3 "First Day" Fears
What do new refs fear the most on their first Shift?
First day of school, first dance, first kiss - they are all memorable, but also clunky and clumsy. Full of fears and nervousness. Your first shift as a new referee or umpire won’t be any different. Everything will be “fuzzy and fast” - You might not even remember to bring your whistle out with you. Our good buddy Pat talks about forgetting his belt for his first ever high school football game, and borrowing one from his head ref.
Here are 3 big first day fears we have seen over and over again that you can think about:
1) Fear of “Stopping Time” - There is a really simple trick to use when things are getting out of hand, people are out of position, or you feel like your game info is just wrong:
Stop the Game!
In the Social Ref Book we refer to this as “sending the meal back.” I’ve noticed people are often hesitant to send back a meal in a restaurant, because of causing a scene, or maybe its just “not that big of a deal.” In reality sending a meal back is a “game stopper” - and everyone notices. It brings everything else to a halt. Then you end up sitting around with no food while everyone else is eating. Feels weird, feels uncomfortable, and makes you the automatic center of attention, just because you don’t like mayo or olives!
This fear of being the center of attention, and bringing everything to a halt crops up with brand new referees and umpires. They know something is wrong - the score, the down, the inning - they can feel it. But their fear of stopping everything and figuring it out is bigger than the realization that things are going in the wrong direction, and will continue to get worse.
It’s hard to teach someone confidence, but you can practice confidence. A good cue as to whether you might have a great future ref on your hands is how comfortable they are stopping the action for an “officials timeout” very early on in their first few games.
I’ve asked new refs to stop the game and come talk to me in their first shift. Sometimes they think I’m joking, and sometimes they do it, but often they are just simply scared. I’m brand new, I haven’t EARNED the right to stop this game. You can tell very quick whether someone has internal confidence by how comfortable they are stopping all the action and “sending the meal back.”
2) Fear of Focus - New refs want to do everything and fix everything. We often call them squirrels. They fall victim to one of the biggest villians of your Beginner Brain: the customer service trap. They want to get eveyrthing right, make everyone happy, and answer every question and respond to every comment.
Working with a really promising new Flag Football Ref a few weeks ago, I noticed he was obsessed wih the ball. Not just watching it like “TV Ball,” but literally getting it from the teams and placing it before every play.
It makes a lot of sense - This makes him look like a ref, and it’s what he has always watched refs on TV do. So that became the most important thing.
In our league the spot and the marker are pretty important, but the ball is not important at all. So here was this new ref, sprinting and running all over the field to grab the ball, get the ball, and place the ball in his first 2 games.
In the mean time, his actual spots were off, and more importantly his down and distance was off almost every play. I literally had to yell at him at one point, “stop worrying about the ball !”
Some refs dont have the engagement or interest in helping, but many refs in their first shifts are really engaged, they are just focusing on the wrong things - the things they “think a ref is SUPPOSED to do,” like grab the ball after every play.
Part of working with new referees and umpires is taking this desire to fit in and to belong, and channeling all of that new nervous energy into the 2 or 3 things that really matter, like the down and distance communictaion sequence. Then, once you have mastered that habit, and its like breathing, hey sure, go ahead and grab the football and spot it for a team. But focus on what’s most important, FIRST.
3) Fear of the “Rank” - New refs are often terrified of someone who seems to have more experience than they do.
This can take two forms - if you are working a ref or ump crew with several other officials, the new ref will be afraid to stand up for their call or even over-rule somone else, because - well - they must be right because they have been here for a while and “I’m new!”
In reality, there will be certain circumstances where no matter the experience or senority, you will have calls that are yours to make. You have the best angle and it should be your decision.
This happened a month ago in a Flag Football game. There was a really obvious interference call, the problem was one ref was sloppy and called it defensive when it was actually offensive PI [this is a common mistake with new flag refs who mix up the “slots” on the field]. After we realized what happened, I spoke to the new ref at halftime:
“When we said defensive PI why didnt you speak up?”
“Well its my first shift, I’m not gonna over-rule someone who has been reffing as long as you!”
I have seen many occasions where there are multiple penalties on a play, and a new ref has kept quiet because they feel like their penalty simply can’t be as important as the others. Be aware of these first shift fears, where a ref is afraid to make the right call because they don’t want to “pull rank” on a more experienced ref or ump.
The second idea is when you have a new referee or umpire working by themselves on a one-person crew. Instead of fearing the rank of another official, they will instead give in to loud veteran players and captains who a) sense that the ref is new and b) swear they know the rules and protocols inside and out (Even though they probably don’t).
This strong-arming player feels like they have the same experience as the veteran ref. So on procedural ideas, I have watched new refs get talked into a call or decision by a loud captain, just because they were assertive and loud.
Sure once and a while a new ref might not understand the ground rules or a specific problem. More often, they need to practice giving their perspective of a play from their angle, and give their understanding of the rulebook.
In both cases the issue is clear. New refs who make the right call or decision are afriad to stand by them once they encounter new opinions from other veteran refs or experienced players.
In all cases think about stepping up and standing up during your first shift, and encouraging other new refs to do the same.
Stand Up and stop the game.
Stand up and focus on what matters.
Stand behind your call, and what you saw, even if you have less experience.
The habits you build by avoiding first day fears will carry you through all of the new days to come.