Photo Credit: Dale Garvey

How good an official do you want to be? How much do you want to improve? Good officials, no matter their level of experience or success, won’t hesitate to do an honest self-assessment and figure out what they need to do to get better.
Here are six areas that might need your attention.


Hustling officials actively work the game and don’t loaf through it. They avoid coasting if the score gets out of hand and they don’t give the impression they’re bored because it’s not a championship or “important” contest.

Three components of hustle to remember in order to improve are functional, demonstrative and mental. Functional hustle is being in the right position to make the best call possible. That alone usually separates good officials from great officials. Being in the right position is one of the most important aspects of officiating. Most fouls cannot be called properly unless the whole act is observed.

Demonstrative hustle contributes to officiating by creating the perception the official is actively doing his or her best. Officials should always be “on the hop,” trotting from one spot to the next, especially during a dead-ball period. That indicates the referee is vigorously working the game, while walking may be perceived that the referee is tired or not interested.

Mental hustle is basically keeping your head in the game by being alert. Each official should always know the situation and communicate verbally or non-verbally with partners.

Learn From Others

Regardless of the level at which you officiate, you can improve your performance by learning from successful officials. Ask them to discuss their expertise. If your partner says a few words to a troublesome player or coach to make a problem disappear, ask what your partner said to solve the problem.

Try to attend one or two camps or clinics a year. Absorb the information other successful officials serving as camp clinicians have to offer in those settings. Chances are, it will help cure you of defects in your game.

If you worked the sub-varsity game, learning begins in the locker room between games. You can solicit comments from the varsity officials on what they saw of your performance. Remember that nothing will stifle a sincere attempt to help faster than for the “helpee” to dispute what actually happened on the court or field. Listen to the comments. Evaluate them later. Consider taking an occasional night off to watch a respected official work a game. Watch successful officials with purpose. Watching successful officials should not include keeping score on how many calls they get right, but watch for specific techniques, preferably some of those you have been told need improvement.

Pay attention to the little things successful officials do before the game. Does one have a personality similar to yours from whom you might adopt some effective techniques? How do they build trust in the pregame conferences with players, coaches and table officials? Is there something that looks very professional that you want to emulate?

Rules Knowledge

Missed judgment calls can sometimes be excused. But there is no excuse for misapplication of the rules. It’s that simple. Officials must have solid knowledge of the rules and how they should be applied, especially as you move up in the ranks from youth to high school to college and beyond. If you misapply a rule, there is nobody to blame but yourself.

If you think you messed up during a game, make a mental note of the situation or jot down a brief description of the play, if possible. Then, dive into the casebook at the first opportunity to get a better grip of the ruling.

Officials who are well-versed in the rules of their sport generally possess an added level of confidence.

Take Care of Business

When dealing with assigners, treat them as you would like to be treated and do things their way. Get availabilities and contracts back to them in a timely manner.

Take care in filling out availability forms correctly. You don’t want to give an assigner incorrect information. It will only cause the assigner, and probably you, nothing but headaches. Make a photocopy of the availability for your records. When your availability changes, you can confirm with the copied availability and report changes to the assigner.

Dumping games for better ones creates ill will. If you need to get off a contest, be up front and honest with the assigner. He or she may not be happy with your reason, but will respect you for your straightforward approach in dealing with the situation. Handle whatever your state or local association requires in a timely manner. That includes completing tests, registering and paying dues.

Postgame Review

If you have never seen yourself on film, find a way to do so. Watching yourself can be painful, but the benefits and ability to learn from the video are great. Perhaps your local association can get video from schools involved in games you have worked or simply requesting a video through an athletic director works, too. Video is a fantastic training tool.


Good, solid mechanics can sometimes cover warts in other areas. It may seem corny and uncomfortable, but the best way to improve mechanics is to get in front of a mirror and practice, including verbal calls. When on the court or field, get the best angle possible on every call. Wait until play is completed before announcing your decision. Good call or not, don’t hang around looking for approval or dissent after announcing your decision. Bounce with confidence to your new starting position for the next play.

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