Tips for New Officials

You’ve completed all the requirements: been through the Level 1 training class,  taken the online course, done your field work , taken the rules test, watched the rules video, registered with US Lacrosse as an official and received your patch.  So now what? The class you took taught you a lot about the rules of the mechanics of  officiating, but there are probably still  many questions you might have about being a referee. Here are some helpful tips and advice for you as a begin your career. 

First off, know that you are not alone.  Every official, in every sport , including those who have done NCAA National Championship games,  started out just like you.  Remember, your trainers, assignors, partners, and fellow officials are here to help you.

Look Good

hatDress for the job you want, not the job you have.  You are a new official.  You are inexperienced and only time and games will change that.  In all likely hood you will work middle school  or youth games.  No big deal right?  Wrong.  These games are important. Every game is.  And everyone:, plays, coaches, fans, parents, assignors and your partner, expect you to look and act like a professional.   Buy a nice shirt and a new hat.  Make sure your shorts are clean, your shoes are shined and your patches are sewn on professionally.  The impression that you give to players, coaches and fans will go a long way to muting the fact that you are a rookie.  If you look like a professional and you will be treated like a professional.

Know the Rules 

2013BoysLAxRBNFHSEvery official should know the rules book inside and out. As a first year official, this is problematic at best.  My advice is to control what you can control and work at getting better and increasing your rule knowledge every day. You may never use a rule your entire career, but you must be prepared for any situation that arises! The hard will pay off,  because knowing the rules makes you a more confident official.

Have a Plan

So what’s your plan?  Understand how the book is organized and how it is written. To help you find rules, dog ear or bookmark a few key sections:  Rule 4: 8-9 Goal and No Goal, Rule 7:13  Correction of Errors and finally the index (page 87). You can’t read the rules book all the way through and think you have mastered it.  Read it a rule at a time. Once you have mastered one  rule you can move onto the next. I suggest staring with Rules 1 and 2:  The game, field, equipment and personnel.  Work at it for a few hours.   The next night, move on to Rule 3: Time Factors.  And then Rule 4: Play of the Game, Then  tackle Rules 5 and 6: Technical and Personal Fouls.  Finally, work through Rule 7: Penalty Enforcement.

Actively Read

highlighterNow don’t just read: actively read! Words mean things! When a rule says shall, must and will, there are no options, a player or team has to do it.  When the rule says may, can or should, there is more wiggle room.   Identity key definitions, such as possession, loose ball, out of bounds, and goal, and see how they apply to various situations.  Keep a pen and highlighter in hand.  Mark up your book.  It makes it a lot easier when you are trying to determine what a rule is , if you have already highlighted the key sentence or clause.  If you have questions (and you will), write them down so you can discuss them with someone later.

Understand the Mechanics

The same goes for the mechanics of officiating.  To be a  good official you must be in position and  focused on your area of responsibility to make the call.  While mastering the rules takes years of work, knowing where you need to be can be learned much more quickly. there are two places to find this information.  You can either read the latest US Lacrosse Mechanics Manual or review the various PowerPoint presentations on mechanics.  Either way, review these every night.  You may not know all of the rules, but you can know where you need to be on the field at all times and what you need to be looking at!

 Work Games

arbiterTo be a good referee, you must continue to learn and improve with every game. Experience is the best teacher. The more games you do, the more comfortable and confident you’ll be as you gain more experience to draw upon.  You will learn something from every game you officiate.  Be very careful turning down opportunities to work as a new official.  Take advantage of every opportunity.  If you are not getting opportunities to work games, contact your assignor and ask what you can do to improve your chances.

Watch Games

Another great way to improve your craft is to watch more experienced officials work games.  If you have a middle school game, stay and watch the JV and Varsity contest.  Introduce yourself and ask if you can listen in on their pre and post game discussions.   If you can’t stick around, watch games on TV or YouTube.  This helps you not only by watching skilled referees work, it also helps you to learn more about how the game is played. Notice how they deal with specific situations that cause you trouble in a game. Ask more experienced referees watch and critique you, and then remember to try the suggestions they give you. As you improve, seek out more experienced referees to work games with and ask them to give you tips and feedback.

Find a mentor

phoneiconAs I have said, you are not in this alone. But you can’t expect anyone to know when you need help.  All officials, no matter at what level of officiating, need experienced advisers, who offer support and advice in all aspects of officiating. If you have a question, you need to find someone who can help you work it out.  This means you need to build a relationship with mentor.  You need to take the initiative to reach out to an official you trust and respect and ask them questions. Most officials will jump at the chance to help you out.  Calling your mentor right after a game is a great way to debrief and address any issue that came up while its still fresh in your mind.  If they don’t answer right away, don’t worry.  He is probably driving home from a game talking to his mentor!

Keep an Open Mind

To be a good official you need to keep working at your craft.  Any official who believes they have “figured it out” and has nothing to learn should  probably retire.  You will screw up.  We all do.  Just make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.  If something occurs in a game and you aren’t sure if you made the correct decision or handled it the best way possible, go back to the Laws of the Rules Book and Mechanics Manual and double check. Reach out to your mentor and discuss the the situation, decision you made and whether or not you should or could  have done something differently. Remember that the advice that your mentor gives you is designed to help you improve your game.  But improvement will only occur if you acknowledge that there is room for improvement. Take what your mentor says to heart and work at it.

Set Goals

If you want to get better you need to define what better means, what it looks like and come up with a realistic plan to make it happen.  You need to set goals.  They should be straightforward  and specifics  and they should be achievable.  Identify what specific steps you need to accomplish in order to make it happen.  Track your progress and set a deadline.

crosscheckSo, rather than saying “I want to get better,” set the goal of improving your signaling. You need to learn all of the signals and be sure you:

  1. stand still
  2.  use the proper signal
  3. give signals that are crisp, big and wide
  4. use CNOTE every time.  

The steps you will take to achieve this are: first,  practice the signals  at home until you master them and then demonstrate during the game.  Ask your partner to watch you during a game and offer feedback.  How many times did you use CNOTE, were your signals sharp and crisp. Have someone film your games from the table areas so that you can see yourself. Once you have mastered this you can move on to another goal.

I tend to choose two specific things each season that I hope to improve upon.  Last year I focused on using my 20-second timer ever time I during dead balls and verbally communicating with my partner throughout the game.  In previous years, I concentrated on beating the ball to the goal, out of bounds mechanics, mastering the coaches certification, the coin toss, and the goal to face-off transition.

Good luck as you begin the season.  Work hard and know that we are there to help! If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, feel free to contact me.

Play On!

Greg Hite

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