By Carl Smith
Officiating is a tough gig, and it’s not for everyone. It’s also an avocation that doesn’t necessarily “reproduce” new officials. For a variety of reasons, most unfounded, some veteran officials may not be receptive to “rookies” breaking into the ranks and taking what the established officials perceive they are entitled. I can only speak about my association and community, but from what I’ve observed and what I’ve heard, new officials aren’t breaking down the doors to get into the game, and the majority of the ones that show up are really “green” and will require a lot of work before they are ready to take over any games that veterans would work. The new officials signing up that are talented and advance quickly are still few and far between, and lack the game management experience that only comes with time.
So how do we get new and hopefully young people to sign up to become officials? What kind of draw can we provide that will override the “fear factor” that comes from fans yelling, coaches barking and players whining? What sane person would want to endure that intentionally? The recruitment motto should be “Whatever It Takes.” Pay, training, support, camaraderie, social interaction, etc., are all tidbits to use in talking to new prospects. Let’s get to the real meat of this subject though: How do we promote officiating where we live, and more importantly, where we need it to grow?
Here are a few suggestions to promote your association and officiating in general.
Have a brochure printed up with your association information and distribute it wherever you get the chance. Detail your upcoming meeting and training schedule. Some local venues may be: YMCA, military field houses or gyms, colleges and high schools, and community centers.
If you have a website, keep it updated with sign up information, meeting and training dates, training documents, board officer contact information, game fees, etc. Association websites should be an official’s first stop for information, whether they’re in year one or 20.
3. Social media
This seems to be the current wave for disseminating information. Be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever, social media pages are great ways of reaching people with information about your association. Most of them are free, require very little time or technical expertise to keep up, and are great ways to “socialize” your group. Post pictures and newsworthy information about your officials, banquet date, and maybe a rule of the week or discussion topic of the week. This is also a great way for officials statewide to keep up with your association.
4. Offseason team camps
Almost every sport has an offseason team camp, whether it’s featuring skills competitions, actual court or field time, or both. Make sure your association has a qualified representative there to answer rule questions, and maybe offer to give a short talk on new rules and mechanics, positive ways to interact with officials, and opportunities for young people in officiating. The team camps we were involved in this summer were at the local university, so we were also able to interact with the college-age athletes and young parents, as well as the high school students. Our association provides officials for youth, junior high and high school, as well as adult recreational leagues, so we have spots for officials of all ages. We also have a very active YMCA youth program locally, so young officials can continue their training in an age- and level-appropriate setting.
5. Job fairs
Many young people are looking for a part-time job, or any job. Most of them haven’t given any serious thought to becoming officials. Job fairs are great places to mingle, and give people an idea of what their earning potential can be as a sports official.
6. Interact during the season
I left this for last because I believe it can have the most direct impact on your association’s growth, either positive or negative. Officials should always be approachable, positive and professional. We are there to enforce the rules and ensure fair play by the athletes and coaches involved. We shouldn’t be there to be a dictator, and we most certainly shouldn’t be there to be “the show.” It’s not about us. The sooner an official can break out of that attitude, the faster they’ll progress and the more appealing they will make the avocation.
One of the greatest compliments an official can receive is when an adult comes up to them and positively remembers them working their games when they were in school. Another one is when an athlete from the losing team comes up and still tells the crew they appreciate the hard work during their contest. How you respond to comments from coaches, players and fans is how you will be remembered. Was I positive and approachable, or was I negative and stubborn?
Some officials never want to be told they’re wrong, because in their mind, they never are. Logic will tell you that it’s not possible for that to be true. To be a good official, you have to be able to self-critique yourself, and learn from it. Being approachable doesn’t mean you let coaches, players or fans exhibit abusive or disruptive behavior. You still have to enforce the rules and take care of business. The difference is not making it personal. In every game, work hard, have fun, learn stuff. Repeat in the next game. It’s a successful way to become a better official.
The bottom line is that we need to do anything and everything we can to get people into our associations. You get good, medium and often even some poor candidates. Remember they are all people, give them all the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of your expertise, and give them an honest effort. Some will figure out themselves that officiating isn’t for them. Others may have to be shown that. You just need to make sure that they don’t leave feeling like your association didn’t give them a real chance to become an official. As in officiating, be approachable, stay positive and stay professional.
Carl Smith, Anchorage, Alaska, is the treasurer and assigner for the Anchorage Sports Officials Association.