One officiating concept that I try to live by is to not be bigger than the game. That concept means that I do my best to not take over the show that the players and coaches are putting on because there isn’t a fan in the stands that paid a ticket to come watch me officiate.
When I was a less-experienced official I was definitely bigger than the game mainly because I didn’t know any better. I was like Leslie Nielson impersonating a major league umpire in the clip below.
While Mr. Nielson was doing a parody of umpires, that clip illustrates an official being bigger than a game and making a mockery of the game in the process. While the clip was a joke about baseball umpires it could have been done with any official in any sport. The potential always exists for an official to be bigger than the game, which is not a good spot to be in. It is a bad spot to be in because other officials really disapprove of a showboating, or overly officious, officials. So do fans, players, and coaches especially.
After my second year officiating for the Georgia Lacrosse Officials Association I went to an officials training clinic at UNC, Chapel Hill. I thought I was a real hot-shot official and I set out to prove that I knew what I was doing. As it turned out, I knew absolutely jack squat.
My evaluators at the training clinic ripped my officiating abilities apart. My positioning was terrible, my mechanics horrible, and my game management skills were non-existant. To top it all off one of the lead evaluators told me that it looked like I thought the fans came to watch me officiate. I was devastated and spent much of the drive back home thinking of quitting officiating.
It took a month before I stepped onto the field again. Since I decided to continue reffing I had to change my mindset. I had thought I was some reffing prodigy who knew everything there was to know about officiating. That old mindset contributed to the perception by my evaluators that I thought I was bigger than the game. While I could not change my training evaluators’ perception of me, I could certainly ensure that no one perceived me in that way ever again. So I made it my mission to become a student of officiating.
I decided to approach every game as a learning opportunity. Each and every game was a chance to get better and get my officiating to a new level. However, I also needed to work on removing my ego from my officiating. While it is a good thing for an official to have a high amount of self-confidence, I think it is important for officials to keep their egos off the field. If we don’t, we give the impression that we think we are the most important people on the field. To be fair, officials are necessary for the game, but as I said earlier no one pays for a ticket to watch us ref. Fans come to watch the players. The coaches come to coach the players, and the players come to play each other. The officials are meant to filter out bad behavior and leave a good game in their wake. If we leave the field of play and no one can remember we were there, then we did a good job.
Some officials call this blending in, or being “green.” All that means is that good officials are rarely noticed. They seem to blend into the field. Only appearing when a foul needs to be called. That is what good officials strive for. We don’t want people to remember us. We want fans, players, and coaches to remember the game and how it was played. Not how it was officiated.
It is a little strange to think that we aspire to not be noticed. That my fellow zebras and myself don’t want any recognition from anyone during or after the game. We don’t want applause for a job well done, we just want people to forget we were even there.