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The Road to Varsity Requires Patience, Patience, Patience

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"Be patient, Barbara. The games will come." Such was the advice of Ed, the camp director of the first basketball officiating camp I attended in 2006.  Ed took a personal interest in my career and helped me improve by observing my games and encouraging me to focus on the big picture.  He advised that my goal should be on step-by-step improvement and a conviction that I will improve if I put my mind to it. AND, to give it time, and the games will come.

In light of my summer promotion, I was eager to receive my varsity assignments and share those experiences with Ed. In truth, I was antcipating several varsity games, but only received three. Out of 55 game assignments, I ended up being assigned only 3 girls varsity and 52 timer and non-varsity games. Disappointed? You bet. But I remember Ed's sage advice and reflect on what was, in hindsight, an excellent season.

Patience, as Ed pointed out, is the core to learning the officiating craft. My blog is entitled "The Patient Whistle" because it is an officiating term that refers to an official's ability to patiently allow a play to start, develop and finish before deciding to blow, or not blow, their whistle. A patient whistle, I realize now, applies not only to a play, but to my journey to varsity. It means that I must be patient with myself and evaluate my achievements, not by the games I am assigned, but what I learn from each game, and what I master, irrespective of the level of play.

I was assigned 3 varsity games and close to 50 non-varsity match-ups. In over half of my non-varsity assignments, I was the referee, or the "R", who is the senior member of the crew. As the "R", I am expected to manage the crew and the game, to have a handle on the rules, and temper such knowledge with common sense, professionalism and courtesy. One critical aspect of being the "R" is working with my partner(s) in such a way as to ensure that we act together as a crew, not as individuals.  This is not as easy as it may sound.

On three occasions, I had a partner overtly and dramatically correct an out-of-bounds that I called. He shook his head, blew his whistle, drawing attention to himself as if to say, "Barbara! You were wrong and I am here to make it right!"  The general rule on out-of-bounds calls is that a non-calling official should only inform the calling official if ASKED by the calling official.  In close games, if the non-calling official is 1000% certain the out-of-bounds call is incorrect, only then should he/she go to the calling official and advise.  The calling official may then change his call. But this kind of interaction must be discussed and agreed upon during pre-game. In this manner, the crew can act quickly and smoothly.

This same partner spent little to no time on pre-game, but an inordinate amount of time before the game and before throw-ins chatting with coaches.  The problem with this is that such conversation, almost "too friendly"behavior, can be misconstrued as favoritism.  We are instructed to keep conversation to a minimum. In fact, we are often counseled to not even smile!  But I have a hard time with that!

In another game, I was partnered with a first-year official who, in her enthusiasm, called a foul near the end of the first half with 1.2  seconds on the clock.  The clock continued to run, however, and the buzzer sounded and my partner then waved her arms to signal the end of period.   When we went to the locker room, the observing official asked us why we ended the period when there was still 1.2 seconds remaining, which is a lot of time. I was advised that, as the "R", I should have blown my whistle, gone to my partner to offer information, then instruct the timekeeper to put 1.2 seconds back on the clock.  This clock correction could have been accomplished without compromising my partner's call and would have  enhanced our credibility as a crew. Ouch.

With each game, situations would arise on throw-ins, coaching delays, correctable errors and putting the ball in play after time-outs. I made mistakes, and each time, I noted the error and voweed not to make it again in my next game. My pre-game became richer, more complete. When my partner(s) arrive an hour before toss, we would engage in detailed pre-game planning and the resultant quality of our game showed in the consistency and flow.  This behavior carried through in my varsity games serving to strengthen my officiating repertoire even more. 

Two particular coaches remembered me from my first freshman games some years ago. These coaches, even though they disagreed with some of my calls, found ways to acknowledge me in subtle ways. Clearly, they have become accustomed to my officiating style as they address me in ways that almost always facilitate a professional response.  More often than not, I overhear how they refer to me when  talking to their players and assistants, and there is respect and it is mutual.  

The Road to Varsity was paved with more non-varsity games than I had hoped. But, I now know that, with each non-varsity game, my confidence builds,  my judgment sharpens, my patience increases and the chance to help younger officials conspires to  bring me closer and closer to achieving  my goal of full varsity status.  Be patient, I tell myself.  I'll get there.