Room for Improvement

By:  John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

     A highly contested Division I game just ended and the referee walked off the field with his head held high.  The assistant referees and alternate official met him and exchanged congratulations on a great game.  Both coaches shook the officiating team’s hands and complimented them on how well the game was controlled and the good job done by all.  This was especially noteworthy since the final score was 3-2 and a penalty kick, that could have been a controversial call, was made in the 70th minute.  The crew proceeded to the locker room where they celebrated their accomplishment and talked about all the good decisions made during the game.  There was a knock on the locker room door and the athletic director from the home school came in and shook each member of the referee crew’s hand and thanked them for their efforts and an enjoyable evening.  As the officials departed for home, each of them again patted one another on the back one more time for the outstanding effort.

On the trip home the referee was on “cloud nine” reflecting on the effort and the comments from his fellow officials, coaches and the athletic director.  He contacted the assignor and gave her a detailed report of his accomplishments, especially the praise from the coaches and athletic director.  Clearly this official felt he was on top of his game and ready for the next critical assignment.

The referee arrived home, unpacked the gear and was still on a high and wanted to talk about the game to anyone and everyone.  It was too late to make any calls and the referee was not ready to go to bed.  He sat back and turned on the TV to  relax and unwind.  A short time later his wife entered the room and asked how the game went.  The referee began explaining how well the game flowed and how pleased  the coaches were; and how the athletic director thanked the crew.  When the referee finally paused to take a breath, his wife calmly said “there is always room for improvement.”  This immediately brought the referee back down to earth.

Almost every official has experienced an excellent game and felt like the referee described above.  However, no one can rest on his/her laurels.  Referees must continue to strive to improve performance and work harder to become even better.  There are several ways to accomplish this and some examples will be provided.

First, the top officials are very knowledgeable of the rules.  NISOA members must continually study the rule book so that they are prepared for any possible scenario.  Another important tool is to be very familiar with the NISOA Rules Difference Guide.  Each year NISOA produces the guide so that officials are keenly aware of the differences between the NCAA and NFHS Rule Books and the Laws of the Game.  Being a student of the rule book will assure the official that he/she will make a proper interpretation during a critical situation.  This approach will prevent the possibility of a protest or other related problems for the official involved.

Officials must ensure that they do  not over extend their commitments.  Accepting too many assignments, especially back-to-back, could lead to lack of physical ability and not being mentally prepared for the game.  A way to improve is to only accept a sufficient number of assignments so that the official is prepared physically and mentally for the game.

Physical fitness is critical to being successful.  Even during the season officials should train in between assignments so that the fitness level remains high.  It has been written on numerous occasions that officials cannot referee themselves into shape.  Off season conditioning and training during the season will help  officials improve performance.  Continuous training should also help prevent injury and strained muscles.

Mental preparation for a game is as important as physical training.  Officials should learn about the teams and the style of play.  A review of previous box scores can help the official recognize if the game has potential for physical play or game control styles.  Talking with fellow officials about the teams and what to expect also can be helpful.  While these techniques are very useful, officials must ensure that they do not overly focus on this information and draw conclusions that may impact the style of officiating and result in loss of game control.

Obtaining feedback on performance is yet another way to improve.  Officials should seek out opportunities for assessments or observations by trained assessors.  Also, when receiving feedback on a game the official should be open to new ideas and readily accept the feedback from the assessor.  If officials are defensive and do not want to accept suggestions for improvement, the official will never learn new skills and become better.

No official is so good that he/she does not have to attend a clinic, academy, camp or other related training program.  Every clinic attended is an opportunity to learn at least one new skill or technique that will improve overall performance.  Continuing education is needed in every profession and officials are no exception.  Stagnation will result in officials not learning the latest techniques and interpretations.

In summary, no official has worked the perfect game.  There is always room for improvement.