can prevent cramping. And don’t forget your fluid intake. You must replace what you lost by drinking water or sports drinks. Even chocolate milk can help replenish necessary nutrients.
16. Become the rules guru.
Every association has that individual who is known as the rules guy or gal. He or she is well-versed in the rules and is the go-to person in meetings and on the field or court. That individual is respected and for good reason. Make it your goal this season (and write it down) to be the most educated official in your area. Then dig into the numerous resources available to help you reach your goal. The rulebook is a given, but there’s also this magazine, preseason guides and books such as Rules By Topic and Simplified and Illustrated in some sports.
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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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