The Science and Art of Officiating
Sports officiating is both a science and an art. It is a science
because officiating is based on a known body of skills and knowledge,
such as playing rules, positioning, mechanics, and procedures, all
of which are acquired by formal education and training programs.
Officiating, however, is also an art because much of the officiating
craft--perhaps even most of it--involves nuances and subtleties in
applying those skills that become unique to each official, much as
individual painters or sculptors interpret the same subject differently,
even though they may have had comparable training. In hockey officiating,
as in the art world, the work of some individuals will be highly prized
while that of others will be ignored, or even scorned.
All too often, young officials spend too much of their time on the "science"
of officiating--able to recite arcane provisions of obscure playing rules--while
ignoring the "arts," like judgement, discretion, and poise that
enable him or her to apply the right rule at the right time under the right
circumstances for the right reasons.
Of all the major team sports, hockey officiating is, by far, the most demanding.
Hockey officials not only are required to apply complex rules in a consistent
and acceptable manner, but also must skate well enough to get to the proper
position to make the right judgement, all the while dodging players, sticks,
and flying pucks under the fire of intense athletic competition that invariably
produces significant mental and emotional pressures. In addition, hockey officials
probably have far more discretion in applying or not applying the rules
depending on a host of circumstances.
As an official, you are charged with responsibility to manage each game within a
prescribed set of rules. However, any game that is officiated literally "by
the book" would soon become uninteresting to the spectators and frustrating
to the players. A contest that is frequently and unnecessarily interrupted by the
officials' whistles leaves no one satisfied. The most accomplished and respected
officials develop an instinct for each game, using their discretion to encourage
sportsmanlike, competitive play while discouraging and penalizing unsportsmanlike,
overly aggressive, or unfair conduct. In addition to "scientific"
knowledge, these officials clearly have an artist's touch.
Enter the Artist
The "art" of officiating essentially involves the ability of an official
to "sell" his paintings (decisions) with little or no dialog on the
part of participants. He or she sells each painting by presence, poise, and obvious
command of the situation. The artist exhibits a certain savvy about each game. He or she can
tell the difference between an intensely contested game and one with malicious
overtones. He or she also has enough "rink smarts" to gauge the intent
of the participants. Although called an official, the artist also recognizes
that he or she was not hired to be officious, overbearing, authoritarian, or a
tough guy. The artist enforces the rules tempered with reason. That is a
good word to remember. The most respected officials, invariably, are reasonable people.
Players and coaches respond well to reasonable treatment. But it is not always
easy to be reasonable. Under pressure, the scientific official falls back on
invoking rules, making it immediately known that he or she knows the rules
and that's that. The artist also knows the rules but is also concerned with
emotions, and tries to handle each situation in a manner that maintains respect
on all sides. Although the artist knows that the official is the final authority,
he or she is willing to explain decisions or interpretations when called for
and "drops the hammer" only when absolutely necessary.
Why do you do it?
Hockey officiating isn't easy. The most commonly asked question of
officials at all levels is "Why do you do it?"
Perhaps money is the first motivator, especially for younger people who see
officiating as an attractive alternative to flipping burgers after school.
But experience has shown that the desire to be part of the game and to
help maintain a level of physical conditioning are also important factors.
Looking further, personality studies have found that, as a group, sports
officials exhibit a higher degree of dominance characteristics than the
general population. Officials like to be in charge. Once on center stage,
they enjoy having to make split-second decisions under pressure.
Additionally, they are strong-willed and goal-conscious.
These traits generally don't give one a tendency to be humble. Humility is
the opposite of arrogance. Yet, the artist is always able to inject a dash
of humility into his or her personality. While the arrogant official will
be more visible, the one with some humility will get more respect.
Refining Your "Brush Strokes"
Once you have mastered the "science" of officiating, you must
develop the intangibles that separate one official from another. In other
words, your "artist's touch."
Your acceptability will be based on how artistic a job you do. Common sense,
sound judgement, and discretion are three fundamental intangibles that,
together, form the basis of your artistry. Another important intangible
is self-confidence. If you have confidence in your ability and the courage
of your convictions, you will show pride in your work without being arrogant,
become determined without being overbearing, and generally have a good feeling
about yourself and your role as a hockey official.
When watching games as a spectator, don't worry about judgement calls.
Instead, pay attention to how the officials deal with the irritants that
crop up in every game. Note how top-notch officials get their jobs done.
They make the difficult seem easy and generally handle things in a way
that makes everybody reasonable. They don't get ruffled, become red in
the face, or lose their tempers. In short, they give the impression that
they've been there before.
To sum up, hockey officiating is not easy. It is a challenge that, with a little
thought and a lot of hard work, can become an exciting and rewarding