Officials learn ‘Golden Rules’

As schools begin to open their doors for the 2018-19 session, sports officials from all corners of the state have spent the last week preparing for their roles as facilitators of the games and stewards of the rules.

I spent three days with 1,445 of them last week at the Louisiana High School Sports Officials Association’s Louisiana Day Officiate at the Downtown Marriott in another attempt to expand my knowledge of the intricacies of the rules. 

The first fall sports include cross country, volleyball and football. I think I have volleyball rules down pat, and cross country rules are … well, does that sport have any rules other than no taking shortcuts through the woods?

So I spent most of my first few days listening to speakers who were high school, college and NFL officials, because football rules are the most complicated of all, and made more complex by subtle rule changes that occur each year.

Coaches should really try to stay awake at the rules meeting this year. It will take place on Aug. 15 in the East Jefferson High auditorium at 7 p.m.

I had a preview of the changes at the officiate. Nothing drastic, but certainly some things will occur to draw the ire of coaches who cannot be expected to know all the rules as well as the officials.

And that brings me to the officials’ code of conduct when dealing with coaches and spectators. I read  through one at a Saturday breakout session.

23 most powerful lessons

World War I German flyer ace Oswald Boelcke wrote down his rules of engagement in his Dicta Boelcke, a set of rules for successful and survivable aerial fighter tactics. It still serves military pilots well today.

As stated by its author, national Association of Sports Officials President Barry Mano, officiating is not an easy assignment. And from listening to the best officials with the most to teach, he put his pen to 23 most powerful lessons to become a better official and leader.

This is his Dicta Mano:

1. For all but a few, officiating is an avocation.

Keep your personal life, your professional life and your officiating in balance.

2. This “business” is seldom fair. 

Work on the things you can control. Gracefully, accept the rest.

3. Officiating demands a high ethical standard. 

Your actions must be above reproach. Don’t give a reason to have your motives questioned.

4. Each assignment you work is an audition. 

Look the part – dress, demeanor, discipline. You are the medium. The medium is the message.

5. Impersonations don’t work. 

You referee who you are.

6. What’s expected is facilitation. 

Players play. You give permission. Nobody has ever paid to watch an official perform. Stay off the stage center. Orchestrate.

7. Eighty percent of the job is managing people. 

Being superior at the remaining 20 percent won’t cut it. Learning the art of influencing people and the science of its application.

8. Criticism comes with the territory. 

Plan on it. You have to learn to love it when people boo!

9. The hallmark of great officiating is not neutrality. 

Each word and deed must reinforce your impartiality.

10. Participant safety is a primary responsibility. 

Your game decisions should err on the side of safety. Always!

11. The rules are the foundation of the game. 

Acquire a reverence for the rules and be guided and inspired by it.

12. There are rules and then the spirit of those rules.

Enforcing the “spirit of the rule” is possible when you use good common sense.

13. A solid pregame conference matters a lot. 

Take the lead! Make yours timely, tactical and tactful.

14. There’s no score at the start of the game. 

Start each game without bias. A memory will dig you a hole faster than a shovel.

15. Bad body language will silence good words. 

Learn how to deliver the message, especially when people won’t like what you have to say!

16. I heard you twice the first time. 

Be clear, concise and coherent. Minimize the chance of misinterpretation.

17. It takes extraordinary restraint to get the job done. 

Use your emotions and your focus to bring calm to the chaos.

18. Don’t call ’em the way you see ’em. Call ’em the way they are! 

What you “see” might in fact be at odds with what actually happened. Describe with care.

19. Mistakes are made and we make them every game. 

If you make one, make it for the right reason. If you clearly have made one, own up!

20. A wrong call will get lots more attention than a right one.

You won’t be paid a premium for making the best call of your career, but you will be long remembered for a wrong one.

21. Timing and action: Do what when?

Wrong action at the wrong time = DISASTER.

Wrong action at the right time = MISTAKE.

Right action at the wrong time = RESISTANCE.

Right action at the right time = SUCCESS.

22. Pour no gasoline.

You are prohibited from making things worse! 

23. It takes a support team to reach the higher elevations.

Remember where you came from and who blazed the trail for you.

Reggie Smith, an official with the Big 12 Conference, told the attending officials they should answer coaches’ questions in a neutral tone and not be defensive. 

“Answer questions with  rules citations and use a calm tone without getting excited,” he said. “And most importantly leave your egos at the door.”

The art of communication with coaches and captains is paramount, especially for the guys wearing the white caps (referees). Three things of which to take note:

“Communicate with your crew during the week of the game; address players as people; and get the proper information from fellow officials before communicating with coaches and captains. And if you’re wrong, admit to it,” Smith said. 

But his best advice comes in the post-season, “Put the rule book away in December and decompress.”

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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