Turning Out Better Umpires

All of us know umpires, referees and sports officials who despite many years of experience still employ game knowledge, comprehension and application at a “rookie” level.  We regularly work with officials, who despite only one or two years experience, demonstrate abilities to analyze and abstract the rules into the situations which confront them. Finally, we respect those whose wisdom and judgment characterize their every movement on the field, their positioning and their calls.

What defines a rookie, a journeyman, a veteran, is not so much a number of hours in the classroom, a number of games on the field, or a percentage on a test, but is, in fact, observable points in the learning process.

A rookie approaches a problem searching for elements with which they are immediately familiar.  They restructure the problem into a friendly context.  The rookie official then selects and applies the rules to the situation in front of them giving a faithful and accurate judgment.  Many good officials rarely leave this level – know the rules, be in position, make the call, be consistent.  This principal of right and wrong is ingrained in the literal developing of an official.  By knowing the context and appropriate meanings of the game and rules this official applies what they know to the situation at hand.

The transition to journeyman occurs when an official begins to break down a problem into its essential parts and analyze the links between these parts.  Extraneous elements are quickly discarded and relevant information is identified.  A journeyman takes a position on the field in response to the form, pattern and “intent” of what is developing.  Unfamiliar situations are accessed “on the right track” or “the wrong track” instead of the “must be black or white” of junior officials.  The journeyman is also prepared to take the risk of making an error although experience will work to limit the extent of that error.  This official will attempt to clarify why a decision was made and understand the effects of each call, each position and each response.

So what defines a veteran official?  Certainly this official has knowledge, both from instruction and application.  This official understands the game, the rules and their intentions, and brings unique analysis to the play.  A veteran official is “characterized” by the tasks he or she performs.  They have attained the final two stages of growth: the ability to handle unique situations based on the often abstract information presented to them and the ability to accurately and effectively appraise a situation consistently.  By pulling it all together a veteran official brings a set of consistent standards to each game.  A veteran official carries a set of mental tools which can dissect the internal workings of every play and apply external criteria, unique and remembered “standards of excellence” that each veteran official brings to that play.  It is taking officiating and learning to the ultimate levels.

Years spent in classroom and on-field “behavior modification” is not wasted time but attempting to classify the ability of an official based on “so many hours and so many games” sets a dangerous precedent for the promotion of quality officiating.  There has always been and will always be so much to learn, to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate.  If officiating is to move to the highest level we must also be prepared to recognize, to foster and to develop training systems which also take learning to the highest level.

GHSA Development Staff