The Key in Training New Refs!
New refs will copy your STYLE, but they will rarely copy your HABITS unless you force their hand.
Of the many things I look back on and laugh about ref education, by far one of the most ridiculous was how I worked with new refs who were “struggling.” I used to stand behind them during a shift and literally talk in their ear - telling them where to move, saying “thats a flag guard.” The dream was that this would make them “better.” Of course it had the opposite effect:
Telling a new ref exactly what to do, will just make them keep looking to you to understand what to do next.
This idea goes beyond reffing, because it shows up in life. Its the difference between learning habits and learning style.
Trainers or “professors” as we call them often make one really big mistake when they work with new refs on multi-ref crews. They think “I will just ref really strong and control this game to set an example for the new ref.” The weaker the trainee, the more the veteran tends to “strong-arm” the situation - to set a good “Example.”
This is the osmosis idea: If I ref great, the new ref will pick up on how great I am reffing, and start reffing great too.
This works for SOME ideas: new refs will pick up on your STYLE and your HUSTLE. These are all good ideas. If you are joking with players, if you are laid back, if you are confrontational, if you are moving and running or staying stuck in one place. You can lead by example when it comes to your style and delivery and new refs will copy you.
But this misses the most important point - new refs can copy your style, but they can never copy your habits. The only way to get them to signal, to move and spot plays, to make calls, to develop good info habits, is to force them to do so: to FORCE them to build the habits.
Professors who keep signaling and announcing the core game info, and never wait to see if the trainee can do it first, are actually hurting the trainee.
Professors in a huddle who quickly announce what foul or penalty they have first, instead of asking the trainee FIRST, are hurting the trainee.
Professors who take away calls, or take away spots, from a new trainee are actually hurting the trainee.
The trainee doesnt learn when they just coast off of your signals and game info, your calls and spots and fouls. They are just copying you. They are not building their own habits. They are becoming more dependent on you, not less. You are their training wheels, you are their water wings. When you leave, they will fall to pieces.
We have seen it many times.
“Man what happend - This trainee was doing so well ? It feels like they fell off a cliff?”
They didnt fall off a cliff, you pulled away their safety blanket. They were coasting off your other refs and umps. You thought they were “learning” - and they were. They were learning style, and protocol, and delivery and a few new rules. They were not learning habits. They were building ONE big habit: coasting off your professors.
When the professor left, they couldnt become the scoreboard. They didnt know where to move, because they had no one to copy, they didnt know what calls or decisions to make, because there was no one else to mimic.
When in doubt, ask your best teachers and professors to FORCE the trainees hands - literally. Dont announce the game info until the trainee shows you on their hands first. Dont announce a ruling or penalty until the trainee says so first. Make the trainee come to a spot. Make the trainee move onto the field.
Instead of asking why a new ref “missed a call” ask them why they are standing still. Ask them why they arent using their hands or signaling. Ask them where they are LOOKING during the play. All of those ideas will lead to better “calls” later on.
Professors who ref strong and hope new trainees will learn by copying think they are being a lifejacket. They are actually a pair of water wings your little kid wears in the pool. Sure, at first it gives them the confidence to even get in the pool. Then quickly it works against them, if the goal is to teach them HOW TO SWIM! If you take the water wings off, they will sink, because they arent learning how to swim, they are learning how to coast off the water wings.
Be a lifejacket. Jump in when things go really wrong. But let the trainees mess up, let them make mistakes. Let them annouce bad info and make an incorrect call. Covering up every mistake they will make with a strong professor just means they will learn slower, and fall to pieces (and sink) when the professor finally leaves.
Rip the bandaid off and force the trainee’s hand. Force them to build habits. Force them to give you the info before you announce or signal it. Make them do the job. Make them think and process instead of coasting. Make them take off the water wings.
This starts with having the confidence to educate your trainers and professors. Make sure they understand that letting trainees copy them, will just mean that over time they will sink.
Be a pair of water wings with style and hustle. Be a lifejacket with game info and habits.