Go Fish ....
Game Anchors and the Big Fish
I was lucky as a kid. I got to hang out on a lake for a few weeks every summer at my uncle’s cabin in Maine. Fishing, Camping, Canoeing, throwing rocks into the lake, and even catching crayfish with your bare hands, which this Miami kid was never very good at.
There were always new guests coming and going from the summer house, both adults and kids, and I was always tasked with one idea: teach them how to fish.
You could spend hours casting and practicing, sometimes even with a fly rod on the front lawn. But there was one thing you could never actually prepare someone for - the first time you actually had a fish on the line.
Sure we would go over it many times: keep your rod tip pointed down, then pull up hard to “set the hook” and start reeling fast ... but not too fast. You would repeat it endlessly, like a dad telling his kid to “keep your eye on the ball” during a little league baseball game.
You could practice casting, or tying knots, or how to work a lure across the top of the water, but no matter how much practice there was one sure thing: the first time someone got a big fish on the line, they would totally freak out.
And often the second time, and third time too.
All of the talk about setting the hook would simply fly out the window. EVERYONE would panic. They would do the craziest things. Sometimes they would let the rod get pulled out of their hands. Sometimes they would freeze. They would stand up and pull the rod back so hard that the fish would instantly be gone (or a small tiny fish would fly out of the water). Often times they would flail around, and lose the fish in an instant, and then be sad for an hour until the 15 seconds of mayhem repeated itself again.
I would watch these gut instinct reactions from visitors to the summer cabin every year. No matter the country or the gender or the age, they were all the same. Panic followed by regret and sadness. The sadness came from the fact that they could remember all of the ideas - they knew what they were supposed to do, they just didn't do it in the moment.
Once I watched a lady “open the bail” which is what you do when you start a cast to let line out. She got her first fish on the line, and started letting more line out instead of setting the hook, the exact opposite of what you should do.
But maybe it makes sense, because it was the thing she had the most reps doing, and she had built up a habit.
Years later, I saw these same moments of panic out at the football field, watching new refs encounter their first big obvious penalty. All of the practice, and talk of how to throw the flag, would disappear in an instant. You would get chuckle worthy moments, just like those summer house visitors, as refs threw their hat, or blew their whistle and pointed even though the play wasn't over. One ref threw his score book the first time he saw a penalty. Maybe he was related to the lady who opened the bail the first time she had a big fish.
What do we make of this? Its fun to laugh at those moments of recognition and panic. We would joke with a ref for years about the first time he went to throw and off-sides penalty, and threw his flag up and behind him onto the other field. Maybe you chuckle at that, except if you have never reffed before you will probably have several moments of your own just like this.
Oh sure that guy freaked out the first time he had a fish on the line (or a big pass interference call) but I wont do that!
Yep, you will. And it will be OK.
Because all the reading, and training and drilling in the world doesn't prepare you for the first big fish you get on the line, and the first big pass interference call that happens live in front of you.
Creating a foundation, an anchor, to react to those moments takes time and reps. Experiencing them will make you better. Most training does not survive first contact with a real situation. True training requires book learning and live learning, another reason why holding on to the rulebook as the biggest thing, will only get you so far.
Its really hard to control those first few reactions, and NOT make a goofy call on your first big penalty or foul. When I was reffing basketball for the first time in a girls elementary school game, I pointed at a player who just threw and elbow and said NO NO NO! super loud, scaring the player and confusing both teams. Maybe that's what the whistle they gave me was for...
Instead of thinking you are unique, and you wont make the same goofy mistakes, instead think about the anchors that exist for situations that you don't need to react to: scoreboard info and game sequences.
If you want a solid foundation, think about how you anchor information that requires no outside input.
How do you start your game?
Science tells us that beginning anchors are important. The first thing someone at a table orders often has a HUGE impact on how the rest of the table will order. If you order french fries and nachos, the rest of the table normally follows suit and orders unhealthy food too. If you skip a beer, and order water, the people ordering behind you are less likely to order booze. If you begin a meal eating an un-healhy appetizer, your are more likely to eat more during the rest of a meal.
The rudder of the day, a term coined by Steve Pavilna, [and one I have experimented with often over the last 5 years], takes the same anchor concepts and applies it to daily productivity. Wake up and mindlessly sit in bed scrolling through Facebook or Instagram on your phone … well that's probably how the rest of your day will go: unfocused and not very productive. Wake up, hit the gym or a morning routine in the first hour, and the rest of your day will often follow suit.
New refs are so concerned with having the perfect comeback to an insult, or the perfect reaction to a big play or penalty, that they miss all of these anchor opportunities that will create a foundation to make the big plays and the stressful moments easier.
You can anchor the start of your game, before there is even a play to react to.
How do you introduce yourself to teams and captains?
Do you have a captains meeting?
Do you make a joke, or ask teams if they have questions from last week?
Do you start the game with an announcement, and blow your whistle or yell “Play Ball”
Do you give the players a clear anchor, that lets them know they can trust you for important info for the rest of the game?
There is nothing to react to when starting your game. You can script things out. You can begin earning credibility before the first goofy call or situation comes up. You can't control what silly thing a player does. How about the first play of a flag football season where a new player makes a great catch, sees a defender in front of them, and then just throws the ball forward.
Happens all the time, including a game I worked 2 months ago.
How about a batter who finally gets a hit, and then freezes, throws their bat and starts running to third base.
Kind of reminds you of the rookie fisherman, who freaks out with the first big fish?
You can script anchors for yourself throughout a game. Those anchors will give you a foundation that will help when you actually do have a big fish (or call) on the line.
How do you start each play with game info and your CCS?
How do you start the second half of your game?
How do you announce a 2 minute warning?
How do you reset your game that has been paused for the last 4 minutes because of an injury timeout.
Game Anchors are almost always non-conflict and non-controversial situations that you can control. They may not seem exciting, especially before the game has even started, but they will create credibility and trust that will give you a chance to survive the weird strange and goofy plays that you will need to react to in real time. Building habits and reps from reactions will take time and experience. Give yourself a chance by anchoring introductions and info that require no reactions and should have no CAP or controversy involved.
And good luck with that big fish …