When I started officiated I knew nothing about it beyond my regular critiques of professional sports officials on TV. When I first stepped onto the field I thought it was my job to catch every infraction that occurred and to correct bad behavior from players, coaches and fans. Some very good officials at the GLOA saw some promise in me and quickly stepped in with some useful advice. Mainly they wanted me to worry less about what was said to me and worry more about the safety calls in front of me.
Back then I was obsessed with finding every foul, big or small. While I did get the big safety violations I also got the player who barely grazed the midline with his toe for an offside violation when the ball was sixty yards away. I was also on the prowl for any mean-spirited comment that flew in my general direction. As far as I was concerned I was the official – Hear me Roar! That was not the best mindset for performing well in a pressure-filled environment.
Eventually I listened to the more experienced officials I got to work with and my games became smoother. I caught the major safety fouls, but I started using more common sense judgement on technical fouls that had no bearing on the current play. What really helped me more than anything was losing what officials refer to as “Rabbit Ears”.
Rabbit Ears are when an official listens to and responds to every single word that is said to them or around them. The problem with Rabbit Ears is that officials who react to every word they hear often create more problems for themselves. I threw conduct after conduct and USC after USC during my games early on. It never changed anyone’s behavior because I never gave the offending party a chance to correct their behavior before I showed up like John Wayne with a bandolier of flags and ready to throw them without hesitation.
I had to stop listening to everything and put my focus squarely on what was happening in front of me, but that also meant officiating in a vacuum. I got so focused on the game that I lost the context of what was happening around me. So when a coach lost his mind I didn’t understand where he was coming from because I was ignoring him and everyone else. I cut off my Rabbit Ears after two years officiating, but then I found a need to start regrowing smaller ones.
These days I listen to everything that comes from the sidelines, but I do not always react to it.
Listening to comments allows me to gauge the game temperature. Usually I can pick out trouble coming my way by a short comment:
- “You need to call that”
- “Kids are gonna get hurt out there”
- “We need to start laying their attackmen out”
None of those are comments that should be reacted to immediately, but they do need to be filed away for future reference. When I hear something along the lines of that last comment I stay with the shooter for a fraction of a second longer than I usually do just to make sure the sliding defender is easing off and there is no funny business going on.
Listening to verbal comments allows the game official to get a feel for how both teams feel the game is going. If one team is blowing out another I am on the lookout for the winning team talking about showboating, or the losing team talking about getting a little physical revenge. All of those comments brings me back to the play in front of me and allows me to apply good judgement within the appropriate context.
Remember, you can have Rabbit Ears and listen to everything that is said to you but don’t react to it unless you absolutely have to.