Believe In Officiating

We all know officiating is a tough business. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

There are many pitfalls that mentally weigh on us: lack of quality assignments, unprofessional partners, time away from home and family, association politics, coaches scratch lists… the list goes on and on. Each one is a reason to quit officiating. In fact, many that do quit cite those things and others as major factors.

The hard truth is, those things equate to ready-made excuses for failure. The officiating business is no different than life itself: there are good days and bad days. Those that quit officiating without really getting into it have probably moved on to something else in their lives. Odds are, they’ll quit that too.

We’ve got so many people beating us up mentally in officiating that it can be difficult to see the job through. Have you ever asked yourself in anger after an especially tough game, “Who needs officiating?” When you stop and think about all that officiating gives to you, the answer is, “You do.”

Officiating gives you a chance to shape the lives of young people. It gives you a chance to remain active in a sport you love. It gives you a chance to ensure ethics, sportsmanship and fair play remain important factors in your life and the lives of others. It gives you a chance to be a positive role model. It teaches you responsibility, work ethic and professionalism. If you’re really into officiating, officiating gets into you. Fight through the critics and cynics that eat at us daily in our officiating worlds. You are performing and admirable service for others by giving of yourself.

It’s OK to have bad days and poor thoughts about officiating. That’s human nature. Just turn those negatives into positives. When you’re down, read this list; you’ll stay on the right track as a quality person and, in turn, a model official.

Be receptive. Sometimes our biggest problems come from other people. We don’t like our ego bruised. Even people with extremely strong personalities hurt once in a while. The key to being receptive is considering the source. “You’re terrible!” coming from an overbearing, loud-mouthed Little League mother shouldn’t get much attention in your mind because the source is not credible. Conversely, you become a better official, and a better person, if you are receptive to thoughts and ideas coming from people whom you respect.

Open your mind every so often to listen to new concepts and consider other people’s opinions. The survivors are those who adapt to change.

Be honest. Unreal expectations places extra burden in an already intense job. You must be honest with yourself about your abilities. Thinking that you’re going to be an NFL official one day is not a bad thought… unless you realistically don’t have the ability or you’ve set an unrealistic time frame. The sooner you’re honest with yourself about what exactly it is you want out of officiating, the more relaxed you’ll become. You’ll reach an inner peace that means mental comfort each time you take the field.

Become a leader. Too often, officiating becomes an “every man for himself” endeavor, with officials backstabbing and undercutting each other for assignments and promotions. Don’t fall into the trap.

If you adopt the philosophy that you’re going to help others reach their goals you will reach yours. By becoming a leader, you can encourage people to work hard and do the right things to make themselves successful. In turn, you’re raising expectations for them and for yourself. Learn to love helping people. Those you help are better, you’re better and the game is better for it.

Be passionate. You’ve got to love what you’re doing, or you really shouldn’t be doing it. Look forward to your next assignment to see if you can meet its challenges and exceed your expectations. Let officiating get inside you to the point that it becomes a lifestyle. If you’re passionate about integrity, honesty and professionalism, you’ve improved your quality of life. Is that worth getting passionate about? Absolutely!

Be courageous. It takes tons of courage to rise above it all and do the right thing. Doing what is right — versus what’s popular or safe — takes strong will and conviction. You’ve got to believe in your heart that what you’re doing is the right thing. When you do make a mistake (and you WILL make mistakes!), it takes great strength and courage to bounce back and learn from it. Give it your best at all times, never stop learning and stand tall through adversity — all life lessons shared in officiating.

Be persistent. Set attainable goals and work to reach them. A goal is simply a dream with a deadline. Adopt the Nike slogan, “Just Do It,” into your everyday life. If you treat officiating like a business that you enjoy, you will be persistent in seeing the job through. Wake up everyday thinking, “How am I going to improve officiating today?” Maybe it’s study the rule book, watch a young official, work on a new mechanic, recruit a person to try officiating, thank someone who has helped you. With the mindset that you are going to improve officiating everyday, you’re
going to do the little things necessary to improve our entire avocation and help yourself in the process.

Be self-disciplined. Along with being persistent, you’ve got to be self-disciplined. No one can or should hold your hand everyday in officiating. You can’t rely on others to do the work for you. The only real way to help others and help yourself is to establish goals, set deadlines and be productive. Again think of officiating as a business and yourself as a business owner. By developing a business owner mentality, you will be self-disciplined because you have the will to succeed. Don’t put things off until tomorrow; do it today and move onto other positive things

Have unshakable faith. The world is full of energy drag. The nightly news… the daily paper… the constant griping at work… pressure builds constantly and negative energy saps your strength. Add to that all of the officiating woes and it’s no wonder you don’t want to do anything!

If you have unshakable faith that what you’re doing improves others and yourself, there really are no “officiating woes.” Yes there are challenges, but challenges met are akin to success. Believe that officiating is a positive force in your life because it is. Most importantly, believe in yourself. You deserve it.

Constitutional Changes for GHSA Baseball

On October 16th, the GHSA Board of Trustees met and several items relating to baseball were voted on. Listed below are the items and the results of the votes. A link to the minutes for the entire meeting is included at the end.

  1. Proposal to add an item “g” to by-law 2.92 on Page 44 as follows: “Judgement calls by contest officials are not reviewable or reversible.” (GHSA office) Effective Immediately
    Motion by Stringer, second by Masters, to Approve the proposal
    MOTION PASSED (unanimously) Proposal Approved
  2. Proposal to reword by-law 2.62-e-7 on page 36 as follows (new wording in italic): “Drones shall not be permitted to fly during any GHSA sanctioned event (Note: This prohibition begins when the gates or doors open and extends until the last spectator has left the field or arena.)” (GHSA office) Effective Immediately
    Motion by Finch, second by Jewell, to Approve the proposal
    MOTION PASSED (unanimously) Proposal Approved
  3. Proposal to reword item 2. (e) on page 58 under the Baseball Pitching Restrictions to eliminate the requirement for a registered umpire to be paid to monitor the pitch counts. Instead, the home team will be responsible for providing an adult (21 or over) Pitch Count Monitor who will monitor the pitch counts for both teams, notify the umpire when a pitcher is nearing a threshold and later record the pitch counts on the GHSA MIS web site. (Baseball ad-hoc committee) Effective Immediately
    Motion by Crews, second by Jewell, to Deny the proposal
    MOTION PASSED 8-2 (Craft and Stringer voting “no”) Proposal Denied
  4. Proposal to add wording to item 2. (e) on page 58 under the Baseball Pitching Restrictions to the effect that once a coach is warned that the pitcher is approaching a pitch count threshold, that pitcher shall be allowed to finish the batter. But, upon completion of that batter, the Days of Rest restrictions will only be based on the number of pitches that were thrown PRIOR to reaching the threshold. (Baseball ad-hoc committee) Effective Immediately
    Motion by Craft, second by Stringer, to Deny the proposal
    MOTION PASSED (unanimously) Proposal Denied
  5. Proposal to add wording to item 2. (e) on page 58 under the Baseball Pitching Restrictions to the effect that any pitches that were thrown during a game that was suspended or rained out shall be counted for that pitcher towards any pitching restriction thresholds. (Baseball ad-hoc committee) Effective Immediately
    Motion by Stringer, second by Craft, to Approve the proposal
    MOTION PASSED (unanimously) Proposal Approved
  6. Proposal to reword item 2. (h) on page 58 under the Baseball Pitching Restrictions to add the following under penalties for violating the pitch count restrictions (new wording in italic): “… the offending school shall be fined $250, the head coach at that level assessed a two-game suspension, and the game forfeited.” (Baseball ad-hoc committee) Effective Immediately
    Motion by Craft, second by Stringer, to Approve the proposal
    MOTION PASSED (unanimously) Proposal Approved

Board of Trustees October Meeting Minutes

Updated GHSA Constitution & By-Laws

Coach Interactions

Most governing bodies in sports share the admonishment to officials to neither seek out or avoid coaches after a game.  Their thinking is that approaching one may be interpreted as confrontation, which never helps anyone.  Avoiding, meanwhile, is interpreted more and more as aloofness; if you simply “stand your ground,” it works best from the officials’ standpoint.  If he or she wants to offer congratulations on a game well done – great!  If there’s a fair question to be asked, it should be no different than during the game and handled just as appropriately.  Anything else would show the coach to be casting the first stone – and at that point the official should get away from the nut.

Today’s question, by corollary, is whether interactions between coaches and officials away form the heat of competition – perhaps months before or after the first game – should be treated any differently.  First, I must admit that I’m a little aloof by most standards, compared to others.  I once heard a person described as so outgoing that he refused to let you not be his friend…  I’m not him and, as an officiating leader, that might be OK if my reputation is for keeping a respectful distance from people; as a mater of fact, that’s helped me a few times in my career, where a suggestion of collusion could be quickly disregarded.  So, where i’m coming from is that while it’s good to keep a respectful distance in relations with coaches, leaders should never turn down an ‘avocational’ opportunity to interact with them;  To my mind, any opportunity you can seize to find commonality will be good for everyone too.

My biggest advice is that it makes sense to give coaches, or the coaching community, the opportunity to interact with you, your board or the membership at large as often as they desire.  Having been a coach at one time, I’m well aware there’s often a big difference between how the coach acts when he or she is down four with eight seconds left and how the coach behaves as an invited speaker at your banquet or meeting.  So many coaches will spill the missile codes over what they want, don’t want or hate about officials when the Booster Club isn’t watching.  After all, they’re often teachers or some other professional too and see the mutual value of helping officials understand their expectations and attitudes.  Note that I said mutual; often, your best officials played at fairly high levels of the sport, themselves, so they’re aware of what successful coaches are thinking and what drives them; that helps them be good officials.  the rest of your group can stand to learn what coaches are thinking and how it meshes with other advice they’re receiving.  Hence, one of the best places to be with them would be in a room with a well-stocked bar.  Don’t worry about some coach showing up and disgorging on the first three rows of attendees; once an invitation is accepted, a coach can be counted on to behave, but not necessarily say things everyone will agree with.  That’s fine, but the bottom line is that the coaches are there for the same reason your are.

OK, we got it: Help the coaches help us.  But, what about another aspect?  Should we be reaching out to coaches or conferences when a coach out there is causing trouble for you or looks really bad in that striped tie and needs to hear?  Many coaches don’t fully understand the rules, but admit to it being one of the best reason for continuing to hire officials.  Others have the outlook of an executioner and the ambition of a tyrant, leaving us wishing there was some way of getting through to this person when the lights are down.  I’m sure you can offer other examples of these love / hate scenarios.  Overtures to these kinds of personalities are out of bounds.  If heir principal, spouse or the AD can’t get through to them, why can you?  Even if you can get through to them, you’re still impinging on that respectful distance and asking for trouble even if it doesn’t always materialize.

Finally, what should our attitude be about coaches approaching us?  What if they want a noble steed to speak to their parents’ night about helmet rules or some other aspect of the game?  Maybe they want your or someone to come in after practice and watch the video of that controversial play from last Tuesday night.  Perhaps they just want to ask an opinion of find a reference about a rule interpretation.  Some just want to bleat about something that happened tonight and don’t want too much time to pass before they stop being mad.  What should your policy be?  In my book, policies are mostly to prevent the next lawsuit for the same thing.  Ergo, you shouldn’t have a policy about how coaches can (be allowed to) approach you; there are just to many nuances to be prescriptive.  Take each situation and each individual as a unique situation and treat it as an opportunity for improvement, at least initially.  That’s another way of saying that one of the things which got you elected was your ability to do what’s best for your people.  If the right thing is to be proactive, defensive of dismissive, that’s why you were elected to the position you have.  If your feel for the situation ends up being wrong too often, you can only hope the person they vote in to replace you does better.  The point is not to stop trying to keep communication lines – whether you like what your’re hearing or not – open until discretion dictates otherwise.

I can’t think of a great official who hasn’t developed effective communication skills.  I don’t think there are many such association leaders either.  Even when it’s a challenge to put up with all the different personalities, your first job is to do it anyway.

Work on behalf of your people and make the most of your available relationships with coaches.


Proper Techniques of Game Management

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.

Six Common Report Errors

By Brent Killackey

When events of the day’s game require additional paperwork as part of officiating duties — whether there is an issue with game management, an ejection or a serious player injury — it’s wise to give the task the attention it deserves.

Done right, a report will enhance an official’s credibility. Done wrong, a report can leave an official with fewer assignments — or worse, called into a court of law. Here are six common report errors to teach your members to avoid:

1. Too vague. Certain words and phrases used on the field or court trigger an ejection and shouldn’t be used in polite company, but they belong in the report. Saying Coach John Smith used “foul language” doesn’t provide enough detail. Each person’s definition of foul language can be different. Best to be specific and reflect the actual words. Quote exactly what the coach or player said.

2. Too much. You’re writing a game report, not a novel. You don’t need to detail the whole game. Stick to the incident. If something happened that led to an ejection, that’s what the report should cover. You don’t need to get into earlier matters that didn’t result in a warning or other official reprimand. Anything beyond that risks that the important details get lost, and you could inadvertently include details that make the ejection look “soft,” especially if it raises questions about how earlier situations were handled.

3. Goes beyond the facts. Whatever you do, don’t embellish the situation. Far worse for a supervisor to find out your details didn’t match the video that turns up, than to find out you were a little quick on the ejection. The latter is understandable; the former is unacceptable and leaves you with no credibility. What happened, happened. Officials often feel worse about an ejection than they should. Some feel it was a failure of game management — sometimes, however, it’s necessary for officials to deal with a situation with an ejection. Stick to the facts. A good supervisor will have your back.

4. Use slang and colloquial speech. Straight-forward, professional language will ensure your report is taken seriously. Talking about how the coach had you in the “crosshairs” that night, and after the ejection, he “wouldn’t immediately hit the showers” and assistants had to drag him away “kicking and screaming,” doesn’t lend credibility to the report. Keep the wording professional and stick to the facts without resorting to creative language.

5. Speculate. It doesn’t matter that you think the coach was upset that day because his pitcher was struggling or his starting quarterback was out. That doesn’t matter in a report that should stick to the facts. Just tell what happened. And don’t make accusations either — noting that you think there was no hot water after the game because the coach shut it off doesn’t belong in the report. Now if the coach’s post-ejection tirade included, “You’ll have no hot water after the game,” and that’s what happened, that’s a fact you can share.

6. Failing to file it. Sometimes officials think filing the report could impact their career. After they cool off, they think they’re doing everyone a favor to let it go. But an incident will come to light, and the lack of a report will make the official look bad. Supervisors prefer to hear about a situation from an official, even if it’s minor.

After your officials write a report, encourage them as a last step to check with crewmates and run it past a leader in the association (maybe your group has a person whose position involves reviewing game reports to ensure officials provide what’s needed and nothing more).

Brent Killackey is Referee’s managing editor and a high school baseball umpire.