Strategies for Starting Off and Coming Back

A few years ago I started a small tradition in the 2nd-4th year GLOA officials training class. Once everyone gets settled into the classroom I ask all the new second year officials to stand up. Once they’re all standing the third and fourth year officials and GLOA trainers congratulate them for surviving their rookie season and coming back for another round. It’s a small gesture, but a powerful one that tells all of the former rookies that everyone else in the room has been where they were. Acknowledging the always-difficult first season brings these second year officials deeper into the fold of the officiating brotherhood at the GLOA, which helps us retain more of our less experienced officials and turn them into more experienced officials.

Retention is difficult topic for associations to talk about, as Charlie Obermayer (senior manager of officials education at US Lacrosse) writes about in his article “How to Retain Officiating Talent“. Charlie explains how individuals, association leadership, and assignors can all help retain officials and maintain the stability of an LOA as a result. Since ALO is about making officials better as individuals I’m going to build upon the three suggestions Charlie has for individual officials.

1. Know and understand the rules – This is a biggie, and it directly impacts how much you’ll enjoy officiating. Few things infuriate a coaching staff, players, or fans more than officials who do not understand the rules and take forever to make a decision because of a lack of rules knowledge. Here are a few ways to improve your rulebook knowledge:

  • Read one rule a day (split up Rule 4 into two days). With seven rules in the rulebook and taking the longest (Play of the Game) over a two day stretch you’ll have read the book in just over a week.
  • Write, highlight, tag, and dog-ear. At the end of each season my rulebook looks like I beat it up. I don’t like to highlight – it’s never been my thing. So I write notes in the margins, question marks in areas I’m confused, smiley faces for rules changes I like, and exclamation points for major things I don’t want to screw up (when to disallow a goal for instance).
  • Test yourself with a time limit. It is impossible to recreate in-game pressure, but adding a time limit to any practice tests or quizzes you take can help you speed up your thought processes while in a game. If you messed up a simultaneous fouls situation in a game last season write it down along with the other rulebook situations. Then test yourself with each situation under a time limit (90 seconds, 60 seconds, 30 seconds). As you review each situation you’ll get faster at determining the proper penalty administration, which will pay off big dividends the next time you run into a tricky situation in a game.
  • Come up with wacky situations and see if there is an appropriate ruling. This is by far my favorite way to dig into the rulebook because I don’t get a straight answer right away and I often have to look in several different places. This helps speed up my review process in my mental rulebook because I have to flip from one area of the rulebook to another and then back again to confirm. This keeps the order of the rules fresh in my head each season and lets me zero in on what area of the rulebook I need to be thinking about for a particular situation.

2. Build a network – I would have quit officiating a long time ago if I didn’t make a few friends in the GLOA. I’ve written about how great camaraderie can be in officiating, but new officials have a hard time if they’re coming into an association where they don’t know anyone. Here are a few ways to build a network if your new to an LOA:

  • Find a buddy! You’re not the only new official in the association. Trade your contact info with other new officials before or after the first training class. Set a time to meet up or call to go over what the trainer covered in class. Commit to calling each other at the end of every week to go over the good, the bad, and the ugly from your games. Association trainers can help facilitate this by breaking the training class into pairs or small groups and having everyone exchange their phone numbers. The sooner you establish a connection with a fellow official the more enjoyable your first season will be.
  • Find a mentor! If you’re really gung-ho about getting better as an official I highly recommend asking a more experienced official to mentor you. This is generally not a formal process, and you don’t have to kneel before a veteran ref and ask “will you guide me in the ways of officiating?” Ask around. The way that worked for me was that I asked more experienced officials a lot of questions after games. I incorporated a lot of the advice I was given and coupled with studying the rulebook I got better.  A few veteran officials noticed and helped me out more.

3. Be a mentor – As Charlie wrote, even if you are in your second year you are still more experienced than a first year ref, and you can help out the new officials in your association. You’re closer to the trials and tribulations that new officials go through than the fifth year veteran, and can lend a sympathetic ear to what a new official goes through.

  • If you’d like to help with new officials let your LOA board and trainer know! If there is an existing mentorship program and you meet the standards for the program then you’ll get plugged in. If there is a more informal process to mentoring the trainer may share your information with the new officials class, along with other more experienced officials who want to help out too. The major benefit to mentoring is that it connects you to new people and strengthens your bond with the association. We have a tendency to stick to our own group of friends. Mentoring encourages us to break out of our set group and helps welcome in new members.
  • Don’t crush dreams. This is an officiating inside joke (we don’t officiate because we like it, we officiate to keep kids from ever getting to Hopkins or Duke by putting them in the penalty box). This joke also applies to fellow officials. New lacrosse officials have a hard enough time starting off. They’re getting yelled at by coaches, players, and fans, and they certainly don’t need to get it from their mentors. This does not mean sparing new officials from criticism – they need criticism to know what they must work on, but the delivery shouldn’t be the same as a coach going ballistic in the fourth quarter over a call or no-call.

4. Help spread the word! – For every new program that is established two more officials are needed to cover game assignments. Since lacrosse is exploding just about everywhere take it upon yourself to help recruit new officials. If you’ve got a friend who might be interested in officiating tell them about upcoming classes. The GLOA is running a new adult officiating class on August 23rd. New officials will also get field reps at local U15 and High School fall ball programs with experienced GLOA officials. This fall training is designed to give new officials a more gradual experience officiating lacrosse so their first game assignment during the regular season isn’t such a jarring experience. If you know anyone who would be interested in taking the GLOA adult officials fall training class please send them this link –  http://galaxref.com/training/adult-officials/new-adult-officials-registration

I hope everyone is enjoying the brief break before fall ball gets going. I look forward to seeing everybody out at the fields!

Cheers,
Gordon

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