Aptitude Vs. Attitude

The attitude officials have when they walk onto the field will determine in part the success they may or may not enjoy in officiating that day. Attitude is likely most often thought of as a disposition or feeling with regard to a person or an object ranging from extremely negative to extremely positive. It certainly is that but, according to Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, attitude is a “readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way.” That perhaps states the greatest value the concept has for football officiating. Here are some brief thoughts on various aspects of officiating that may spur you to delve deeper into whether your attitude is a help or hindrance.

The game. We all know football games are not created equal. Games can be stratified a number of ways: the level of competition, the existence of a rivalry, the impact on the standings, the anticipated competitiveness, etc. Very few will publicly admit that prep sub-varsity games are more organized practice sessions than they are true games — stats or records are not usually kept. Mentioning that to the proud mother or grandfather will get you in the Hall of Shame. To the player vying for a spot on the varsity roster, it’s thus far the most important game of his life. Officials who walk onto the field with the attitude that the game is trivial and not worth their best effort are likely to learn what is a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Coaches are, of course, individuals. An official may know a coach well, by reputation or not at all. If there has been a problem in the past, either one way or mutual, it’s best to find a different game to officiate. It’s a good idea to do an attitude check on coaches in general. Like anyone else, they can be passionate and some are very difficult to work with. Dealing with volatile, disgruntled coaches is part of the territory.

Once, during the first half of a game, the referee observed a crewmate who had flagged an offensive lineman for holding. The umpire sought out the player when the down ended and gave him a stern lecture while wagging a finger in the kid’s face. At halftime the referee gently pointed out the ills of the umpire’s approach, “Coaches don’t like officials who chew out their players. It might be better to simply throw the flag and report the foul.” “I don’t care,” came the abrupt reply. “All coaches are a-holes.” That was the umpire’s last season. Apparently he realized he didn’t have the skills to deal with people for whom had no respect.
The official’s role. A bad attitude is perhaps what gets more officials in trouble than anything else. Officials must understand the role they have been hired to play and most importantly, understand when they are about to do something outside their part.

The preceding incident is an example of an official going outside his jurisdiction, as is the following, which occurred before recent rule changes. The umpire observed two players with illegal towels; one was a different color than the rest of the team and the other had a large Gatorade logo. Both players were asked to remove them and when they re-entered the game with the towels, the umpire stopped play. Instead of applying the applicable rule, the official told the coach that each player would have to sit out a play. The coach objected and the unyielding official ended up ejecting the coach.

The flag.

Your predisposition toward use of the flag is clearly part of the role you see yourself in, but it is such a major factor it deserves special mention. Many officials who don’t progress simply don’t understand the yellow hanky is merely one of the tools at their disposal. It is not a panacea for every deviation from the rules. An official can be the judge, jury and executioner if need be, but setting out to prove that is likely to worsen the situation. Using the flag to show an official knows the rules or is paying attention to the game is the wrong motivation.

Officiating performance.

Playwright Oscar Wilde, commenting on a poor audience response to one of his plays, claimed, “The play was a success, but the audience was a failure.” Like Wilde, you cannot advance if you cannot accept your share of the responsibility when things go wrong. You also won’t progress if you ignore or conceal mistakes and don’t learn from them. No one is perfect, but that’s not a reason to not strive for perfection. Constant learners are resilient; they know when they push the edge, it can become the bleeding edge, but they don’t hesitate to keep trying.

Officials should be their own harshest critics. They are most likely to know what caused the error. Was the play not totally observed? Or was a rule misapplied? Some efforts will fail due to factors outside your control.

In one prep game, a punt was muffed by the receiving team and the ball subsequently was deflected into the end zone with no player ever getting possession. The play contained a lot of activity — players blocked opponents so they could either get to the ball or keep the opponent from getting it. When action stopped, the kicking team had recovered the ball in the end zone. The line judge reacted too quickly and signaled a touchdown. By the time the referee appeared on the scene, the error had been recognized. The referee knew immediately he would have to announce the play resulted in a touchback and it would appear as if he had changed the call. So be it; there was no point in blaming anyone. It was what it was and all that could be done was to get it right.

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