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
tomorrow.

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.

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.

EXPECTATIONS
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.

PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES
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.

MEASURED REACTIONS
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.

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

Five Characteristics of a Great Umpire

When young umpires get started in the game, the focus of most in trying to improve their craft is to master the mechanics of good umpiring. The self-talk that goes on inside the umpire’s head goes like this:

“a good umpire is always in position, anticipating the proper rotation and finding the best angles to see approaching plays. I’ll be judged on whether I have a consistent strike zone.  Keep my head height the same, track the ball with my eyes to the mitt and remember to have good timing. Let the play happen, see the play.  What is it? Now call it”

That kind of self-talk is essential to the development of an umpire. However, with experience, those concepts begin to become ingrained. That’s when the focus needs to shift. There are a lot of good umpires who can get the calls right and follow all the prescribed mechanics of good umpiring. An umpire who ‘wants to advance his or her career needs to realize what characteristics separate the best umpires from the rest. Most of those great umpires display qualities that go beyond calling balls and strikes or safes and outs.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the traits that great umpire possess.

Presence

One of the most important characteristics is presence. Like a lot of the intangibles of good umpiring, it is a quality that is a little hard to define. It starts with looking the part Appearance, as it relates to good physical form and a sharp uniform, is a part of that However, it goes further. How an umpire stands on the field prior to the start of the game and between innings, shoulders upright with head held high, never folding the arms in front of the body, gives an air of confidence and approachability that is noticed by players and coaches.

Base umpires who are in a good athletic position at the time of each pitch display a strong presence. Presence
involves looking people in the eye while communicating with them. It also involves keeping your cool in the middle
of a visit from an angry coach with the crowd calling for your head from the stands.

Grace under fire

Related to the last point is grace under fire combined with loyalty to your partners. We all want to work with the kind of partner who is easy to find when problems arise on the diamond.  Most of us have been in situations where we needed to get help from our partners on a rules situation, or to get more information on a call that might need to be overturned. Great umpires step up in those situations and show the courage that is needed to provide the required help. They also don’t throw their partners under the bus during the ensuing argument.

Discernment

Discernment involves things like knowing when to let a complaint go and when to address it. Umpires need to know where that line is drawn. The situation in the game, who is making the complaint, how the complaint is lodged, tone of voice, etc., are all factors that go into making that judgment. Another degree of discernment involves how and when selling a call is in order. Not every close call needs to be sold with the same degree of intensity. Umpires don’t like to be shown up by players, and players feel the same way regarding umpires. For example, a hard sell on a strike three call when the batter is obviously fooled by a pitch down the middle won’t win you many friends for the remainder of the game.

Awareness

There are a lot of things that can go on during a baseball game that aren’t necessarily a part of the game of baseball. Nonetheless, they fall under the jurisdiction of umpires. Usually, those issues involve sportsmanship, and umpire
awareness of what is going on is necessary for keeping order on the diamond.

Keeping a close eye on the behavior of players might mean taking your eyes momentarily off the ball. A player who just hit a home run might decide to make some gesture directed toward the opposing team’s dugout while rounding the bases. Or the player may decide to stand and admire the flight of the ball for a while before running the bases. An umpire who has great awareness will recognize that and address it with that player. A base umpire who sees something similar will let the plate umpire know about it between innings.

Consequently, the next time that hitter is up, if a pitch comes in under his chin, the umpire will be prepared to deal
with it properly. Or similarly, after an unnecessarily hard slide on the bases, or a hard tag that was uncalled for, awareness of who the perpetrator was will allow the plate umpire to attempt some preventive officiating. When the guilty party gets ready to hit next time, the plate umpire can inform the pitcher that throwing at the hitter won’t be tolerated. Those situations can be dealt with much more effectively when the plate umpire is prepared for them.

Style

With all of those positive traits, an umpire may still not rise above the rest if he doesn’t have a sense of his own style in making calls. Style doesn’t mean putting on a show. However, how you look when making calls sometimes has as much to do with how you are judged than whether you got the call right or not. That is true of casual obvious calls, as well as those you have to sell with enthusiasm. Umpires who look like a robot or mechanical doll when making calls are usually subject to harsher judgment from players, coaches and fans.  Many umpiring clinicians suggest making calls in front of the mirror to see how you look in an attempt to find your own personal style.

GHSA Umpire Development

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.