The Right Evaluation System for Your Association

By Carl Smith

First off, let’s get one thing straight … there is no evaluation system that is the magical answer to “make” officials better. Officials have to want to improve. It’s our job as association members or officers to be ready to help those officials improve, by offering our experience. We need to maintain dialogue and feedback with those officials to determine their personal goals — both short term and long range. Those officials should be assured that we’re committed to making them the best official they’re capable of being, if they want to commit to the process. Lastly, evaluations and training go hand in hand. One is no good without the other. Information to the aspiring official needs to include the what, as well as the how.

There are several evaluation systems that our association has tried over its tenure. There are also different schools of thought on the pay/no-pay scenario.

Let’s take a quick look at some “tried and true” methods:

1. All senior officials need to give back to their sport, and that is a way for them to do that. They can offer their time to newer officials:

a. Observe and offer constructive criticism.
b. Work sub-varsity level games with them.
c. Offer an invitation to join in on their varsity pre game and ask questions or offer feedback of their own.

2. Board members should use their time to help all officials improve, whether by showing up early for their varsity games and observing the officials working the sub-varsity games, or by taking an “off” night to go out to games and observe officials. This involves doing some type of a write-up if it’s to be official, and some type of post game talk with the crew.

3. The use of youth leagues or developmental leagues to work new or newer officials in a “non threatening” environment, with a senior crew chief giving them immediate feedback on the floor. A trained observer can also be used in this approach to lend further creedence, or to add items the crew chief may have overlooked.

I agree with portions of all three of those approaches. The key to evaluations is finding out what works for your association, and what your officials will “buy into.” The only way your association will grow stronger, and encourage new people to start officiating, is if you demonstrate that you have solid training, evaluation and mentorship programs in place.

Let’s go a little further down this path. Last season, our local association tried a new approach to evaluations, and so far it seems to be well received by the floor officials. We still use segments of the other methods. We use senior officials or board members to disseminate information to the officials, and give them specifics to work on that apply to their game. A broad brush approach doesn’t work for all officials. We use paid clinicians for training, paid crew chiefs for the developmental leagues, etc. It wasn’t always this way for our group. You have to have a financially solvent association to be able to offer these services to your members. Your board and members have to be willing to participate, and help pay for the services. Producing the needed additional revenue could include increased membership dues, higher game fees to schools/leagues, sponsors, etc.

Last season, our association started paying to have some tournament games recorded. Video is not your friend, and it doesn’t lie. It is the best overall training tool. There was an AV company already recording for parents/fans at the tournaments, so we approached them about a bulk purchase for copies of all games for that tournament. Single game DVDs are usually available from most high school varsity programs, on request. We have obtained specific game tapes in the past, either in direct response to a complaint, or an official requesting a specific game, etc. We were also fortunate enough to have game DVDs provided from our local 4A Region tournament at the conclusion of this season. This is the highest varsity level our association officiates.

This season, our board approved the purchase of a 1 to 3 DVD duplicator. We now make copies of these game discs for all 3 officials. A master copy of the game disc is retained for a file copy.

Here’s where we’ve taken it a step further. A qualified observer is paid to view the game disc, and do an official evaluation for the officials working the game. Specifics are listed for each official to work on, with game time, game situations, and rulings highlighted. A file copy of this written evaluation is retained by the assigner. There is a stipend paid to this observer. It’s not a lot, but as with most progressive changes, you start small and branch out from there. You start with what you can afford this season, and progress as you can.

Not all games were “observed,” but we did at least get copies of all game tapes to the officials involved. If an official specifically asked for an evaluation, special effort was made to provide a write up along with the game DVD. Our local board feels strongly about the evaluation process. Each official should be evaluated as requested by the official, or if a senior official works with an “up and coming” official and passes on to the board that they need to be evaluated. We also believe that aspiring officials need to be evaluated at least three times, by different observers, over the course of a season or two, as time allows. It reinforces to the newer official that their association cares about their development, and is willing to spend the time and effort to help them improve.

If you don’t have a working evaluation system already in place, you need to get one. If you have a working one in your local association, maybe the methods shared will give you some ideas on how to improve it. Get it, develop it and use it; you won’t regret it.

Carl Smith, Anchorage, Alaska, is the treasurer and assigner for the Anchorage Sports Officials Association.