Friday, March 31, 2006

Preview: Some Off-Season Games

Big AAU tournament in town over the weekend, and I've got three games. I've been assigned the younger set: 5th through 7th grades. These are often fun, but they can't be taken for granted (the worst game I had the year before last was a similar 6th-grade game...horrific butthead parents following the lead of a bizarrely enraged coach).

Still, as I see it, the primary purpose of these sorts of tournaments is to give myself something to work on. I'm going to see if I can make life easier on my voice by using the whistle properly. Repeated sharp blasts for situations where I really need attention and needed to yell. Slightly longer whistle for violations than for fouls. And stay on top of the game.

I'll also be sure that screens are clean and legal. Younger kids frequently don't know how.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

NFL officiating

Rich McKay and the NFL Competition Committee, as reported by ESPN here, is "satisfied with its officiating but concerned that high-profile errors in the playoffs and Super Bowl left a bad impression."

But a couple of months ago, the league said that the game was "properly officated."

I'd like the league to make up its damn mind. Was it proper or were there "high-profile errors"? The call against Hasselbeck was an error...the others were either judgement calls or too-close-to-calls.

In any event, one of the suggested changes appears bizarre to me. I'm quoting today's article:

The committee also is considering recommending to officials that they make sure there was holding on a play before throwing a flag.

"We want to make sure they actually see the foul," McKay said.

This is offensive. The best football officials in the world need to be told not to call what they don't see? Gimme a break. That's terrible.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dan LeBetard

Referring to the umpires' performance in Team USA's loss to Mexico today, Dan LeBetard just used the word "cheat" or "cheating" 5 times in 32 seconds. In the same 32 seconds, he used the word "fix" and "had the help of the umpires."

I didn't see the game, but replays show that the umpire, Bob Davidson, blew at least one call.

LeBetard, of course, immediately runs to a conspiracy theory. When he hears hoofbeats, he looks for wooly mammoths.

I would like to sentence LeBetard to reffing kid's league games for a year. I will be there to watch, and I'll bring some loudmouth ref friends. Every call he blows, we will be there to tell him he's a cheater. Not "you blew it" or even "you suck." We'll call his integrity into question.

Wait a minute...first, we'll have to define integrity for him.

I agree. Not worth the trouble. Moving on...

This one ref camp...

I'm set to go to camp this summer. It wasn't a sure thing, since I'm going to be extremely busy (with fun stuff...traveling a bunch), but the weekend of this a nearby camp is available, so I thought I'd head down.

The last time I went to camp, it was a large, regional camp, and it was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I remember there were way, way more games, and the games were the best basketball I've ever officiated--wildly intense. How good were the games? I saw Tara Vanderveer scouting a game. That good. And it didn't take long for me to feel completely overwhelmed.

But I remember this camp. I remember it for three reasons.

Two of them I'll call Bob and Jack. The third was my final decision to stop "running wrong."

Bob and Jack were evaluators. I think I was evaluated by 8 or 10 different evaluators that weekend, all of whom were incredibly experienced (some had done Olympic gold medal games, several final fours...we're talking the real deal). I remember a few snippets from other evaluators, but mostly I remember Bob and Jack for being awful and magnificent evaluators.

Let's start with Bob.

Either during halftime or after a game, he came on with a suggestion for positioning. I had heard something that I felt was contradictory from another evaluator, so I stepped in and started to ask a question. He interrupted my question: "Yeahbut, yeahbut, yeahbut. That's a lot of yeahbut. Don't come to me with excuses." Okay, fine, whatever. He's an asshole, but he's a better ref than I am. I can still learn...I'll just shut up since he doesn't want me to talk.

Not ninety seconds later, he gave me some sort of advice on mechanics. I nodded and said "OK." There was a brief pause, and then he said: "What, no questions? You're just going to accept what I say without comment?" Unbelieveable...I was criticized for being too chatty and for being too quiet within seconds of the same conversation. He didn't care what I said or did...he was going to ride my butt regardless...which made it impossible to take him seriously.

It's worth noting that, while I remember a lot of good advice from that weekend, I don't remember what (probably legitimate) suggestions this guy made. I only remember being barked at for contradictory personality traits.

But then Jack arrived.

Jack had a huge reputation for absolutely laying into officials. He was a punchline. During our morning meetings, the clinicians would read letters from the previous year's campers--people offering us encouragement. One sent what he called a momento from Jack--a giant pair of briefs with a giant tear in them where the butthole would be. Yup...Jack tore him a new one. Every day, as I chatted with people in the break room, they'd talk about how Jack laid into them. Then my turn came. I was ready to take it.

It never came. Jack loved me.

As we officiated that game, we wore a one-eared headphone with an antenna. This way, Jack could talk to us while we us a running commentary. It was a little bit distracting at first, but once I got over that, it became very helpful. A few minutes into that game, I had an illegal screen down low, away from the ball. I called it. And as I did, Jack is shouting in my head: "Great call! Great call...Great call." Wow. I made a permanent note to myself: call the illegal screen down low away from the ball. I was ready for abuse from Jack, and instead, I got a bunch of love.

Later, I asked him about his rep. "Gee, Jack...I hear you're this rough guy, but you're really a big teddy bear. What gives?" He told me that yes, he's hard on people, but only on people who think they're hot stuff. "Not you," he added. "You want to call a good game and you want to learn. You, I'll be nice to."

And he really was.

The main thing he did is finally pushed me over the edge to admit I had a problem. The problem: I ran wrong.

Yup. You read that right.

Through my first four years of officiating, that was the main criticism I'd get from evaluators.
"Great calls, good positioning, you know the game, but there's something else we need to go over...[awkward pause]...Has anyone talked to you about your running?" Every game.

At first, I was defensive. Who gives a rip about how I look if I'm making the right calls?

Next, I became frustrated. Everyone had different advice about how I was running "wrong." Get me knees up. Run heel-toe. Run just on toes. Pump the arms. Stand up straighter. Get up higher. Blah blah blah. I never got the same advice twice, so I never learned anything.

When I got to camp, this continued...only instead of hearing it three or four times a week, I heard it three or four times a day. It was very, very difficult to endure. I was busting my butt and getting called funny-looking. I was not looking forward to how Jack, with his reputation, would handle my running.

I never had anyone approach the problem like Jack did, though.

He said to me: "Man, I'd put you on any game. Any game. You know the game, and you want to do well...I see you're good. But people are going to judge you on your appearance, so until you take care of this running problem, they won't know what a good job your doing. Do what you've got to do, but get this fixed." For the first time, when someone brought up this issue, I didn't feel like a freak. I felt like a guy with a problem to solve, and that made life a lot easier for me. Thanks to Jack--gentle Jack--four years of frustration were channeled into resolve at that moment. I was going to learn to run.

I had saved up hundreds of dollars to buy a tan overcoat. I decided I'd rather learn to run. I bought a bunch of sessions with a personal trainer who was a running specialist. I called her the Mad Russian. She was very patient (although once she actually laughed while watching me attempt a running drill...I was that bad). She ran me ragged. She shouted repeatedly: "Run on your balls! Run on your balls!"

In three seasons since then, I have not had a single evaluator remark on my running.

So camp? Well worth it. I'm not going to quite as big a camp as I did last time, but I'm smarter now than I used to be...which means that I can learn more, not less. I hope I learn as much this summer as I did last time.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

NCAA Tourney observation

I've caught a lot of the games from Salt Lake City today. Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel.

I'm noticing that Spanarkel is very complimentary of the officiating--saying why calls have been good and why.

On the whole, I find Spanarkel intelligent, knowledgeable, reasonable, and pleasant.

He'll never make it.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

NYT article on minor league umpires

are on the verge of a walkout, and all levels of minor league ball may open with replacement umpires next month.

I'm not going to take a side on the strike issue--I like to limit this blog to what happens on the field rather than in the negotiating room (although you can probably figure out where my sympathies lie). It will be interesting to see what happens on the field if replacement umpires are used, especially in the upper minors. Worth keeping an eye on.

However, the New York Times' Bruce Weber has written a fine article (registration required) that gives a hint into the life of a minor league umpire.

It says he's working on a book about umpiring. I look forward to it.

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