Why Officials Leave the Profession

I recently had a website and video showed to me that kind of put into words what I was hearing from friends, administrators and in the press.  I continue to hear – we need new officials, the officials referee’ing my child’s game are so old, or the extreme expectation of officials to be flawless, without error, even though athletes rarely perform at a success rate (shooting or batting percentage) over 30 – 40%!

So how do we get newer, younger officials?  The truth is that we will NOT get newer younger officials if we continue to treat them like they are the scum of the earth.  And yes, I am talking to everyone who yells at referees, everyone who complains about their peers and especially those armchair quarterbacks who say, “it can’t be that hard to get this right.”

The truth is that it is hard – it is hundreds of decisions in very quick manner while listening to coaches, fans, and players tell you how wrong you are doing on every single play.  And the other truth is that officials like me, who have done this for more than half of their life thrive on the idea, the hope, and the desire to call a perfect game. We love the game of basketball.  We love watching athletes perform at their peak.  We love the coaches who are passionately trying to teach athletes more than just x’s and o’s.

But if we want to share our love with the next generation, then all of us are going to need to up our game on human behavior and kindness.  According to this survey, 60% of officials leave the game because of the verbal abuse from parents and fans.  So how can we increase the number of people entering the profession – yes it is a profession – of officiating.  We have to be better fans.

While our country is trying to figure out if we will play sporting events again this season, maybe we can also take a little time to reflect on what ways we can improve the game for everyone.  We can do better with health protection.  We can work on logistics that may have needed some changing, but we didn’t have time to think about. And just maybe we can take ownership over the fact that if we treat referees and officials kinder and with some respect, more people may choose the profession.  And when their is competition, there is increased performance.  Maybe one day a referee will even succeed in calling the perfect game!


7 Steps to Teaching Youth Athletes To Respect Umpires and Referees


Posted in Reinventing Yourself, The Game, The Relationship | 2 Comments

Holly Rowe Wins Me Over

The game is tight. The decisions are tough. The clock is ticking.  The announcers are crucifying your crew.  Ever been there?

My game wasn’t the biggest game of the month, but one year I worked the championship game of the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament.  During this game, we are in the fourth quarter of a fairly tight game and the book keeper, the score keeper, and the play-by-play are all disagreeing with whether a star player has three fouls against her or four.  I am the  referee on the game and my alternate is truly stuck between a rock and hard spot because while she is charting fouls, she is not keeping the players fouls.

Oh its a cluster!  But while I spend the next few minutes sorting out the discrepancy ( and the tiff between the table crew), my partner notifies the television talent of the situation.  For the next three minutes of dead air time, the television talent took the time to explain the situation AND give our crew great accolades for how we were communicating and how we had handled a tough game so far, etc. etc.  They were going out of their way to show up mercy.

Honestly, I didn’t think Holly Rowe, ESPN Sideline reporter, ever gave officials mercy.  She always seemed to be the most critical of our decisions, always trying to make controversy over plays and calls that, when reviewed against the rule book and the latest points of concern, seemed damn good (and tough) calls.  I simply was not a fan of Rowe.

Then life hit Rowe in the gut and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I began to feel empathy for Rowe.  I even sat a row behind her on a plane ride home from a game without kicking her seat. Okay forgive me for even thinking about doing it. But, I genuinely began to pray for healing.  I began to feel some form of compassion for her.

Then it was kind of strange because I started sensing her softer personality and questions on the sidelines of the big games.  And now, reading an article  I see that Holly Rowe will will receive the 2018 Woman of Inspiration Award, the Connecticut Sun’s annual homage to courage, conviction and character, Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.  In the article I see a quote from her.

“One of the women’s basketball officials was going through breast cancer,” Rowe said. “She was trying to find a wig to officiate with. But it’s hard because you sweat as you run up and down the floor. When she saw me on TV, she said, ‘if you went on TV bald, screw it, I’ll be bald officiating my games.’ If one person’s had an easier moment because I’ve gone through this, that matters to me.”

And then it hits me.  She has gone through this terrible diagnosis, fought the hard fight to be in remission and she has come heart to heart with one of our fellow officials who fought the same fight.  She now sees us as humans, with hearts and struggles and medical issues just as she.  I am deeply sorry that either Rowe or the official had to face breast cancer.  I hate it for them, just as I hate if for my dear friend who is fighting it now. But one of the beautiful silver linings of the dark dark clouds is that Holly Rowe now has more compassion than ever (as she says in the article) and she understands that officials are people too.

Holly Rowe you have won me over and I hope you are the sideline reporter on my biggest games in the future.  Continue the great work of humanizing the sidelines, capturing the bigger story, and holding officials accountable.  Here is to doing life in front of the camera.  #RefereeRpeople2

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Referees of Faith

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and have a desire to bridge the gap between your faith and your officiating career you may want to consider attending this conference.  I am simply sharing the link.  I am not involved in the conference, but I know a few of the folks who are supporting/leading it and I think the world of them.

Hope you are all enjoying your summer and are ready for a new year – new rules – new challenges!


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Sally Bell Retires

Last night many officials heard the news of Sally Bell’s retirement.  For those of us who know her, have worked for her, and possibly worked with her on the floor, we are deeply saddened to have such a wonderful person walk away from the position of leadership.  For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Sally, you are missing one of the greatest people in the game.

Sally is a living legend who continues to treat our game and our people with respect, kindness, and understanding.  It is a lost art it seems sometimes.  Sally is praised by  SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who said “Sally Bell has been an effective and tireless leader of the SEC Women’s Basketball Officiating Program, and she worked hard to ensure that the level of officiating in the SEC matches th excellence that is expect4ed for the premier women’s basketball conference in America.”  Many of Bell’s accomplishments are highlighted in this article from Hoopfeed.

What I wanted to share with my refwriter friends today is that Sally Bell rose all the way to the pinnacle of officiating both on the floor and off the floor.  And Sally is loved as much today as she was when she was just one of us, worked hard, trying to get more games, and traveling the country in planes, trains and automobiles.  I use Sally as my mentor and personal reminder to treat the game well, treat others even better, and be an everyday legend of kindness.

Thank you Sally for being a living legend for all of us to admire and strive to emulate.

If you know Sally – go ahead and tell me one of your memories of her or how she has helped you in life.

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Play The Role You Are Hired to Play

“This referee asked me to print out his paperwork for him and just have it for him at camp to sign.  Another referee emailed me just to tell me he’d been working out and running all summer, like they wanted me to congratulate them.  I just don’t think they understand,” the officiating assignor tells me this morning.

While I didn’t ask for a complete venting session, it is what I received.  Not only do I empathize, but I believe many assignors feel the same way.  I feel the lines have become unclear between boss/contractor when it comes to officiating, because generally the promotions come from within.  What I mean by that is that most assignors either were officials or are still officiating the game, which makes us feel like they are our friends.

We have seen her grow up.  We’ve seen her advance.  We know her.  She is our friend.  Well folks, she is now your BOSS.  You must communicate with her differently.  You must respect her new title, and figure out how to communicate with her in this new role.  The greatest officials, receiving the greatest games and assignments have figured out how to properly communicate with assignors, fellow officials, and other stakeholders in the game.

This morning a news story about one of the great NBA officials, reminds me of our duty to know our role, and then to be even better.  It is our role to know the rules, to workout, to do our paperwork, to keep our availability current, and to communicate effectively with our supervisor or boss.  These are the mandatory – no recognition or applause warranted – duties of being an official.  If you want to be recognized or you want to advance, don’t look for the applause in the little, totally necessary skills and requirements.  You must demonstrate more than the minimum job requirements I have listed below.  No supervisor is applauding your off season workout regime (unless of course you drop those unnecessary 40 pounds).


In the Quartz article, Danny Crawford is lauded for his communication skills, in addition to his excellence in calling games (the required minimum).

“Danny is good because he’ll talk to you,” one player told the Times. “If you’re asking a question, even if you’re questioning his call, he doesn’t take it like it’s an affront to his manhood.” 

Crawford, one of the NBA’s all-time greatest referees, made his 23rd straight NBA Finals appearance in 2017’s game one, as the Golden State Warriors drubbed James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Quartz crunched the data: It’s the longest streak on basketball’s biggest stage by a referee since 1975.

That is greatness, Dannyboy, that is greatness.  Danny handles his business and knows his role, and people recognize.  They have recognized it for more than two decades.  Do you know your role?  Do you do the minimum or do you do more? noticeably more?

When you speak to your supervisor at camp, or you communicate with their staff, are you giving them all the respect they deserve?  Check yourself.  Check your communication with your supervisor.  Maybe she doesn’t need to hear about your exercise routine, and she for sure doesn’t need to be showing you how to use your online scheduling tools… that’s your role.  My encouragement to you this camp season is to know your role, excel at it, and know that it will be noticed, without you pointing it out to anyone.  Do your job.  Be kind.  People will notice.

Have a great camp – know your role.

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