Thursday, 20 November 2014

Officiating always a work in progress

An official explains a blown call at a CIS football game.
            Being a referee is never easy, but it seems like fans of Canadian football want to throw the men in the stripes under the bus this year more than ever.
            During the CFL season, it has been common place to see spectators get upset at the officials, besides frowning at the fact defensive play rules the game this year. During contests, more penalties have been called than ever before, and it seems like the consistency isn’t there.
            The complaints seem to go down the ladder. At university, junior and high school games, it seems no one is happy with the officials.
            A couple of understanding coaches have said to me that a new group of younger officials is coming up through the ranks, because a number of older ones have retired. As a result, there will be some growing pains.
            Unfortunately, officiating in football has a couple of common characteristics that go along with officiating in any sport in Canada, which hamper officials from being as good as they can be.
First, more resources need to be utilized in every sport to help officials. In too many instances, officials are usually undertrained. Because of this, they hit the competitive stage at a total disadvantage.
Second, there is a feeling in Canada that officials should not have to be accountable. Part of this comes from the fact they usually go into games undertrained.
Being unaccountable also becomes a big problem. It allows one to accept a notion it is alright if officials do not get better at their craft.
As for the first point, to become a good official you need ongoing coaching and support. Athletes in their sports receive continuous coaching to become better. Officiating is the same.
            It is still common place for someone to go to a weekend course and become a referee. From there, officials get placed in a game environment, where the abuse at times does not fit the game day pay an official receives.
            Officiating also is more than just about making the right calls. The biggest skill in officiating is dealing with people. Once you have mastered the skill of dealing with people you will run into fewer situations where you have to deal with disrespect.
            In hockey, one of Canada’s top referees was Chris Savage, who had a lengthy career officiating in the major junior ranks and worked a whole host of world competitions. When you talk with him, you quickly realize how much there is to the art of being an official and how much there is to learn about being a good one.
            He approaches officiating with a real upbeat passion for the craft and the game of hockey itself. A Medicine Hat resident, Savage, who is pretty skilled as a coach, has worked with numerous officials in that geographical area.
An official breaks up a scrum at a CIS hockey game.
Those officials will all tell you they are way more confident and even more excited to do their jobs thanks to the small tips they receive from Savage. A lot of the tips are usually with regards to dealing with people in various sorts of situations, which Savage encountered as a referee. The value of the experience Savage passes on is priceless.
            You wish someone like Savage was offered a position with great compensation by a body like Hockey Canada to help with developing officials across the country. As the old saying goes, in order to be the best it helps to learn from the best.
            With that said, the WHL should be given big credit last season to having officials supervisors out what appeared more than ever, when the league was going through a youth movement in that department. They were really visible. Video is also often used to help officials.
            In the United States, more money in thrown into helping officials, because the sports culture there is just way bigger than it is Canada. In Canada, hockey can only really legitimately be viewed as a “big sport.”
            When officials in Canadian football are compared to those in U.S. football, the officials in the Canadian game always come up short. In the NFL, officials have weekly meetings where they simulate what to do in almost unheard of complex and tough calls.
            The scrutiny is also a lot bigger. All one has to do is remember the heat placed on the replacement officials, when the NFL locked out their regular officials in the 2012 campaign.       
            The tipping point came during the “Fail Mary” game, when the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Green Bay Packers 14-12 on a Monday night contest that concluded Week 3 of the season. The contest ended when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass to the Green Bay end zone, and both Seahawks receiver Golden Tate and Packers defender M.D. Jennings got their hands on the ball in the air.
            Singles of touchdown and touchback were made by the two officials nearest to the play, before a ruling of simultaneous possession occurred resulting in a Seahawks touchdown. Before the catch, Tate shoved Packers cornerback Sam Shields with both hands, which the NFL later acknowledged should have resulted in an offensive pass interference penalty that would have negated the touchdown and given victory to Green Bay.
            That was the last game worked by replacement officials, as the NFL quickly came to a new collective bargaining agreement with their regular officials to bring them back.
            To various degrees, all sports bodies in Canada can make cases about the efforts they make to help officials. Even with those efforts, strides should always be taken to put more resources into officiating.
            Also, officials should be a little more open to receiving criticism. One of the ways you get better is to learn from your mistakes.

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