“As the [official] you are neither inside the game, as the players are, nor outside it among the fans, but that the game passes through you, like rainwater through a filter, and that your job is to influence it for the better, to strain out the impurities, to make it cleaner, fairer, and more transparent without impeding it, corrupting it, changing its course, or making it taste funny.”

- Bruce Weber, As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires

 

As an official, I try to blend into the background until I need to step forward and show my stripes. I do this because no one paid for a ticket to watch me officiate, but, in my early days officiating, I acted in ways that showed I was bigger than the game.

What does being “bigger than the game” look like? I use this clip in training classes to illustrate an extreme example. It’s from the 1988 comedy classic, The Naked Gun, with Leslie Nielsen impersonating a major league umpire.

Even though the joke was on baseball umpires, it could have been on officials in any sport. As an example: after my second year officiating for the Georgia Lacrosse Officials Association, I went to a development clinic at UNC. I thought I was a real hot shot official, and I set out to prove just that. My evaluators had other thoughts.

They ripped my officiating apart. My positioning was terrible, my mechanics horrible, my signals incomprehensible, and my game management skills were completely nonexistent. To top it all off, one of the lead evaluators told me, “You act like the fans came to watch you officiate!”

That comment destroyed me. I spent much of the drive home thinking about quitting.

It was months before I stepped onto the field again, and I knew that I had to change my mindset if I was going to be successful. My old “hot shot” mentality contributed to the perception that I believed I was bigger than the game. Though I was unable to change my evaluators’ perception of me, I could certainly work to ensure that no one perceived me in that way ever again. My mission was to become a student of professional officiating.

Each and every game was a chance to get better and reach a new level of ability. I also needed to downside my ego. A high amount of self-confidence is necessary for an official, but it is important to keep it in check. Otherwise we give the impression that we think we are the most important people on the field, which we are not.

To be fair, officials are necessary for the game, but as I said earlier, no one paid to watch us work. Fans come to watch, coaches come to coach, and players come to play. The officials are there to filter out bad behavior, and leave a good game in their wake. If we leave the field and no one remembers us, then we did a good job.

Professional officials are rarely noticed unless the situation calls for them. They seem to blend into the field, only appearing when a foul needs to be called; and then fading from sight and mind. That is what we officials strive for. Because the game is never about us. It has always been, and will always be, about the players.

 

Gordon Corsetti is the Manager of the Men’s Officials Development Program at US Lacrosse.