STRONG MECHANICS – Stronger, Taller, Crisper, & Bigger
In a JV game last night, the game got away from my partner and I for a few minutes just before half time. We made it through the half, but the technical foul on the assistant coach gave us some fits from the administration perspective and we took about twice as much time as we should have to administer the foul, the shot, and to get the clock adjusted so the game could continue. It made for temporary chaos, and we could have handled it a lot better. The fun part (tongue firmly in cheek) was knowing that we had the three good varsity officials in the stands watching.
What would these officials have to share with us at half time? Sometimes they say nothing. Sometimes they weren't even really watching. But lucky for us, they were watching and taking lots of mental notes on how we handled the situation.
My partner and I came into the dressing room followed closely by the other officials. I was looking forward to the 7 minutes of debriefing, but what we got was a whole lot more. Instead of us talking, we were given some very good feedback. Some of it was biting criticism combined with alternatives for future success. Some was praise with gentle encouragement tips for better improvement. But most of all, the interaction was a pure gold tutorial on how to look our best in a big time varsity gym.
As a sub-varsity official many of my games are in small junior high gyms or the dinky auxiliary gyms of the high school. This means that the fans are rarely more than a few feet above my head. Everybody is at my level and any call I make is seen clearly and powerfully, without any doubts.
6'6" BIG IN STATURE
Did I mention that I am 6'6" tall. Until I get to the bigger boys teams, I generally tower over the players. That affords me a great luxury. I can tone down my calls and still be clearly seen. That is a true statement in a smaller gym, but how does it translate to the bigger venues? This is where video confirms to me what I had not yet realized...
BIG GYM MECHANICS
How do the mechanics that are appropriate in a 40 year old junior high gym translate to the bigger varsity gyms? Not very well. I am thankful for the "in my face" honest reminder from the varsity official last night. I had to consider the source of the feedback and then digest what was shared. I thought about it during my next half of game. I discussed it in our private two man after game discussion. I then went out and watch half of the varsity game. That left me dealing with the guidance in a very strange way. On my drive home, I called my wife and discussed the feedback with her.. Then I was faced with a long night of tossing and turning that had me still thinking about the comments when my eyes opened this morning. After a good long hot shower I came to clarity on what I am going to do in my personal games.
I am going to be strong in my mechanics in a way that the fan on the top row of the gym can look down onto the floor and have them say to themselves, "Wow, that official really has this game under control." "Wow, he certainly believes that call was the right." "Wow, that official is on top of his game." And while that might seem like a lot of "Wow's," it is my new goal. The epiphany for me is that my junior high gym mechanics do not translate effectively to the bigger gyms. I have been giving my signals to the people at and below my level. If I am wanting to really improve the perception of others at games I officiate, then I have got to be stronger, taller, crisper, and bigger in my physical delivery of my calls.
To clarify, this does not mean I need to showboat and draw unneeded attention my way.
I need to give each signal more emphasis and keep them at the right height. My 5 counts are lazy and low. My 10 count up the court is inconsistent. My travelling calls are lower chest height and not out from the shoulders. My foul calls show no forward movement to close the gap. I have realized that this is all amplified in a bigger gym.
At 6'6" I tend to give my signals in slightly downward direction to show those smaller people on the floor around me what I have called. This looks bad when viewed by the farthest away coach and to the fans sitting 20, 30, and 40 feet above my head. How do I know? I have watched my self-made game films. Sub-varsity officials rarely see game films from the school. Hudl only has varsity games. I am really glad that I have started to record my own games. What have I learned? I really need to watch my posture and give my signals from level to up instead of level to downward.
This is one I had not really given thought. How do my mechanics appear to others farther away. As a tall official, I can get away with murder and everybody can still see my calls. But how would my form and delivery be judged on "Dancing With The Stars"? The feedback would probably be, "You make all the needed signals, but they do not come off very well executed. They appear a bit too relaxed, maybe even lazy. We give you a 6 out of 10!" Harsh criticism, but accurate at this point in my game. But today is a new day and I get to do two JV games at the Vivent Great American Shootout at Orem High School… I am going to be much crisper and precise in my signaling!
At the appropriate times, the important calls need to be more demonstrative. During last night’s game, I was witnessed calling a foul and then waiving off a made bucket with my hands being between my belly button and shoulders. It would have looked better had my hands been from my chest to the tops of the spiky hairs on my head. The call was right, but the mechanics made me look like Tommy Boy singing "Fat man in a little coat." Yes, I have video, yet I am not sure I am confident enough to let it see the light of day… Instead, just think of Chris Farley splitting the seams of the little jacket. Cramped and tiny movements…. But no more!
So from whom did my partner and I receive the solid gold advice? It came from a 5'5" woman. That is important to understand, because she has built herself into a top tier official. She is small in stature. She is female in a male dominated profession. She has a huge bias against her and yet she has figured out how to tell everybody in the gym, "I have got this game under control." Given the same prejudices and biases against me, I do not know if I would have the strength to battle and conquer as an official.
It is often difficult taking advice from our fellow varsity officials. The feedback often contradicts what others have said. Sometimes it seems way off base. Fellow partners express puzzlement to me as they try to digest what the seasoned officials share. But in this case, on this night, and in this gym, the feedback from this official was spot on correct. And any feedback should be well received, whether harsh or complimentary. There is at least a sliver of truth in all of it. We need to be grateful that others have felt us important enough to share anything. I strive to find the value in the feedback and set aside anything well intentioned but misguided. What are the keys and advice being shared. And then how am I going to work it into my game?
VARSITY GAME OBSERVATIONS
My partner had to leave after our game, but I was able to stick around and watch the first half of the varsity game that followed ours. I sat on the top row of the gym and looked down on the 3-man crew that consisted of one woman and two men. It was a pleasure to watch her assume the role of the "R" and confidently come onto the court with her two male cohorts.
The two male officials were good, but their mechanics were typical, "I have been doing this a long time and while my calls are correct, my mechanics do not match those in the Official's Manual. Instead, they have my own personal flare and style." These men exhibited confidence and experience, but they were nothing special compared to the female on the court... Why?
It was obvious that our female referee was on top of her game. Each stride and movement was done with confident purpose. Each 5 count came crisply from the shoulder and straight out. Each foul call was straight upwards, held tall, patiently lowered, and then came the confident trot to report to the table. Confidence and poise exuded her every movement. I was reminded, uh I mean smacked in the face with a 4x4, with the understanding that we are in control of our every action out on the court. If we appear casual or lazy, it is because we have chosen to be casual or lazy. The difference between a sub-varsity official trying to ascend upwards and a varsity official can be easily seen by the confidence, poise, and posture they exude while on the court.
And to think that it took a 5'5" female to teach me this lesson is amazing... That is not meant to be condescending or chauvinistic on my part. It means, that I have never experienced the world and faced the challenges that she has had to deal with as a female official. I have had it relatively easy. I have been allowed to be casual in my approach while she has had to fight, scratch, and claw for respect with each and every game she officiates. I have a lot to learn from her. I have a lot of room for improvement. I have been very humbled by this experience. And I am very thankful that she felt our 2-man crew was worthy of sharing an honest evaluation of our performance. She could have said nothing, and that would have been totally my loss.
So as a male official, I encourage any of you to come with me and step down off the male perch and take some time to watch our successful female co-workers. They have to work at least 20% harder to even be taken seriously. It is a harsh reality. So what is in that extra 20% they have to give? That is the key. Yes, in that 20% is the real pathway to all of our success. Watch them and learn. May we shun the casualness in our mechanics and strive for crisper, cleaner, and more precise signaling. Strive to impress even that fan sitting on the top row of the gym.
Make it a great game! Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?