Industry leaders have been studying error prevention for decades. Workers the world over have been trained in using certain tools to ensure safety and quality. Those proven methods are just as useful on the field or court as they are in factories and businesses.
The actual words vary from business to business. They are sometimes called human performance tools or error prevention techniques. The key is to teach your association members the concepts, so they are part of their ritual to help prevent things from going wrong.
- Training and Qualifications
You have to be qualified to do the job before fixing a machine in a factory. It’s the same with officials. You can’t be qualified if you haven’t read the rulebook this year. Going to clinics helps you understand your job.
- Procedure Compliance
You can’t do your job right if you don’t follow the procedures (mechanics). That gets more important as more officials get involved, as learned with the growing popularity of three-person basketball crews. Study the mechanics book and keep up with changes in signals, no matter what sport you work. Use other resources too, like officiating publications and websites, to learn more “best practices” from our industry.
- Pre-Job Briefing
Utility line crews work on power lines every day and they still have a briefing before every job. The more complicated the job, the more in-depth the briefing. A good pregame prepares your mind. We had steady winds of 30-45 mph for a football playoff game this year, so we spent a lot of time anticipating odd things that might happen. When we work semi-pro with NFL rules, the pregame is much longer because we are less familiar with the rules. Baseball and softball umpires deal with this all the time as they move between various leagues with different rules and mechanics.
Did you read a good article? Bring it to your next game and share it. Is one of the crew weak on holding? Provide coaching on what you look for when you make the call. Go to the batting cage with the umpire struggling with the strike zone. We can spread the practice by accepting coaching from others with an open mind and eagerness to learn.
- Operating Experience
Telling war stories is more than just a fun way to relax after a game. We learn from mistakes and it’s less painful to learn from the mistakes of others. Use their bad (or good) operating experience as a learning opportunity to help your own performance. Participate in clinics, online forums and other venues where officials share their operating experience and you’ll be better prepared to get it right when those events pop up in your game.
That starts with packing for the game. Do you check, and re-check, to make sure you have everything? During the game, check yourself now and then. How is your position? Are you hustling? Are you fitting into the flow of the game? We hear read, pause, react in baseball and having a patient whistle in basketball. That extra half-second is the self-checking moment and can help prevent a bad call.
- Peer Checking
Seek out and be open to suggestions and feedback from others about your performance and don’t be shy about offering tips to others. Officials who are serious about their avocation want to know what their peers are seeing.
- STAR: Stop, Think, Act, Review
That is needed for all penalty enforcements. Stop the game, think about it and act by enforcing the penalty. All officials should then review what just happened to make sure that you “get it right.” It’s also needed during unusual and complicated situations.
- Stop When Unsure
If it doesn’t feel right, stop. As the teams were lining up for a play, one of the officials thought that something didn’t seem right. He should have stopped the game, but he didn’t, and he missed the call. Don’t let that be you.
- Questioning Attitude
If the experienced umpire says it’s a two-base award and you think he’s wrong, say something right away; don’t wait to ask about it after the game. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Here’s what I saw” if you think your basketball partner got an out-of-bounds call wrong because of a tipped ball in your area.
- Situational Awareness
Anticipating the play (not the call) helps you be prepared for whatever happens. A punt is one play that is going to mess up your football game; bad snap, blocked punt (can he kick again?), recovery by the kicking team behind the line (can they advance?), kick catching interference, muff/fumble, momentum exception. If a blocker is in pursuit mode (running after an opponent), there’s a good chance for a block in the back.
Also be aware of “error likely tasks.” These are things you don’t see very often: overtime or a fight, for example.
- Clear Communication
In a factory, a supervisor may say, “Turn off pump, Bravo.” The operator responds, “Turning off pump, Bravo,” and the supervisor replies with, “Correct.” That’s called three-way communication. Communication is critical in game management for any sport.
- Post-Job Critique
You’ve heard it before — you can’t get better without an honest appraisal of every game. Don’t forget to talk about things you did well, and use video review whenever you can.
Making those error prevention techniques a normal part of a business or your association members’ officiating doesn’t happen over night. Many officials are probably doing some of them, so encourage them to introduce the rest a couple at a time and work on using all the tools together. It won’t be long before error prevention becomes a normal part of their routine. And don’t be surprised when you find yourself using those tools as part of your everyday life.