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The Road to Varsity - Mentoring Milestones on the Road Ahead

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It's been five weeks since I moved to the Tarheel State, and in that time I have attended two basketball officiating clinics. The first was held at UNC Charlotte and served as an introduction into North Carolina high school basketball. The second was a teaching camp at Liberty University, run by NCAA officials and my fourth summer attending that camp.

Close up of basketball, referee jersey and whistle

The quality of games and evaluations in both clinics, in retrospect, helped me realize how far I have come in eight years, and how far I have yet to go. And while both camps provided a variety of opportunities to learn and improve my officiating, the most significant lessons had less to do with pure officiating and everything to do with mentoring.

At the UNCC camp, I reveled in a rare opportunity to be the new kid on the block, the new official of unknown background, the transfer.  I stood out not only because I was a new face, but also a woman, increasing the female official headcount to 21 (I am told). I spent three days listening and watching, assuming the role of student, a role I have perfected. When not officiating, I sat next to evaluators and listened and watched. I learned the pet peeves of the commissioner, his likes and dislikes as well as his “must do’s if you want to get ahead.”  I gained invaluable insight into organization politics and requested additional games if there were any to be had. The student part of me was alive and kicking.

And then, game two, a girls JV game, two man crew. The evaluator introduces me as the “experienced official” to my partner and that he should “take his lead from me.” My partner shared with me that he was in his first year and that he had not taken any officiating classes. He was a recreation league official hoping to receive high school assignments.

“Wow!” I thought to myself. I didn’t expect this at all. In my previous association in Northern Virginia, being the senior official, or crew chief was not new to me. I was frequently partnered with new officials. The difference, however, was that in my former association, those new officials had achieved a level of proficiency earned through classroom, court training and evaluations. Even state high school officiating camps require a level of experience as a pre-qualifier to attendance.

By contrast, at least in this particular camp, that requirement did not appear to exist, for it was evident that some officials had very little training, if any. My role as student of officiating was quickly transformed. And for the first time in eight years, I not only felt like a senior official, I was officially acknowledged as one, and had to take on greater responsibility than ever before as crew chief and mentor.

To be clear, the role of the crew chief is not necessarily that of mentor. The crew chief role exists only during a game. He or she is the pre-selected senior official who is accountable for the performance of the crew assigned to him or her. He or she influences crew behavior through discussion and instruction.

A mentor on the other hand, is chosen by the mentee and the role and relationship is driven by the mentee over time. While mentee behavior is also influenced by the mentor’s discussion and instruction, the primary tool of effective mentors is listening. My goal and challenge for the next steps on the road to Varsity is to serve -and excel - as both crew chief and mentor.

Just two weeks after the UNCC camp, I attended the Referee’s Choice Basketball Officials Camp at Liberty University. What sets this camp apart from others is the mentoring philosophy of the camp leaders. Each evaluator, a seasoned NCAA official, not only provides outstanding instruction but demonstrates the art of mentoring through selfless dedication to helping others. The positive energy generated in this manner by camp leaders is infectious and the power of their mentoring emanates through other officials in the class.

One official, Scott, had attended the camp for the last three summers, and I had the chance to officiate games with him each summer. In both games, he was crew chief. His friendly style on the court was matched by his speed and composure. After the first game, I thanked him and told him how great he looked on the court and how well he managed the game. He responded, “That’s only because we had great crewmembers like you.”

In the second game, I never forgot the manner in which he helped me manage a difficult player.  During the few seconds before the ball going live, Scott pointed to the player and announced to the crew (and by default, the coach) that “this player needs to be watched.”

It worked. The player 'behaved' from that point on. I had used that tactic effectively in a scholastic game last season. When I saw Scott this past weekend, I shared the story and thanked him. His response: a high five, a big smile, and a comment, “Barbara, I remember our game, and frankly, I felt you were the best official on the floor that day.” Whether his comment was true or gratuitous is irrelevant to what Scott, a fellow camp official, taught me about mentoring:

Mentor lesson #1: great mentors let their mentees shine - through words and actions.

Other officials I worked with this summer demonstrated the same compassion and class. I had trouble in the final minutes of a close game on an out-of-bounds call. I approached my partner, but, unfortunately, timed my question to him within earshot of the coach. Recognizing the potential problems that could arise with the coach, my partner confirmed my call on possession with such authority that no one would question him or me. Later, he explained, “Barbara, even if you were wrong on the call, I would support you. And if the coach was to question me, I would support you. We are a team.”

What these experiences demonstrate is that mentoring lessons will present themselves during times you may or may not expect. And, the mentors or messengers of those lesson are not always obvious. I continue to benefit from the mentoring of others. Its is my turn to give back and await the opportunity with eyes and ears wide open.