Why do we officiate sporting events?

Joe White

Sports officiating goes back as far as when competition in athletics first began. Without officials there would be no true sporting events. As time progressed, athletes became bigger, faster, stronger and smarter, prompting the need for better equipment for safety and protection. The official’s number one priority is the safety of participants.
Most officials begin at the middle school or sub-varsity level, maybe to earn a little extra money or to help out so the teams can play.
With officiating comes negative criticism from fans and parents, who think they can do better. Being thick-skinned and tuning out the yelling is what separates the good officials from the others.
If one wishes to continue officiating, then you must decide how far are you willing to accept the negative aspects. This is the main reason for the declining officiating numbers in all sports. Developing respect, integrity and loyalty are all very positive attributes that are required in the workplace. On the field of play, these same attributes should be a requirement of all officials.
Every official has a different style of officiating. Appearance, rules knowledge and personality will vastly determine how far or how long one will sports officiate.
I have been an athlete all my life and have a passion for officiating, wanting to give back to the sports that were good to me in high school and college. One has to be committed and willing to improve through hard work and positive criticism or a quick exit from the profession will result. I always try to remind my young, inexperienced partners to leave our egos in the locker room and go out and give our best effort, no matter what level the competition.
How you handle certain situations with the fans, parents, players and coaches will determine how long one will be a sports official. Treat everyone mentioned the way you would like to be treated. Sometimes emotions may get in the way, so be cool, calm and under control, being careful not to say or do anything regrettable. Developing a calm demeanor goes a long way in developing relationships. The WHSAA has adopted a program called Join the Ride, with RIDE representing respect, integrity, dedication and encouragement. For the slogan to work, everyone involved must practice it.
As I enter my 50th year of sports officiating, the three things I have always stressed are player safety, good sportsmanship and playing hard and having fun for a positive experience. Good communication with coaches, players and partners are essential to officiating any contest. Use common sense and always try to do what’s right.
Through officiating football, basketball, cross country and track, I have learned over the years that sports officials are human and will make a mistake once in a while. But if you truly enjoy the rewards, then be willing to take the good with the bad.
It is always rewarding to work a contest when a fan, coach or player thanks you or says, “Good job!” Can’t have games without officials, so please be a good role model and example, especially to the younger generation. It all begins at home.
With my eight-year term winding down as the WSOA area #4 rep (Park, Big Horn and Washakie counties), please remind ourselves to cheer for the players and try to appreciate the work of game officials. Might want to grab a whistle sometime just to see how easy it is.