Developing Officials- Part I
There are many different reason that people decide to take on a path of officiating sports. Some do it for money (which there isn’t much), some do it just as a hobby or for a form of glory perhaps. Some do it to just truly give back to a specific sport at the amateur and youth levels without much thought as to a path for progression. At some point, I believe that all officials have envisioned their specific journey taking them to the pinnacle of officiating the professional sports in which they serve. In all reality, we sometimes fail to believe that it may not be an attainable goal to achieve, due to reasons we cannot personally control. For example, how many positions do you think open up for an organization such as the NFL annually? Being such a small niche of a national or international pyramid means that hundreds if not thousands of officials are searching for those very few positions that may or may not open yearly. There are truly numerous reasons that exist that could hinder someone from ever reaching the pinnacle of any sport as an athlete, coach or official. Maybe its just geographic location, monetary limitations, effort, poor leadership, family, health, physical abilities, politics, etc. Lets face facts that sometimes success in all things is a matter of luck, knowing the right person or being in the right place at the right time. However, thats not always the case and we should strive to be the best officials we can be by taking initiative with the things we can control.
Now lets talk about some of the things we CAN control to help achieve what we want out of our officiating career. Clearly being the best official we can be will heavily increase our opportunity for growth and success. Hard work, Integrity and Commitment are the 3 strongest attributes an official can have in any level of sport and we personally control all 3. Those 3 things will ALWAYS give you the rest of what you need. I remember being at an NCAA camp for football officials a few years back and the head of one of the power 5 conferences came out boldly and said “if you have a 38 inch waistline or higher, do not even apply for my conference”. I was slightly taken back but it helped me realize that most of the officials on that level (and above) of almost every major sport are in decent physical shape- clearly not all of them but your chances heavily increased by simply looking the part not just mentally but physically, especially coming in new to the conference. Simple things like tucking in shirts, wearing the right style of officiating clothes, properly sized pants/shirts, being on time, being punctual, well groomed, etc all help an official look/feel more professional and in turn helps to produce immediate respect as an official from athletes and coaches. It’s an old business philosophy that holds true to dress for the position you want, not the position you have. Would you be comfortable if your white hat Ref in football was dressed or looked sloppy no matter how well he/she knew the rules? Same holds true for officials in all sports.
In addition to looking the part physically, it should go without saying that we should always strive to be the master of the rules/regulations at each level we officiate. This is our responsibility as an official which we fully control. Now days every sport seems to have multiple progressive levels from the youth, collegiate, amateur, semi-pro and professional (or any combination thereof). The rules and regulations are typically different on each level and could vary by state or nation. Most fans and some athletes get a misrepresentation of the rules from having the bulk of their exposure from the professional side of the sports on TV. Confidently setting a clear expectation before each event with coaches and athletes sets a precedence of your knowledge and helps to assert respect for your role prior to competition. Study, Study and more Study! Make sure to reach out and be a part of any training/study groups that you are able to. Keep an open dialogue with senior officials and never be too prideful to admit a mistake! Watch film of yourself if you can and see your mechanics and how you look- it may surprise you.
Lastly always make sure to give back. Keep in mind that new official was once you! How nervous were you starting out, how little did you find you truly know, how many people truly helped, etc? How much better would the sport be at the level we are on, if we simply took the newest official and unselfishly helped give him/her the confidence and newest tools to truly succeed? Being an official is clearly not for everybody and time will inevitably weed out those who aren’t right for the position or hold them back to the levels they were able to achieve. None of that is up to you! Again do everything you can do to raise your stock as an official but be mindful that some things will be out of your control. Don’t be afraid to take chances and make your own path! Be humble, approachable and take pride in your success for the level you were able to achieve. Most importantly- HAVE FUN! We are a vital part of the continued success for the sports we serve and it’s imperative we put forth our best efforts as well as give back.