Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Is Football Officiating Right for You?

[Todd Skaggs is the author of, Forward Progress: Confessions from a Rookie College Football Official.

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Let’s take a close look at what happens at the very beginning of a football official’s prospective career. Let’s assume for the moment that you have never officiated a game of football in your life. Where do you begin?

Why football? There are several motivational factors at work here. Most common, is a love of football. You might have a friend or a family member that officiates and have discussed how to get involved with that person. Some associations advertise the need for new officials in print, radio and television venues. At the very basic level, you are simply interested in the donning the zebra stripes.

Let me be clear here…there is a growing need in every state, every community, and every youth league for football officials. The enrollment in youth sports continues to rise and the number of officials continue to decline (in all sports, not just football) so there is now, and will continue to be, a need for officials.

1. Gather information

The first step is to gather information on local football officiating opportunities. Some of this can be accomplished via the Internet. You can search the web for youth leagues and local officials associations. Many of these groups maintain informative websites which will provide contact information with the leaders of those groups.

Call your local high school athletic department. Speak with the athletic director or head football coach. They will certainly be happy to inform you of key members in the officiating community whom you may contact for more information.

I would also suggest that you reach out to your state’s high school athletics association. You can access this information on the Intenet. If you have trouble finding a local association or officiating resource, contact your state’s athletic office and they most certainly can point you in the right direction.

2. Exposure

The second step, and most often overlooked, is to get a good look at what officials do. Find a local official and ask to ride along with them to a game or association meeting. Don’t think you have to talk to a Big East or NFL referee in order to get a behind-the-scenes look at officiating. There are thousands of great officials at the high school level who have a passion for officiating. I guarantee you can find a willing person to discuss you intentions, gain exposure to officiating and help you get started on the right path. You just have to ask.

Attend a local youth league or high school football game. Make a point to meet the officials at half-time or between games on a Saturday afternoon. You will find this group warm and inviting, eager to talk to anyone interested in officiating football.

Call the coaches and administrators of youth leagues, recreational leagues, children’s leagues. Visit your local YMCA. Ask who assigns the officials for their games. You will find the right people who can get you started.

3. Ride Along

Once you’ve identified a local resource, take the next step and ask to ride along with them to a game. You can’t fully appreciate football officiating from watching college or professional football on television. A fan’s view isn’t sufficient when evaluating whether you’d like to become a football official. Spend a few hours on a Friday night and experience what happens at a varsity contest from the eyes of an official. You will view officiating from a different perspective, rest assured.

Listen to the band play, the fans cheer (or complain!), the press box announcer, the coaches and players interact; experience the true essence of a football game. You most likely could attend a Saturday youth league game and stand behind a wing (sideline) official during the game and ask questions between plays. Talk about perspective!

4. Officiate – Yes or No?

Now you might think that going to all this trouble just to get started officiating football won’t be worth the effort. My reply is: Football officiating is not for everyone. It is a demanding avocation and the decision to become a football official should not be taken lightly. The game requires football officials to be dedicated, prepared and reliable. Officiating requires thick skin and humility. You must be willing to learn the game of football from the eyes of the official, not the fan. What you see on Sunday with your favorite NFL team will seldom apply on your Sunday youth league game.

Having said that, the rewards of becoming a member of the officiating community are immense and well worth the effort. I’ve often used the word “fraternity” when describing my association. The camaraderie and fellowship which results when people come together combining the love of football and a passion for officiating cannot be adequately described in a few words. You just have to experience it from the inside.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Heads Will Roll

The quarterback is looking for a receiver and suddenly realizes he doesn't have time to make a pass. He tucks the ball and begins to run. He gains several yards and as he disappears into a pile of players I hear the report of a big hit, pads popping -- that distinctive sound that coaches listen for and fans applaud. Then out of the pile-up flies a helmet. It bounces once and lands right at my feet. When the players untangle the quarterback emerges and moves toward me to pick up his helmet. He looks up at me and says, "You saw that hold against my team on the previous play but you didn't see that hit on me?" Fortunately he was not hurt but this incident points out two problems with our game today.

First, helmets come off too easily. In 2007 the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) enacted a rule requiring that chin straps be attached with four snaps. In 2008, the rule was clarified to require four separate attachment points. From where I stand, as a referee on Friday nights, these rules changes have had little effect on reducing the number of times helmets come off during impact. I saw it every week this past season. As a spectator, every game I have watched on television this season has featured a helmet coming off. YouTube has over one hundred video clips of this happening.

Jones-Adams hit; LSU-Ark 2009

In the 2009 Alabama - Miss. St. game, Heisman Trophy candidate Mark Ingram's helmet came off and his face was bloodied by an opponent's facemask immediately afterwards.


Forty years ago, high school players complained that it was almost impossible to get the helmet on to begin with, and just as hard to get it off. In today's media crazed atmosphere and the increased presence of cameras at games, do the players want their helmets to come off easily? One of the nation's leading researchers in this field, Dr. Stefan Duma says, "My opinion is they come off because some players want them too, smile for camera etc. so they wear it loose." If Dr. Duma is correct, then no amount of research by the manufacturers and no amount of rules changes will improve the situation. The top three helmet manufacturers in the United States are Riddel, Schutt, and Adams (formerly Bike). Since the early seventies and a few high profile cases of head injury and concussions, much of the research has been focused on designing head gear that will reduce the chance of or prevent concussions. Many technological advances have been made. In 2002, Riddell introduced their "Revolution" helmet and in 2007, Schutt added the line of "Ion 4-D" products which they tout as "the most advanced helmet in the market". Adam's premier product is the "A-4".

Perhaps chin strap design is or should be the next area of signifcant research. A source in the NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) reports that one area of research involves the loosening of the chin strap on impact caused by the compression of the interior padding. Such a change inside the helmet would result in easier removal. Combine this phenomena with Dr. Stefan's theory and you've got a recipe for disaster. A player with no helmet is the most vulnerable for head injury.

The February 2007 issue of Popular Mechanics reports that extreme football collisions can measure up to 150 g's compared to a roller coaster's five. Player safety depends upon the equipment to distribute the incoming energy of impact to lessen the severity. Typically discussions involving player safety and indeed, much of the research and development by makers of the equipment, focus on helmets and shoulder pads. The article referenced in Popular Mechanics is similar although it does mention the nagging frequency of knee injuries.

The second problem is that high school rules do not adequately address the issue of helmets coming off. Current rules deal only with the helmet coming off of the ball carrier while he is in possession of the ball. At that point, the ball is immediately dead and the covering official should sound his whistle. Other rules prohibit leading with the head (spearing) or use of the helmet as a weapon. There are currently no rules related to helmets coming off due to contact other than helmet to helmet. When a defender leads with his shoulder and the runner's helmet hits the ground, there is no penalty marked on the ground either.
The NFHS has begun to address the problem of helmets coming off in both their rules committee and an ad hoc committee. Coaches need to get more involved in the issue as well. I often hear a coach shout from the sideline that we missed a call on helmet contact. Those shouts are even louder when the helmet comes off. Prior to the game, a coach must verify to the officials that his team is properly equipped. Maybe being properly equipped should include having head gear fitted correctly so that it doesn't come off so easily for the cameras. Now that the athletic governing agencies, equipment manufacturers, and fans are taking more interest, improvement should be seen soon, or heads will roll.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seasoned Veterans: 20 + yrs Experience

Please submit your stories and comments. Give the newer officials something to look forward to.
What has been your most memorable experience as an official?
What would you do differently?
Most important lessons.
If you could give the rest of us only three pieces of advice, what would they be?
Submit your articles to: etierstripes@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

* ATTENTION * Rookies, 2nd & 3rd Yr Officials

Crew leaders, association officers, trainers, and assigners need some input. We need to learn from your experiences in your first few years.
We need feedback on training and recruiting issues.

Please submit your articles reviewing your trials and tribulations of learning the rules and working your way from clock assignments onto the field.

What was your most inspiring moment from the past season?
What did you learn from your peers? Did you have a mentor?
What did you learn from coaches?
What can those of us with more experience do to help you?
Did you see consistency from the different referees you worked with?
What does it take to get on the field every Friday night in your association?
How do I get a playoff game?

We're all ears! Send your article to: etierstripes@gmail.com

Friday, December 4, 2009

Free Video Training Available

Special thanks to one of our friends and supporters, Victor B, for making federation video training available. The link is in our "Links We Like" section on the right side of the blog and also here: http://www.dartfish.tv/nfhs-football

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Control the Game!

[This article first appeared on my personal blog and received favorable feedback from other officials and coaches.]

In Jerry Kramer’s book, INSTANT REPLAY, he makes several references to Vince Lombardi’s exhortations to play with “reckless abandon”. I’m not sure I agree.

I believe that football is a game of control.
Control the line of scrimmage.
Control the ball.
Control the clock.
Control the man you are blocking.

How can you control any of these facets of the game if you cannot control yourself?

Two examples of when a player must stay in control of himself:
1)On kick coverage: If the player sprinting down the field goes all out and cannot make a quick turn or adjustment in direction, the ball carrier can easily slip by untouched.
2)A safety blitzes and goes untouched into the backfield at full speed while the runner sprints right by him, untouched because the safety was moving too fast and out of control.

If players didn’t maintain control, there would be late hits on every play, neutral zone violations on every play, holding on every play, face mask fouls, and roughing on most downs.

Where do kids learn self-control? Hopefully, they get some training in self-discipline at home. In many cases, kids get additional lessons in self-discipline in the class room.
Where do athletes get self-control skills? Hopefully, they benefit from their coaches and teammates.
Where do coaches get self-control? Maybe they developed good habits from their childhood, student experience, and their own athletic endeavors. (Judging from the number of times I see coaches slam a headset or clipboard onto the ground, I wonder how much self-control coaches really have.)

We already hear a lot of discussion about the “excessive celebration” rule in NCAA football. There is adequate room on the sidelines for unlimited celebration so the game is not delayed. Part of the job of being a coach is to control the sideline. Do your job!

Many of our culture’s more popular sports are contact sports in which aggressive behavior is expected and rewarded. My wife doesn't like sports in general, but she does like hockey. She says, “Any sport that involves men hitting each other with sticks can’t be all bad!” Have we progressed much from the gladiators or the lions and the Christians? Paul Simon said, “Zebras are reactionaries.” I’m not a reactionary – I take control! As a referee I believe that with preventive officiating and maintaining control of the game, there will be fewer penalties.