Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The wisdom or foolhardiness of keeping an officiating blog

This month's Referee Magazine has a piece on officiating conversations on the web. It includes one key reminder--for us to remember that every call we make now, from the smallest freshman game all the way up--has a chance of being recorded on a cell phone and making it onto YouTube. I suspect that the accompanying commentary will not likely be kind. Not much that can be done about that.

Of more interest to me is a section on blogs by officials about their games.

Here's part of what they said:

Amateur umpires have used blogs as well, sometimes to relate their experiences on the field or court. One example was cited by Mark Uyl, one of the session's panelists and the assistant director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).

"We have an official who started an official blog," he said. "The way it was first described to us was the official could work a game on Friday night, go to his computer Saturday morning and kind of give a detailed account of the game. That really posed a dilemma to us because we have a policy that officials won't comment to the media on specific game circumstances, and essentially we had an official who was eliminating the middleman."

As a result of these incidents, the MHSAA created a policy. Officials could talk online about officiating in general, but not specific games, players, or plays.

In other words, this blog would violate MHSAA policy. If I'm in Michigan, I'm in danger of some form of sanction.

The article continues. NCAA National Coordinator of Softball Officials Kathy Strahm says that officials who have blogs should "exercise caution," and Uyl eventually says that "our official who writes the blog, I respect the fact that whatever he writes about, he puts his name to."

I think I exercise that "extreme caution"...but through anonymity. I made the choice immediately upon starting this blog that I would not use my name, the names of any schools, of any coaches, partners, cities, or states. The reasons for this were simple: I want to provide a honest self-critique and to write accurate depictions of game situations. I also decided that I would never, ever, ever badmouth a partner here. (Or rather, that I'd save up all the worst partner moments and combine them into one post.) I don't think I've ever said anything I'd be embarrassed by here. A quick search reveals I've called a coach a jerk once. I've dropped the word "idiot" on three fans at my games (one of whom was running the scoreboard), as well as a few fans of the pros and sportscasters (most notably Joe Theismann). But nothing heavier than that. On the whole, in spite of my anonymity, I'm both civil and careful.

The primary reason I write my game logs on this blog is for self-critique. I am my primary reader. I want to be able to keep track of what I'm doing well and what I need to work on. With three seasons of game logs here, I can actually look back at past games (and occasionally do) in order to assess my strengths and improve my weaknesses.

The secondary reason I keep this blog is because I have smart refs who check it out occasionally and give me input. Whether it's my buddy Young Guy or a college ref like MassRef (Mass, next time I'm in your neck of the woods, I SO owe you a beverage), it's simply awesome to get another's view on a tough call or game or congratulations on a good call or game. They make me better. They also force me to provide accurate, thoughtful, honest appraisals of every game.

To use some specific examples, when I have a terrible game like this one, or am questioning a call I made like this one, anonymity provides me the opportunity to write down events as honestly as possible to get feedback...both from later versions of myself and from smart refs who read this. I'm the kind of guy who does most of my thinking aloud, and once I'm done chatting with partners and ref friends, I continue talking here on the blog. Posting with my name would make me loath to present the warts-and-all analysis of my work that I want, both from myself and from the three or four people who read this.

And to be honest, I've been using this as a semi-public officiating journal for so long that it's become a huge part of my ongoing improvement. After the game (and, occasionally, alas, during) I will frame the weird situation in my brain by saying, "How am I going to describe this on my blog? What's the situation? What's the necessary background?" That kind of reflection is, in some ways, more valuable than either the post or the responses. It's like the person who starts writing a letter to an advice columnist, but in the process of thinking out the problem to write about it, solves the problem.

Being anonymous keeps me honest. Having an audience keeps me accountable.

So, while the Referee article seems to say that a blog like this one can cause only harm and no good, I have to disagree. I'm a better official because of the three seasons I've posted my every game here. I will continue to write, and I'll continue to maintain anonymity. I will not post anything here I'd be embarrassed to see my name next to, but I'll keep anonymous so I can give honest self-appraisals without worrying about idiot fans (there's that word again) or angry coaches using my words against me. It is to my advantage that my readership is so small, since my Google ratings are low, and the odds I'll have anyone surf in to find me talking about a game that they themselves have heard about are very small. Not zero, but quite small.

Let the fourth blogged season commence! (5 weeks or so to tip-off, unless I get some warm-up games.)


At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Massref said...

Mass, next time I'm in your neck of the woods, I SO owe you a beverage

Fine with me. But I want to hear the story about why!! :-)

I think your analysis of your own blog is spot on. While it might be "admirable" to post using your real name, the risk of reprisal far outweighs the benefits of that approach.

I'm really ready for my season, too. Once meetings and clinics start, it's already basketball season in my mind. My first scrimmage is the 30th.

Keep it up!

At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!

-Young Guy


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