[Todd Skaggs is the author of, Forward Progress: Confessions from a Rookie .Learn How to Get Noticed, Move Up and Improve your Football Officiating
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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.
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.