Excerpts from Work the System

I strongly encourage newer officials to embrace the role of video review in their approach to our avocation.


Excerpted from Referee Magazine, November 2015.

By Dave Simon

Though luck still plays a part in moving into the college ranks of officiating or the professional level, the journey is more systematic today, with officials being seen, plays being captured and shared by video and groups of young officials using the Internet to get together, discuss and debate how to get ruling correct on a consistent basis. It’s giving more officials and opportunity to be “seen” and it’s improving officiating overall, throughout every sport, as successful practices spread to broader officiating circles

Talk to high-level college and professional assignors, supervisors and observers of officiating and you get a sense of how much the process of improving play-calling has changed in the last decade, and how quickly it has changed.  In particular, the past five years have seen an emergence across all sport of younger, tech-savvy officials.  They want to get plays right, and are using video, chatting with others online, sharing content to learn and grow.  Their influx influences supervisors, as video takes a bitter seat at the table in teaching officials.  At the end of the road, the pros and Division 1 conferences are looking to harvest those officials and the talents they bring to the game.

In the old days (take your pick: 15-40 years ago), “you found good ol’ boys locally and if you were blessed, and catered to them, they would open doors for you,” said Rich Fetchiet, who assigns for eight D1 conferences.  “you also had to endear yourself to coaches because assignments were often made school by school at the HS and even college level.”  The influence of coaches in assignments is now only a partial part of the equation in hiring, with formal observations taking a front and center role, driven by video, says Fetchiet.

Steve Shaw, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) coordinator of football officials, agreed that the systematic nature of moving officials up has successfully replaced mentoring and learning tricks of the trade bit by bit.  “Film and review capability have changed the game forever.  In the old days we were lucky to get our hands on film,” he observed.

Video has become central for college football supervisors to give feedback, focus on plays, promote better officials and ensure consistency of calls,” Shaw said. “because single plays can e reviewed, it allows officials to look at specific plays.  It’s not generic.  Looking at individual plays is the absolute best way to get better.”   The SEC uses HUDL, as do many other D1 conferences.  Officials are given a grade for every play in the game.

Shaw too, said he sees the “video junkies” sharing and learning together, a new breed of official who use video to improve rapidly.  “With one click they can send to a buddy or an officiating group,” he said. “The young up-and-comers are film junkies, and I mean that in a positive way.  It’s one thing we didn’t have when I was coming up.”

Video, training and young techies are changing how officials advance in the chosen sports more than the buddy-buddy system of the past

Young and Tech Savvy

Ed Rush said he sees a new group of young, savvy motivated groups of officials attuned with technology and using it to teach and find what “right” looks like in terms of a ruling, position or method for dealing with an on-court situation.
Those officials have a “retrieval and review mindset,” and “get it early, so they are rapid learners,” he added. Those officials use video for review. In contrast, assignors aren’t generally attuned to that yet, so they are learning to a certain extent from those younger officials, according to Rush.

That “review and retrieval” process looks into non-verbal cues once it’s clear an official has demonstrated enthusiasm, looks the part, is fit, athletic and believable, according to Rush.  Years earlier, finding those officials was more “hit or miss. Now the officials themselves have a plan, a success pattern.  They know what success looks like,” he said.

“There’s an influx of very talented, motivated people into college and professional basketball officiating.  We’re seeing the harvest of those officials now,” he said.

Rush credited John Adams with providing the impetus for that mindset by putting together a great website for plays at the NCAA level while Adams served as the NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating.  Games were graded for the NCAA tournament and officials were provided feedback.

“you must have measurement to develop,” Rush said.  “Adams graded the tourney games from the time he came in.  I hope the NCAA continues to follow through on this.”

The tech savvy mentality is also part of a “teaching spirit mentality of lesser experienced officials by talented officials,” Rush said. Those “teachers” are actually ahead of some supervisors in terms of helping others. “The officials who listen to high-level teachers like Scott Foster, Monty McCutchen and Joe Crawford in the NBA,” are the ones who learn more quickly, Rush added.

“Because of the dramatic growth of these leaders, there is a changing of the guard,” he said.  “Newer officials are tech savvy and know what to do with it.  Video helps validate your play-calling.”

Pace of Change Accelerates

The pace of change in officiating accelerates.  One improvement comes about because a new mechanic is adopted.  A better way to handle conflict arises because of video sharing, and coaches adapt to that, teach new methods to their players and officials must react to how the coaches have responded.  New ideas are introduced more quickly and standardized mechanics and game management skills have to be shared across the country to ensure consistency.  The pace is a challenge for supervisors.

After four season in his coordinator position, Shaw said his job has changed dramatically.  In particular, he sees social media, the use of command centers and the pace of the college football game itself changing quickly and necessitating that officials adapt.

“My job is changing every day. We must have solutions now, and better answers down the road.  You can’t just find a buddy anymore.  You have to use video, go to websites.  Mentorship is still important, and the things that worked years ago still work, but officials must add technology on top of that to keep improving,” Shaw said.

“The bottom line is that an official is making a presentation.  You have to work to be your best.  The climate is changing.  To improve, you have to get a better feel and understanding of the game,” Rush said.

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Great Series on Footwork

Put together by Tyson Weems, this series is approximately 30 minutes in length. Required viewing for officials!

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Five Minutes on Officiating 2015 #03 No More Missed Rotations

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Five Minutes on Officiating 2015 #02 Team Control

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Five Minutes on Officiating 2015 #01

2015-16 brings new free throw restrictions and penalties.  It’s a good time to look at our mechanics going into the season and make sure we will have the best look to get the call right!

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Newbie Series — Another video on the basics

I put a lot of heart and soul into this one. My editing skills are improving, though obviously still rudimentary.  My hope is that some day some referee says, “Dude, I learned so much when I was just getting started by watching your videos!”

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Another Installment in the Newbie Series!

2-person mechanics: switching.  “What time is it kids? It’s time to switch!”

The production value is getting better, but they are taking longer to crank out as a result! Feedback appreciated!

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You Make the Call #09

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It Only Takes 25 Minutes

It Only Takes 25 Minutes.   I wish I could keep it down to 25 minutes myself. It’s a pretty all consuming avocation for me!  Good Read and Follow!

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Great article by Dave Libbey.

Check details at the bottom to sign up for Summer camp. SF Bay Area.

Seven Qualities of a Great Sports Official

By Dave Libbey 

Sports officials, like any other vocation or avocation, come in many different packages. Some “get by”; some are “good”; a select few can be considered “great” in their field.

During my 35 years of officiating I’ve worked and talked with colleagues who fit into each of those categories. I’ve seen and learned from many I consider great sports officials. They shared common traits which ultimately set them apart from the rest. I’d like to try to explain these qualities.

INTEGRITY. A great sports official is the last guardian of honesty in athletics. He must maintain a complete absence of bias. We can read almost daily of coaches, players and boosters engaging in illegal activities. Referees and umpires are rarely accused of any kind of dishonest or deceitful conduct. An official holds a position in the world of sports not unlike a judge in a court of law. If you aspire to be a great official, you must never put yourself in a position where your integrity could be questioned. Simple advice: If there is any possibility of a conflict of interest, don’t work the game.

HUSTLE. Since officiating is a game of angles and positioning, officiating hustle describes movement and court position. There is no connection to speed and meaningless motion. Every great official moves efficiently to be in the right place at the right time. It’s the only way to see the entire play and make the correct call.

JUDGMENT. Great judgment is a byproduct of effort and experience. It goes beyond the rulebook and includes an almost instinctive ability to apply the critical principal of “advantage/disadvantage.” When you see a play, in virtually every circumstance, if there is no advantage gained and if no player has been put at a disadvantage there should be no call. Simply put: No harm, no foul.

COMMUNICATION. Basically, communication means, “Can you deal with people?” Can you deal with coaches and players during the game? Communication can be accomplished in many ways and in most cases the situation will dictate your appropriate response. Sometimes a simple response to the question, a one word answer or a look can communicate what is needed at a particular time. Saying the right thing to the right person at the right time can help one avoid potential problems in a game. Communication is also the knowledge of when it’s best not to say anything.

CONSISTENCY. Young officials have more difficulty with consistency than any other quality, mainly because they lack the experience to realize when their decisions are inconsistent. Everyone has some difficulty in this regard, but the great officials are unrelenting in their judgment. They see and call a game better than their colleagues. The key is to make the same call on the same kind of play whether it’s the first minute of the game or the score is tied with one minute left to play. If they believe an official is consistent, coaches and players will adjust accordingly. Inconsistent decisions on similar plays trigger negative behavior and poor sportsmanship among players, and invite criticism from coaches.

COURAGE. Regardless of the situation, personalities involved, pressures from the crowd or possible repercussions, great officials place fairness above all other concerns. They act courageously and according to the dictates of that value.

COMMON SENSE. I’ve saved the best for last. Of the qualities discussed, common sense is the most important. That which is fair and right must take precedence throughout each game. Common sense ensures that fairness, understanding, and the best interests of the game are foremost in the mind of a great official. If you truly understand the spirit and intent of the rules, common sense will guide you well.

Plenty of game situations develop that are not specifically covered by rules or mechanics. That’s when common sense must take over. What is fair or what is right is what should be done. Common sense goes hand in hand with communication and dealing with coaches and players. It helps determine how to handle a tough situation and whether a technical foul should or should not be called.

In a sense, all the things you’ve just read are no more than my opinions about the key elements that make a great sports official. There are plenty of other basic requirements that cannot be overlooked such as physical appearance, knowledge of the rules, mechanics, reliability, and professionalism. However, the seven qualities above are those which I feel set great sports officials apart from the rest.

I wonder: How many of the seven are part of your personality?

Work hard and be a lead… 

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