It seems no matter how long a person has been officiating, and regardless of the sports they work, any official can fall into situations in which his or her judgment or ability is questioned.
Often those situations are a direct result of officiating errors that are all too common, and can certainly be avoided under most circumstances with just a little bit of preparation. Look at the following errors, see if you are prone to any of them and then check their solutions to help you improve.
Error: Anticipating the play too much. You're working your umpteenth game of the year, when a seemingly routine play develops. You've seen the play dozens of times, so you turn your head or orient your body away from the action for a moment, to get a jump on where you know the play is going. The trouble is, the players move in the opposite direction, and you have no clue what happened. Solution: Never anticipate a play to the degree that you turn your attention away from the action.
Error: Anticipating the call. The evil cousin of the previous error, anticipating the call never seems to work. Thinking, "Oh, the runner will never break that tackle. Time to blow the whistle," will cause you to miss more calls than a broken answering machine. Solution: Never anticipate the outcome of a play. Let the players determine what the call is to be.
Error: Being out of position. Most coaches can handle a call that happens to go against their team if the official was hustling and in position to make the call. But if you're getting tired and a little lazy, or worse yet, careless, and miss a call, expect to get roasted. Solution: Hustle. You're being paid for a full game - so give it. You've heard it 100 times: The game you're working is the most important game in the country that day to the participants. Treat it that way by hustling from start to finish.
Error: Letting your concentration wander. Your concentration is off because you fought with your spouse, you've got to catch a plane first thing tomorrow morning or your boss gave you more work. Next thing you know, you've missed a play or a call. Nothing will cause a bad game more often than a simple lack of concentration. Solution: Every play, every moment, keep your mind on your business. The players and coaches deserve your attention during the contest, so give it to them.
Error: Being a "hard guy." Those are the officials who always seem to have a chip on their shoulders. Nothing they do can be questioned. Any comments are met with a hand so firm you could hammer nails with it. Those officials are tough to work with and tougher to play under. Solution: If you are a hard guy, lighten up! True control of a game comes with respect of and from all involved. Respect is earned from being fair, approachable and competent. If you're having trouble controlling games, work on these things.
Error: Not knowing the rules thoroughly. There isn't anything much worse than officials who don't know the rules the way they should. Credibility begins and ends there. Solution: Make rules study a part of your regular routine both in and out of season. Get with some friends and quiz each other, or discuss scenarios. Develop the muscle between your ears, and you'll be able to carry a game with it more often than not.
This column originally appeared in Youth Football 2007-08, published by Referee magazine, the National Association of Sports Officials and USA Football.