Practice, Practice, Practice

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. 

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