Lessons in leadership – an official’s perspective

Men and women of many backgrounds find their way to officiating through a variety of paths. For me, the journey began as a way to make friends. While I had some prior experience as a player, I knew basically nothing about officiating and did not know a single active official when I first started. I had no idea what I was getting into, nor how much I would grow to absolutely love this vocation.

In a few short years, I’ve progressed from ice hockey to lacrosse and then to soccer. I have worked games played by very small children, grown adults and many age groups in between. I have been encouraged, discouraged, cheered, booed, criticized, supported and evaluated time and again. I have failed time and again. I have made mistakes time and again. Things have happened that I was not prepared for, and in many cases I wish I had handled things differently than I did.

But all the while, I have persisted to get better, to learn more, to improve myself and to become better at what I do. Every official I have met along the way says the same thing – there is no such thing as working a perfect game, and in fact – if you think you have worked the perfect game, it is time to retire.

On the other hand, the men and women from whom I have learned the most share just the opposite – there is ALWAYS room for improvement. Better signals, better communication with players and coaches, better rules knowledge, better judgment and better conditioning. The life of an official is one of never-ending failure. And a never-ending journey of improvement. As with most things in life, those on the biggest stages are there because they have completed more repetitions than the others, and they have made more mistakes than the others.

This path that I have chosen has taught me so much about so many things in life:

  • I have learned how to communicate with people of many ages and stages of development.
  • I have learned the importance of being a good listener and to sympathize with people who have a different point of view.
  • I have learned to be acutely aware of situations as the game progresses and emotions change.
  • I have learned to be patient with others who are learning and making mistakes.
  • I have learned to recognize and appreciate those who are patient with me as I learn and make mistakes.
  • I have learned the importance of non-verbal communication and body language.
  • I have learned how to keep myself and others calm when tensions are high.
  • I have learned to balance my position of authority with the needs of the situation – often times realizing that “less is more”.
  • I have learned that admitting mistakes quickly and honestly is a great way to handle things that I’ve done wrong.
  • I have learned to be a team player with other officials as we work together to manage games and help one another.
  • I have learned the value in providing a level playing field and applying the rules of the game fairly and consistently.
  • I have learned the value in being a good mentee to those who are trying to teach.
  • I have learned the value of being a good mentor to those who are trying to learn.

In the end, I can say that taking on this role in my community is one of the best decisions I have made. I continue to make new friends and develop relationships with a great group of people. We take our work seriously and support each other within the games, but we also support one another within the realities of life that happens far away from the fields, rinks and courts.

In the end, becoming a sports official may not be for everyone, but I highly recommend giving it serious consideration. Officials have many different personalities and styles individually, but no matter what each brings to the field of play – there is much to be learned and a tremendous amount of personal growth awaiting anyone who is willing to give it a try.

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Posted in Leadership, Officiating.