Every official knows the importance of the rules of the game. Regardless of sport, there are some unwritten rules you should follow as well.
1. When you “think” you saw something, YOU DIDN’T.
There are times you will be focused on action in your coverage area but something on the farthest edge of your peripheral vision will draw your attention. “Gee whiz,” you’ll say to yourself. “That looked like a foul, but I didn’t see the whole thing. My gut says it was a foul. Better safe than sorry. I’m gonna call it.”
Missing a call is never a positive thing. But most assigners, coordinators and observers will tell you that
failing to call something that did occur is more acceptable than calling something you aren’t absolutely positive happened
Gut feeling is a valuable officiating tool. Many times your instincts will guide you in the right direction. But your eyes trump all. See what you call and call only what you see. Period.
2. The CAPTAIN is not always the team leader.
For whatever reason, the so-called team leader or “captain” can sometimes be anything but a player that will help you to defuse a situation and respond positively with other players during a game. That player can often be the one causing problems for you and others.
When that’s the case, make every effort to demote that captain. Tell the coach that you need another player to serve as captain because the current captain isn’t doing his or her job. Or tell the captain that he or she will no longer be serving as the leader for his or her team for that game because of his or her actions.
Just because a player attends a captains’ meeting before the game doesn’t mean that he or she will be the player with the best sportsmanship.
3. Keep the game MOVING.
There are few officials who want to be on the field or court for a really long game.
However, there are some games that are just going to be longer than others. That football game that features two teams that throw the ball on every down and have porous defenses can result in a 63-60 shootout that legitimately takes every bit of three hours to finish.
What is not acceptable is for officials to be the cause of a game going long. Do everything possible to make a dead ball live again or to get the clock running as soon as possible.
That doesn’t mean neglecting important duties or rushing teams. It does mean being efficient with recording substitutions or enforcing penalties, hustling to your next position and getting the next play started or the next pitch thrown.
4. Provide COURTESY to players when it’s needed.
While an official should strive to keep the game moving, there are times when you need to it slow down. A baseball or softball catcher works extremely hard during a game and that hard work generally keeps you from getting hit.
So when you see him or her get hit and in pain (but not enough to bring out the certified athletic trainer), take some extra time — dust off a clean plate or walk the ball out to the pitcher.
Buy that catcher a few minutes and, in turn, he or she will probably appreciate it and work even harder for you the rest of the game.
The same thing can sometimes apply to other sports when tensions get high. Take a moment to put the ball in play and use that time to give a friendly reminder as opposed to a premature penalty. When you feel the situation has had a moment to calm down, blow the whistle and get the game moving.
5. Give a LONGER LEASH to those in charge.
Maybe more important is the flip side of this rule: Those who aren’t in charge don’t get a long leash. Yes, you should listen to head coaches and managers who give their thoughts to you about a call or situation — as long as they don’t cross the line. Communication, including listening to perceived grievances, is part of game management.
But assistant coaches, players and other bench personnel should not be given the same patience or privilege. Unsportsmanlike talk and actions by those individuals need to be addressed right away. If warranted, you can give head coaches a chance to take care of other game participants. But if they don’t take care of business, you need to step up and penalize appropriately.
There has to be some form of hierarchy of tolerance. And head coaches are at the top. Use preventive officiating whenever you can and tolerate a bit more from them. Work with them until their behavior becomes a distraction.
6. Give the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT to those who have earned respect.
There will be times — probably in every game — when you get questioned on a decision you made or a penalty you called. How you respond to that question should be determined in part by how you are asked.
Think about the ranting, raving head coach. Anything that doesn’t go exactly how he or she wants, and the blame is pointed toward you or your crewmates. You are to blame for his or her team’s woes. Now think about the coach who worries about his or her team throughout the game but doesn’t get upset at you when penalties are reported. Instead, that coach focuses on “coaching” his or her players.
In a tight moment, both coaches question a call. The coach who doesn’t go ballistic on every call deserves a more thorough response than the lunatic. It is as simple as that.
Because it is so out of character for that calmer head coach to question a call, maybe he or she saw something that didn’t make sense or was done wrong by the rule. Taking the time to acknowledge the concern or clarify a ruling is time well-spent. The ranter may have seen the same thing, but doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt since that coach has been on your case about everything.
7. Look COACHES in the eye.
Police will tell you that suspects who lower or turn their heads when providing alibis are withholding information. It is difficult to obfuscate when you are looking someone right in the eye.
Whether you are introducing yourself to the coach before the game or answering his or her question during the course of play, communication should be done face to face and straight on. Even if you are delivering bad news, you will have more credibility and gain more respect by looking the coach in the eye.
Understand that advice applies only when the ball is dead, such as during a timeout or other intermission. If you need to communicate with the coach during play, keep your eyes on the action and wait for action to cease.
8. WHEN IN DOUBT, do what is expected.
An official takes on the task of applying mainly descriptive rules to fluid situations, but there are times in games when that official may not be immediately certain what action to take after observing a play or an incident. Rulebooks will spell out the intent and guiding principles of the rules and the better officials figure out how to apply them equitably, in context. But there are times when an official faces doubt at the moment he or she is expected to make a call or no-call. When that happens, it’s best to do what is expected.
Does it appear that a player sustained a possible concussion even though he or she does not have a loss of consciousness after a play? If there is any doubt, it is best to take that player out of the game to get checked. Should a baseball or softball umpire call a borderline pitch a ball or strike? It is expected that the umpire follow through by calling that pitch a strike. A basketball referee may have doubt when two players collide and go flying to the floor. Block or charge? Rule one or the other.
In any event, do not try to run away from the play or shrug your shoulders. You’ll lose credibility fast.
Officials will never be 100 percent sure of what they see 100 percent of the time. That’s not humanly possible. In those gray-area moments
when a call is necessary
, do what is expected and make the call or ruling with a clear conscience.