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Up Your Game – Set Your Eyes

While I’m getting my body primed to move, I am also examining the players. Who are leading drills? Which players shoot the best?

Officiating is very much a “learn by doing” profession. You can read the rulebook, but that does not tell you how to apply a rule in a pressure situation. You can watch video, but you do not get replay or slow-motion in a game. You can signal in front of a mirror, but you cannot see yourself signal when relaying a penalty. With few opportunities to practice, you need to make the most out of each available moment that a game provides.

One of my favorite ways to practice is during pre-game warm ups, and it is called setting your eyes. I learned this technique from an excellent collegiate official, Hans Wittelsberger. He graciously allowed me to sit in on his crew’s discussion before an NCAA playoff game. As the players warmed up, I noticed Hans do something I had never seen before. He jogged to the far side of the field, positioned himself near a goal where a team was doing 4v3 fast breaks, and he practiced what he would do in the game.

This was breathtakingly simple, and I was stunned that I never saw an official do this in my ten years of officiating. Proof that you can always learn something new, no matter how long you’ve been doing this.

After the game I asked Hans about this, and he said he uses a team’s pre-game drills as an opportunity to set his eyes. This makes for an easier and more complete transition from working and traveling to officiating.

Since then, I made it a point to set my eyes before every game. Here is my routine:

  • 12-minutes before game time, I keep my eyes on the teams while performing the following warm up exercises. While I’m getting my body primed to move, I am also examining the players. Who are leading drills? Which players shoot the best? Is there anyone who is acting especially amped up? This is a great way to get a feel for teams when you do not have access to statistics.

  • 8-minutes before game time, I jog over to whichever team is doing fast break or 6v6 drills by their goal. I never blow my whistle, and I stay clear of the players because I do not want to infringe on their warm ups.

    • Practice positioning

    • Practice out of bounds signaling

    • Practice crease mechanics

      • Player coming at me – watch the feet

      • Player going away – watch the body

  • During the National Anthem I close my eyes, breath deeply into my belly, and repeat my mantra – “focus, focus, focus, and have fun.”

Once the anthem is over, I am physically, mentally, and emotionally ready for the game. I will officiate at least 50 games this season. By following a structured method to set my eyes, I add about four hundred extra minutes of intentional practice. Which makes me more likely to get the calls right in critical moments in future games.

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