Teamwork can be traced back to the Neanderthal age. It has been used to find food, build shelter, drive away enemies and protect the weak and the young. It has greatly contributed to the survival of the human species and many others as well. According to Laura Benjamin, an internationally known management consultant, scientists have discovered our ability to collaborate with others drove the development of the thinking part of our brain. Two of the components of successful teamwork she identified were a commitment to succeed and communication.
When talking about an officiating crew, many of the same characteristics apply and influence how well officials work together and how well the crew as a whole performs.
Commitment to succeed.
Many teams fail that test. In many situations, not all crew members will agree. That should be expected and the real question is, “Can they support each other when the going gets tough?”
During a game, there are situations in which only one official may have the primary responsibility for a certain aspect of the play. In other situations, two officials may share that responsibility. At the snap, a trio of officials are observing the action head-on: the referee, the umpire and the back judge. The two wings are peering in from the side. In other words, the crew has players between them at the beginning of the down. Then, depending on how the play develops, they are either largely on their own or in positions that may give them completely different perspectives on what is taking place — and those perspectives shift as a play unfolds.
A superior crew is aware of how to work together as a team. They can sense which official has the best angle or superior view. They can tell when someone is too close or too far away. Accordingly, they instinctively know when to step up and sell a close call, when to back off and let the other person take it and when to look at each other and nod just to make certain they agree on what has occurred. In a few rare cases, that glance will also tell each official that he or she needs to take the time to confer in order to get the call right.
If you think an error has been made, ask a question
Good team members are unafraid to question the actions of a fellow official when they think an error may have been made. Also, they must be able to accept information from fellow officials and admit they are wrong when warranted. There is a fine line between having the courage to stick by your decision when others think you’re wrong and being able to accept criticism from your crew. Great officials can toe that line.
Most coaches will tell you communication is the most important skill they expect of an official. Communication between crew members is also critical. The autocratic referee will not get very far. To go it alone deprives your crewmates of the opportunity to support you and to test their own problem-solving and decision-making skills.
A crew has communication needs while the ball is live and during dead-ball intervals. The most visible communications are those that signal the result of a play. There are situations in which a crew should communicate while the ball is in play. Two examples: when a swing pass has been thrown backward or a kick downfield has been touched by a member of the receiving team.
Most communication takes place between plays. It is helpful to signal one another in anticipation of events. Most of the helpful signaling is in reference to the offense. Some examples: splits in the offensive line are so wide that the tight end is outside the free-blocking zone, team A’s line is unbalanced, team A has only 10 men on the field (meaning a late-entering substitute is not an extra player), etc.
There are many things officials can tell one another to help the crew in accurately handling the game. Some crews have devised their own signals to communicate these items because there is no reasonable way to verbalize them. Passing along that type of information promotes teamwork.