Upon arriving to work a high school athletic contest, an officiating crew is typically welcomed by an athletic administrator or a site supervisor. While traversing hallways, stairs and doorways en route to the officials’ locker room, conversations with the administrator include important game management information.
Perhaps most crucial for an officiating crew is to know the whereabouts of a site supervisor if, for example, unsportsmanlike behavior from participants, coaches and fans escalates beyond the officials’ jurisdiction.
While the site supervisor thanks the crew for working the contest, he or she quickly hustles off to the next task on the multiple todo list. Behind closed doors, the officiating crew continues pregame preparations. What are those conversations like? Do they tell jokes and share colorful officiating stories? Who takes charge?
Here is a look at what is happening behind the scenes prior to an official working a contest. These are steps that officials often use in approaching each of their assignments.
There is an old saying in officiating that states: “Officials can never stay the same. They are either getting better or they are getting worse.” Thankfully, most officials strive to improve. That can be attending offseason camps, working leagues or just keeping in shape for the rigors of the season ahead. Regardless of offseason goals, officials begin planning for the season long before they reach their locker rooms.
Most officials do not wait until the day prior to an assignment to check on uniforms, pants, shoes, whistles, etc. After all, an official needs to know sooner rather than later if those pants are too snug.
Preseason preparation includes registering with the state association, taking an online concussion training course, viewing an online rules meeting and completing certification by passing an NFHS rules exam. An official also does not want his or her first time on the court, field or rink for that season to be a regular-season game. Participants practice to prepare for their first contest. So, too, should an official. Finding scrimmages to work prior to the start of the regular season is an opportune time to sand off the rust and get in “whistle shape.”
Developing a plan and setting individual goals for the upcoming season is oftentimes crucial to the successful journey of an official. Reviewing past performances and constant visits with the rules books can also ensure growth.
Checking in, Planning Ahead
It is such a simple task, but an incredibly important one. Calling or emailing the school’s athletics administrator, and copying his or her assistant to confirm an assignment, is essential to set the tone for a successful event. The administrators are grateful for diligent officials who check in. Chasing down assigned officials for confirmation isn’t a task that administrators relish or budget time to tackle.
Planning your trip to account for weather, traffic delays or work commitments is a key ingredient to a successful officiating journey. Arriving at a school at least an hour prior to the contest starting time helps to ensure an official is relaxed and mentally prepared. When officials are in hurry-up mode or appear stressed, it will show in their officiating performance.
Setting the tone for any contest comes behind closed doors prior to the contest. While the crew has been in communication with one another, important protocols and pregame checklists are discussed. The referee in basketball and white hat in football, for example, lead these discussions.
Using basketball as an example, here are some of the topics discussed:
Review and Reflect
At the conclusion of a contest, officials typically do not grab their gear and quickly head home. Rather, it is an opportune time for a crew to review the contest and discuss what went well and what didn’t go so well. Situational plays that forced an official to make a tough call can be broken down to analyze all angles. Officials will challenge one another, all in the spirit of improving. What did you see on a particular play? What was your interpretation of a player’s actions after a call? How was our positioning during that final sequence?
Those discussions can last long afterward, not only while in the officials’ room, but also during the trip out of the school amid the custodial crew, who are brightening things up for the new school day that looms.
On the drive home, reflection continues. How do I feel physically after this game? Mentally and emotionally, was that a tough assignment? What lessons can I use moving forward, not only in my own officiating journey, but also ones that I can share as a mentor?
What started as a call or email to an athletics administrator should end that way, too. An assignment isn’t truly complete until an official completes that cycle with a thank you for the opportunity to work that contest. A note of thanks that recognizes the hard work and dedicated efforts of the administration, game management crews and volunteers can go a long way in strengthening relationships and providing great opportunities for participants, schools and fans.
Schools really enjoy putting their best efforts forward and being strong hosts to officiating crews. They salute strong performances and they want you to return to their school. From the water or sports drink they provide at the half to a treat afterward for the drive home, saying thank you to a school administrator for a great officiating experience is the easiest call an official has to make.
Tim Leighton is the communications coordinator of the Minnesota State High School League and a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.