By Jeffrey Stern
Keep someone interested in officiating for five years, the saying goes, and they will be an official for life. Half the battle for local associations is getting fresh faces on the roster. The other half is getting them to stick around.
When newer officials decide they’ve had enough, it may well be for good reasons: change in job or family responsibilities; harassment from coaches, players, parents and spectators; or they simply found that officiating wasn’t their cup of tea. If so, there is not much an association can do to make them stick around. But if the root cause is lack of proper training, shame on you.
An association’s main goal is (or should be) giving every member the tools they need to succeed. But the less experienced types need more attention than the veterans.
Many associations recognize that and offer additional meeting time for the newer officials. That may come in the form of training sessions conducted in the weeks before the general meetings begin, beginner’s only time before the regular meetings or a daylong camp.
Mentoring programs are becoming more and more popular. The mentoring can take the form of assigning veteran officials with the newer ones to work games together. A good working relationship among crewmates is important in any circumstance; it’s vital when a newcomer is placed on a veteran crew (as in football) or when a longtime official and a novice are paired as equals (as in basketball, softball, soccer or baseball).
Another mentoring method is having the veteran watch the newer official work. A varsity basketball official scheduled for an 8 p.m. game can get to the game site early enough to see some of the junior varsity game when the younger officials are working. When they come in the locker room at halftime, the veterans can encourage them to stick around and watch some of the varsity game. At the end of the evening, the newer officials can be invited to go for some refreshments. There, in a more casual venue, the veteran can mention the things the novices did well. If they seem receptive, the vets can offer suggestions. Nothing helps a young official’s confidence like being noticed by a veteran.
Retired officials can be a huge help. Having them observe the newer officials not only serves as training but has the dual effect of making the retired feel vibrant and needed. Great minds, as they say, are a terrible thing to waste. If your budget allows, toss the observer a few bucks for gas or expenses or invite them to the postseason banquet. A little attention goes a long way for both sides in that equation.
An often-overlooked aspect of dealing with less experienced officials is having individual veterans make newcomers feel comfortable by introducing themselves before or after meetings. That sort of one-on-one interaction allows the newer official to ask questions they are too skittish to ask during the regular meeting. Even though we all know the only dumb question is the one that goes unasked, officials are often afraid a question they ask is so elementary that the veterans in the group will sigh or, worse, laugh at them.
Training can help combat the bad experiences of the first-year or less-experienced official.
Sometimes an assigner or an association can make an agreement with the local CYO, Little League, YMCA or other community organization to provide opportunities for new officials to come in and work their games. Or it may be as simple as giving the recreation director at the local community center a list of numbers to call. Either way it gives new officials a chance to get their feet wet in situations that are less stressful than a high school gym with a horde of screaming fans.
In addition to on-site training opportunities, many groups utilize video training for newer officials. Seeing is believing, of course. The key is to engage your new members. By the end of the meetings, you want them asking for more. And by the end of the season, you want them to be ready to come back for more.
Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor.