You can count on me!

by Dick Honig

A few years back I was flying to Europe, to give a clinic to the European American Football Officials Association - a group of Europeans officiating American football in Europe (a number of which are now working for NFL Europe). At any rate, I was thinking, "What could I tell them that would help make them successful officials?" I asked myself, "What would I like in a member of my crew? What makes one man a better member of a crew then another?"

I have always felt that a crew was like a wheel with spokes. You may have 4, 5, 6, or 7 spokes in your wheel depending on how many officials your league uses for games, but no matter how many spokes - all must work together for the wheel to run smoothly. When there is one or more bad spokes, the wheel will wobble - and your crew will be in trouble.

The 12 items below will help keep your wheel or your crew rolling smoothly:

1) TO HAVE STUDIED THE RULES - there is no substitute for rules knowledge. I do not want you to be a rulebook official but I want an official that knows the rules well enough to use them, along with common sense, to run a game that is good for both player and spectator.

2) TO HAVE ATTENDED WEEKLY OR MONTLHY MEETINGS OR CLINICS TO GET BETTER - to be better versed in both the rules and the mechanics of the game, there is no substitute for interaction among fellow officials. I have learned more things about football going to clinics and association meetings - listening to the situations that other officials have been in, listening to their ideas on mechanics, and discussing an interpretation of a ruIe. Clinics and association meetings are also an avenue for advancement in officiating. Clinics and meetings are usually run by the more advanced officials. Probably the toughest part of advancing is getting the opportunity to show you are good enough to advance. By being active in clinics and meetings, when the day comes that someone is looking for an official to be on their college crew - they just might look at you because you have shown a willingness to do the things necessary to be better.

3) TO BE IN SHAPE TO OFFICIATE AN ENTIRE GAME - the day of the fat official is history. Big is OK - fat is not. Supervisors are looking at image as well as talent and a person that is out of shape does not put forth the best image. There is no substitute for a good diet and exercise.

4) TO HAVE A UNIFORM THAT IS NEAT AND CLEAN - AS TO PRESENT MYSELF IN PROFESSIONAL MANNER - this goes with #3 - how you look is how you are perceived. If your uniform is not clean or it is wrinkled you are generally perceived as a person that does not care and/or a person that is unprepared. The person that has a uniform that fits him or her properly, looks neat and is reasonably trim in build is perceived as "professional and prepared". You have a better chance at being accepted by the coaches when you look good. It is often said that looking the part is at least half of the battle to success.

5) TO ARRIVE AT THE GAME SITE OR TRAVEL MEETING SITE AT THE DESIGNATED TIME - each of us in our own way gets prepared to officiate a game. When you are traveling to a game or you want to start a pre-game and someone is not there at the designated time, it does not just disrupt the person that is late, but it disrupts everyone involved. When you have to drive some distance to a game it is in your best interest to get there early and have at least an hour to relax before you go on the field. This hour or more will allow you to get out of the "driving mode" and into the officiating mode". When you rush to the game, rush to get onto the field and don't have this time, you never successfully make the transition in modes.

6) TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PRE-GAME CONFERENCE - you get out of a pre-game conference directly in proportion to what you contribute. This not a referee lecture session - it's a time when you are trying to get all those spokes functioning as a wheel. A pre-game should not be longer than an hour and fifteen minutes. If you are an official that thinks that the pre-game conference will get you ready to officiate, your crew is in trouble. In addition to the pre-game, each official must know what is needed to get themselves ready to officiate that game.

7) TO COOPERATE WITHIN THE CREW CONCEPT - as I have stated above, the crew is only as strong as its weakest member. When one of your members is in trouble the crew needs to be prepared to bail him or her out. When the game starts you live as a crew, you die as a crew! If a member of your crew has a problem and no other member comes to help the comments after the game will be "that was a lousy crew."

8) TO COMMUNICACATE - there is no substitute for communications, both within your crew and with the coaches. Interpersonal relationships are extremely important in the success of a crew especially in dealing with players and coaches. The most successful officials have the ability to handle coaches - to sooth them, not excite them in difficult situations. The great officials are great "people persons"!

9) TO BE UNAFRAID TO QUESTION THE ACTIONS OF A FELLOW OFFICIAL WHEN YOU THINK HE OR SHE MAY HAVE MADE AN ERROR - it's tough to correct something that has been done in error especially when it means making one of your crew look bad, but for the good of the crew it must be done. It is often said "it is better to look bad getting it than looking good and getting it wrong". Our ultimate goal is to get the play right.

10) TO BE ABLE TO ACCEPT INFORMATION FROM A FELLOW OFFICIAL AND ADMIT THAT YOU ARE WRONG - this goes with #8. You must be strong enough to admit that you could have made a mistake. You must be able to listen to what a partner has to tell you before you make the final decision. You cannot be defensive! It takes a strong constitution to be able to admit a mistake.

11) TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO STICK BY YOUR DECISION - EVEN WHEN A FELLOW OFFICIAL THINKS THAT YOU ARE WRONG - right in line with #8 and #9, you have to have the self-confidence (after listening to your partners question your decision) in your ability to stick with your decision. This cannot be blind self-confidence, but self-confidence based on what you have heard and what you have perceived in originally ruling on the play.

12) TO BE ABLE TO ACCEPT CRITICISM FROM FELLOW OFFICIALS, OBSERVERS, AND/OR SUPERVISORS - the poor official always has a reason or excuse as to why he or she did or did not do something. It is never fully his or her fault. When someone has a suggestion or comment about your officiating listen to what is being said, evaluate it's validity, and then use it or ignore it. Do what your supervisor wants you to do! When in Rome- do as the Romans do - your supervisor is Rome.

I hope that something here will help lead you to a successful officiating career. Best of luck to all of you.