Starting with a Handshake: The Perspective of a Youth Official
By: Jack Sabo
It’s early in the morning, and I just finished a squirt game with my partner, who like me, is a teenager.
Another referee, clearly older, walks into the dressing room. He nods his head at us and goes about getting ready for his game, but he doesn’t talk to us, shake our hands, or introduce himself. Sadly, this scenario actually happens all too often in the officiating world.
Thankfully, my first referee experience was nothing like this.
I was eleven years old, and it was a higher level middle school game, so I was extremely nervous. So nervous in fact that when my partner entered the dressing room, I was too scared to introduce myself and forgot to shake his hand.
Fortunately, he introduced himself and started making conversation. I told him it was my first game, and he went out of his way to calm my nerves and make my first game a success.
After that, I was hooked on officiating. There was just something there that playing couldn’t offer. Three years later, I am still officiating and loving every minute of it!
There are certain challenges that I know many younger referees face. With this article, I hope to shed some light on these challenges, provide younger officials with some tips to work through them, and encourage older officials to help younger referees overcome these obstacles.
No matter how many games you work, when you are my age, you automatically get labeled a “kid”.
For example, in a game I was working this year, I had a partner who wouldn’t consider my opinion on a controversial play simply because I was young. To try and overcome the “kid” label, I, along with most other youth officials, have to work harder to earn the same respect from coaches, players, fans, and even some referees that an adult official automatically receives.
To the younger officials reading this, do not let that stereotype define you, but rather let it motivate you to constantly improve your rule knowledge and work harder each time you step out on the ice.
To more experienced officials, I ask that you keep an open mind when partnered with a youth official. Please don’t automatically assume your partner doesn’t know the rules or doesn’t have experience just because he or she is young.
Another challenge that I have encountered is coaches trying to intimidate younger officials.
Many young referees are often discouraged from officiating because coaches try take advantage of them by playing the age card. If you are a young official, please know that 95% of the time, coaches don’t actually mean what they say in the heat of the moment - they are there to win and, often, they don’t realize what they’ve just said.
The worst thing you, as a young referee, can do is take it personally.
Take the opportunity in your early years to develop a “thick skin”. I promise you it will come in handy later in your officiating career. To more experienced officials, please recognize that officiating at a young age has its unique challenges.
If you are partnered with a young official who has recently had a confrontation with a coach, help him or her out - maybe go up to him or her when you are skating the puck down for an icing or in between a stoppage and say, “Good call. Keep up the hard work!” It’s those little comments that can boost a young referee’s self esteem and confidence the most.
Much success in officiating is what you do on the ice - whether it be the calls you make, your ability to manage the game, or your attitude, hustle, and poise. However, what you do off the ice is equally important.
This starts with developing a good assignor-official relationship. Take the time early in your career to get to know your assignor. Be proactive and reach out to your assignor as soon as you receive your card and crest.
Always be professional in your communications and recognize that an assignor’s job is quite difficult. The assignor doesn’t have to schedule you for games, and every game you get is an opportunity to show your assignor that you are committed to being the best official you can be and that he or she made the right choice in assigning you that game.
Many young officials are often too timid to shake their partner’s hand. As I said before, when I met my partner for my first game, I didn’t shake his hand when he walked into the locker room. However, because he made me feel comfortable and helped me through the obstacles of my first game, I had the courage to say thank you and shake his hand as I exited the locker room.
If you are an older official who wants to give back to the game, start small. When you walk into the locker room, start a conversation with a youth official. Ask how his or her game went and what he or she could have done better. Maybe provide some tips or suggestions that you, as an experienced official, have picked up over the years.
To the younger officials, start small. Begin with a handshake.
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