By Lawrence Tomei
As an official, you have three important responsibilities: officiate a safe game, officiate an impartial game and officiate in a professional manner. To manage a game effectively, you need to consider all aspects of the game simultaneously. Fortunately, we are equipped with a number of tools — the most obvious being whistles, flags and
cards. Less obvious — but much more important — are your game management skills. The better officials associations teach their members to apply proper techniques of game management so they are more likely to bring the contest to a successful conclusion.
Effective game management begins with a clear understanding of what is expected from both teams and officials.
Coaches and athletic directors expect that officials will arrive well before the scheduled game time. Different sports
have different expectations. Varsity is usually 45-60 minutes prior; football, 90 minutes. Confirm where your crew
is meeting and the best routes to the game site. Make sure your officials agree on dress — both to the game and on the field or court. Business casual means different things to different people. Are you wearing long-sleeve or
short for the game?
Officials, too, have expectations for the on-site game manager. We expect someone will greet us and accompany us to the locker room. We expect that the venue is in playable condition and properly marked and equipment (e.g., scoreboards, down markers, game clocks, etc.) is in working order. Security should be visible and stay close. Medical personnel should be on site before the game begins and protocols for concussions should be discussed. Ground rules should be covered (e.g., procedures for weather-related issues). Background clearances should not be assumed.
The final expectation is sportsmanship. Sportsmanship remains a point of emphasis from the pregame locker room visit to meetings with captains, to post-game celebrations and handshakes.
Communicate. Effective game management begins with an email or phone call to the home team coach five to seven days before the scheduled contest. Confirm game site and time; special events (e.g., homecoming, senior night, etc.); media exposure (e.g., television, radio); and crew member names/positions. Communicate more. How you say
something is often more important than what you say. A simple explanation might turn cutting because your tone
gives an opposite impression. When reporting penalties, remain calm and controlled. Avoid confrontations and sarcasm and never demean coaches or players. Be loud enough to communicate but low-key enough to prevent confrontation. Do not expect coaches to agree with every call. Explain your ruling and perhaps let the coach vent a little. Be calm, be brief. Saying too much can get you into more trouble than saying too little. Remember, your goal is not to win arguments. The best way to get coaches and players to stop complaining is to restart the play quickly.
Communicate even more. Address a coach’s challenge but do not allow it to interrupt the flow of the game. Do not refuse to discuss a call. Suggest a charged timeout to expanded explanations. If a coach, even an assistant coach, has a question and asks in a respectful manner, it is in your best interest to keep the lines of communication open. Some coaches try to gain advantage and influence. Others will not talk to the officials regardless of the call. They let their
assistant coaches throw themselves into the fray thinking they will be held blameless for disrespectful actions. Not so. Head coaches are ultimately responsible for their players and staff. Make sure they understand that.
Effective game management begins well before game time. Inspect the field — don’t just walk it. Introduce yourself to the coaches and get their confirmation that their players are properly equipped. Read the sportsmanship pledge to the captains and make sure they understand that you will be looking to them to control their teammates. Look for safety hazards and communicate those immediately to the game site manager so they do not delay the start of the game. Ensure that special events and team introductions are started early. Finally, confirm that the rest of the team is ready: certify the table personnel; talk with the chain crew; and check that your sideline judges are ready.
Sometimes behavior requires more serious action. To establish good game management, your responses should be progressive in their consequences. For example, if a coach is out of control in football, a quick flag limits other options; a second violation results in ejection. Instead, talk it through with the coach. If he disagrees with your brief explanation, so be it. Restart play quickly and get the game moving. If he continues his tirade, your next option is a verbal warning: “Coach, that’s enough.” Do not threaten a coach or player. A first unsportsmanlike conduct call usually ends the encounter.
Again, different sports have different progressive responses. Be sure you know the full range of options to keep the game under control. Unacceptable behavior, such as profanity and racist comments, questioning your integrity or
impartiality, or threats demand immediate escalation of penalties and possible ejection.
Remember, your goal is to keep the game safe, fair and professional. Effective game management expects you to look the part and do your job. If you deviate even slightly from the expectations, you have opened yourself up to criticism. And if the key to effective game management eluded you in this article, it’s communicate … communicate … communicate!
Lawrence Tomei is the vice provost for academic affairs at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. He has been a
member of the West Penn Football Officials Association since 1994 and its president since 2013.