Photo Credit: Bob Messina

One of the biggest challenges in officiating is how to be completely locked in mentally for the entire game. It is of upmost importance to be on top of things and to be focused. It is far too easy to let your mind wander during the course of a game. We could be tired from a full workday, the weather could be too hot or too cold or we could be catching heat from coaches or fans. So how do we move beyond those distractions?

Developing positive habits can help you get refocused while on the field or court. One example is picking a particular spot on the court or field and looking at that spot every time you need to refocus.

A habit I’ve developed for the football field is looking at the pylon in the end zone, the midfield logo or at a goalpost. Finding a particular spot on the field can help you eliminate distractions, focus and be at your best.

Another situation in which we might be prone to lose focus is when we miss a call. I know I’ve made a call that I’d like to have back and a coach is letting me hear it. All of a sudden all I’m thinking about is what is being shouted at me and I’m not focused on the game in front of me. In those cases, as difficult as it may be, we need to acknowledge our mistake, forgive ourselves for it, move on to the next play and leave the blunder behind. The beautiful thing about sports is the next play is seconds away. We just need to learn to weather the storm and get the next one right.

Another situation in which we might lose focus during a game is when we are feeling hungry or thirsty. When we do not properly fuel our bodies before a game we are doing the athletes a disservice, because we are not taking care of ourselves. Taking care of ourselves will help others to know and understand we care just as much about the game as they do.

Some of the best forms of energy are a Snickers bar, protein bar, Gatorade, and peanut butter and toast wrapped in Saran or a Ziplock bag to name a few. Any of those can be stored in your bag and consumed at halftime or between games to get your motor running again.

Another thing you can use that will help you stay focused during the course of the game is to have a pregame routine. It can become all too easy for officials to just show up to a game and start. I know that to be a better referee you need to have a pregame routine. By not doing this you will not be at your best.

My pregame routine consists of getting to the game site as soon as I can and then going through stretching, and mentally going through the game and what I need to do. Everyone’s pregame routine will be different. It is important to have one.
Not dressing appropriately for the weather is another thing that can prevent you from maintaining focus during the course of the game. It is better to be over prepared than under prepared. If the forecast indicates it will be cold, do not try to tough it out or play the hero thinking onlookers will admire your toughness. Bring cold-weather gear with you. You can always shed layers if the weather turns out to be nicer than expected.

Pregame prep helps you start the game focused. Studying film of your previous games gives you the opportunity to sharpen your mechanics and positioning. Do not fall into the trap of thinking just because you’ve been officiating a long time you do not have to watch film. By watching film of the teams you’ll be officiating, you know what to look for and expect during a game. You’ll recognize team and player tendencies and be better prepared to cover plays.

Lack of focus can sometimes lead you to anticipate action. For instance, if your mind is wandering you may see a ball bouncing toward the sideline and blow it dead before it actually goes out of bounds. Something as simple as breathing can help you relax and regain focus. Take big deep breaths, hold them for 10 seconds and then exhale forcefully. That brief break can be the cure whenever you feel your mind drifting and the resultant anxiety.

As a referee it is all too important to stay focused during the course of the game. When we stay focused we are giving the coaches and athletes our absolute best in everything we do. By picking a particular spot on the field to look at when we get distracted, by looking professional and having the right attire, and by watching film before the game, you can help yourself stay focused during the course of your game.
Braden Lewis is a high school football referee from Fort Worth, Texas. *

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