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Practice, Practice, Practice

From Referee Magazine


Why does it seem a bit goofy for an official to stand in front of a mirror and practice signals, but it’s normal

for a player to spend hours working on a post-up move to the basket? Why would it seem strange to witness a

basketball referee in his backyard tossing a jump ball to imaginary players, but there’s no problem with a

baseball player hitting off a tee in his garage, practicing his swing?The truth is, many officials don’t practice at

all. Think about it: Is it really fair to the players and coaches who have put hours, weeks and years into their

games for officials to show up without a second of practice? To that end, officials need to act more like players

and coaches. We must practice what we do.For his first two years in the NFL, referee Ed Hochuli was a back

judge on former referee Howard Roe’s crew. Hochuli says that before every game, Roe stood before a mirror,

practicing signals. One day, Hochuli jokingly asked Roe if he’d finally gotten them down pat. Roe turned to

Hochuli and answered seriously, "It’s important to get it just right." Hochuli agrees that attitude helps officials

improve. "You’re never too qualified to improve," said Hochuli. "Being picky pays off."Techniques. There are

lots of things officials can practice — some mental, others physical. This brief by-sport list shows just some of

the things you could practice that will help you in your games.

Baseball/softball — Practice timing. Many umpires call plays too quickly and slowing down your timing helps. The next time you watch a game either in person or on TV, mentally practice your timing. Watch the pitched ball hit the catcher’s mitt, and then mentally rehearse your timing. Don’t worry about calling the pitch a ball or strike; it’s the timing that you’re practicing. The same can be done for plays on the bases. 

This is why all umpires need to watch pitches at the start of the game in both the bottom and the top of the first inning.  You are also learning how the pitcher releases the pitch, the arm angle that he uses, the background the pitch is coming from and how the catcher receives the pitch.

The pitcher is using 8 pitches to start the game and you can use 5 or 6 of them to get all of that information before the game begins.  It is a good way to introduce yourself to the catcher's too.  Don't forget to do the same thing with both teams.

The base umpire can also practice taking throws at 1st base before the game begins in both the top and bottom of the 1st inning.  The lead-off batter is usually the fastest player on the team and if you miss that first call of the game, the rest of the day is downhill from there.  You can work on busting to the correct angle for each play to the infield. 

Remember you are learning how the infielders release their throws, how the 1st baseman handles throws and his footwork on the base.  You are practicing reading a good or a bad throw at the same time. 

Tim Tschida taught this to me and other NW Umpires many years ago at an umpire clinic at the U of M in Minneapolis.

Ever have trouble taking your mask off? Practice removing the mask with your left hand while keeping your cap on. After doing that for a while, you won’t have your cap fall to the ground (or worse, fall into your face, covering your eyes) while a play is going on. Removing your mask in your living room will save you problems on the field. 

There are still umpires in NW Umpires that cannot take their mask off correctly and most of them are either too stubborn to try to get it right or they are too embarrassed to practice to get it right. 

I can teach anyone in a 5-minute session how to do it but I cannot get you to do it until you practice it.  I realize this is a small thing in comparison to getting the pitches correct but it is one routine that those that have it down don’t have to worry about any longer because it is one of our good habits.  At our NW Umpire clinic at the Augsburg Dome, we will teach and practice this technique. 

Basketball — Practice your 10 second count. Have someone time you (or you can time yourself) and get your count just right. Many of today’s games are videotaped, so accuracy is crucial. If videotape shows team A still in the backcourt with 12 seconds elapsed but also shows you with only an eight count, you’re in trouble. 

This is an easy fix by practicing with a clock, watch or some timing device.  Have a friend, spouse or other officiating partner time your counts.  This is a skill that is lacking in 1/2 of the officials that are officiating today.

Practice tossing the ball for a jump ball. Stand directly underneath a basket (in your backyard, nearby gym or playground) and toss the ball directly upward to the height of the ring so that the ball passes through the ring without touching it. That will improve your accuracy.

Football — Practice tossing the ball underhand to your crewmate. Too often poor tosses among crewmates bounce aimlessly or sail overhead. It looks bad and slows things down. Work on it. 

Isn’t it frustrating on your Friday night crew to have a crewmate toss you a ball too low and you have to be a shortstop and then it bounces away from you or worse yet your partner tosses it over your head or even worse high enough so it gets into the lights and you cannot see it any longer and it then hits you in the face or you drop it. 

This is a skill that should be learned before you get on the field.Also, do your best Howard Roe imitation and practice your signals, even if you’re not the referee. Make sure your signals are strong and crisp. While practicing them, think about the proper yardage and penalty administration.

Soccer — As an assistant referee, practice moving the flag to your field-side hand and signal direction appropriately. It’s a subtle movement but looks sharp when done properly.Also, carry a whistle with you while jogging. Mentally plan for a major penalty to occur on different parts of your route. For example, "When I run past the next telephone pole, there will be a severe tackle from behind that warrants a red card." Then, when you reach that telephone poll, blow the whistle appropriately and practice using it to communicate effectively.

Take the time to practice. It will pay off when you need it most. 

Volume 7, Number 4
April 15, 2006

Take a Look in the MirrorAs a sports official, when you don your striped shirt, you hope the general public perceives you as all-knowing and all-seeing.Is that how you really look? How are you perceived by others? And, more importantly, how do you see yourself? Can you see yourself in one of these characters?Joe Knowitall: “Tried it in 1980 and it didn’t work.” Seen it all — done it all. Knowitall wrote the book on officiating and everything else.Dick Tator: “My way or the highway.” Nobody can tell him anything. Tator works everyone’s position at once and treats everyone the same way — like children. Al Appeaser: Appeaser agrees with everybody, has no strong opinions on anything and hates to make waves or upset anyone. He doesn’t want to be the bad guy.Norma Nohelp: It isn’t her problem, so why get involved? If asked — she just doesn’t know. “My partner over there made the call — not me!” She expresses opinions only after the game.Phil Abuster: Keeps talking long after everything is settled. He always repeats everything and uses 400 words when 20 will do.Titus Canby: Equates everything to dollars and cents. Canby is afraid someone’s getting more games and more money than he is. “I only do this for the money.”Frieda Flawless: Nobody does it right but Flawless. She never made a mistake or made a bad call. Nobody can criticize her — even constructively. She has an excuse for everything.Bob Boredstiff: Remembers when they really played (insert sport). Boredstiff doesn’t really want to be here and can’t wait to get the game over. “They’re lucky I even officiate!”Stone Sober: Doesn’t know how or when to enjoy himself. He takes the game and officiating too seriously and doesn’t make the contest fun for anyone. “They don’t pay me to have fun!”Roger Rulebook: Goes by the rules at all times. Participants’ age or skill level doesn’t matter. In his case, common sense is not common. “Sorry coach, but that’s the rule.”I’m sure you recognize someone here. We’ve all worked with those types of officials. Or (God forbid!) you could be one of the officials described above. That’s why it’s a good practice to take a moment after each season and honestly review and evaluate your actions on the field, on the mat or on the court.Here are some hard questions you might want to ask yourself: Have you lost sight of why you’re really out there? Are you doing your job to the best of your ability? Have you become a hindrance to a successfully officiated game? Are you still having fun? Are the participants having fun? Are other officials eager to work with you or do they groan inwardly when they see you?Wouldn’t everyone involved be happier if your officiating style was described as follows?Cal Competent: Works at rules and mechanics every season. Competent looks for new and better ways of doing things and makes everyone better by his skills. Everyone wants to work with him.Alana Avid: Still has enthusiasm for the game. Her enthusiasm rubs off on others. She tries to improve in some area each game and makes everyone feel good when she’s around.Wily Vet: Lost a step but hasn’t lost his passion. Vet makes up for that lost step by his knowledge and he tries to pass on his knowledge to others. He constantly works at being fit.If you can’t be one of those three competent officials, maybe you should be:Red Retired: Knew when to quit officiating. He or she realizes the passion isn’t there anymore. Retired knows he or she can’t keep up with teenagers and doesn’t want to be an embarrassment by hanging on. Take a good look in the mirror. Who do you see? Who are you — really?Written by Jerry Sulecki, a high school football official from Concord Township, Ohio. This article originally appeared in the 5/00 issue of Referee.

Words of Wisdom

From Past Referee Documents

Throughout history, experienced, time-tested veterans have passed down words of wisdom to younger apprentices. (Think of the American Indian culture with the great wise men sharing their wisdom with eager, hungry warriors.) In all walks of life, there are common phrases that veterans use. They are as symbolic as they are helpful.

Officiating is no different. There are a number of catch phrases that are handed down through officiating generations. They are aimed at newer officials but serve as guidelines for veterans as well.

Some are so common they've become cliché in the world of officiating. They are used over and over for a reason. They are a part of the foundation of successful officiating.

Take a look at the following quotes and the meaning behind them. There are probably countless variations to each phrase, but the core is essentially the same.

The phrases, a part of our officiating culture, are impossible to trace to a single source. The credit does not go to an individual; the credit is the longevity and application of the phrase itself.

"When you miss a call, the next call is crucial."

The first part of that phrase deals with acceptance. We are all going to miss calls. Accept it and learn from it. The competitor in us is constantly searching for that perfect game. We’re never going to find it. That’s the thrill of the "hunt." There are always things to improve on. In fact, if you think you’ve got this avocation down pat and there’s no getting better, move on to something else.

Perfection is what we strive for. When we make a mistake, it hurts a bit. It should. If mistakes have ceased getting to you, you’ve stopped learning and are just going through the motions.

There comes a time, however, when you’ve got to mentally let go of the mistake and move on. Learn from it, and then let it go immediately during the game. After a mistake, it’s how you handle it that separates the average officials from the great ones.

After you know you’ve made a mistake, think about the following things: Did your facial expression change from relaxed to tense? Did your body language suggest change from fluid to rigid? Are you quicker to respond harshly to normally innocuous comments? Did you flat-out miss the next call too because you were still thinking about the last one?

All those visible signs show you’ve mentally taken yourself out of the game because of one missed call. That negative cycle has a snowball effect. One bad call can lead to another – and another – if you’re unable to let it go.

Remember your mistake enough to not make the same mistake twice in that game. Let it go enough to get through the game. Revisit the mistake after the game and examine why it happened and how it can be prevented in the future.

"Silence can never be misquoted."

That phrase seemingly has been around forever. In its simplest form it means, "Keep your mouth shut."

Many crucial errors have nothing to do with judgment calls or rules. They have to do with how we handle people. Communicate effectively and you’re a perceived good official. On the other hand you can know the rules inside and out, have the most, crisp signals and always be in the right spot, but if your mouth is in overdrive, you’re likely to fail.

We’re constantly being verbally challenged. Our first step is to determine if a comment needs a response. Many comments from coaches and players do not even need a response. Don’t get into a running dialogue. If a question needs to be answered, answer it briefly. If a bad comment needs to be dealt with, address the offender professionally.

Don’t let your mouth end your career. Don’t think that can happen? Ask the ref how he likes sitting at home on game days after he swore at a coach and player.

"Never forget where you came from. You’re going to see the same people on the way down as you saw on the way up."

The words "climbing the ladder" are often used in officiating. It’s ironic that when we use those words, we’re always thinking of climbing up the ladder. Climbing down is rarely considered.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to have risen to a high level of officiating – or aspire to get there – don’t forget about all the people who helped you get there. No one can make it on their own in officiating. Someone along the way gave you good advice, opened a door for you and gave you a chance to succeed.

If you’ve climbed, you’re going to come down. Even the best aren’t the best forever. Enjoy it while you can, but better yet, enjoy the journey. Learn something from everyone you meet at every level. Take the time to give back to officiating by helping someone else. This can be a lonely business if you get a selfish reputation. The most successful officials breed success in other officials. Become a "great wise man" in officiating and help the "eager, hungry warriors." You and officiating will be better for it.

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