Summer is slowly fading. Air conditioners are being put away, the sun is going down earlier, the air is starting to become less humid and more crisp, and we all know what that means: hockey season is right around the corner.
Refs are being freshly certified, new refs are looking at their striped sweaters in excitement (or terror, who knows), and games are starting to be assigned. I’m about to start my fourth year of ice hockey officiating, and I’ll give you a few tips for starting off the season on a high note.
- Don’t be late. I should really just make this whole list about not being late because there is nothing worse than being the ref who is early and watching the clock tick closer and closer to game time, wondering where your partner is. I get it, if you’re doing a men’s league game at 10:30 at night, no one wants to be there. But you got assigned to it, so show up on time. If this were a retail job, or an office job, you wouldn’t be late. Don’t flake out on this one either.
- Pretend to care. Trust me, I get it, doing those 7 am squirt games is the worst. Possibly the only thing worse than that is getting assigned to do 5 mites games in a row in the middle of January at an outdoor rink. And those men’s league games? Forget it. Those guys are basically overgrown squirts and possibly even skate worse than the 10 year olds. But while you’re over there snickering about how they can’t stop and start properly and instead turn in a wobbly circle to follow the play, remember the fact that this is their Stanley Cup final, and for some, this is the highest level they’ll ever play. They showed up because they want to play, so the least you can do is pretend to care, and ref their game respectfully. Don’t lounge about on the boards near the benches and half-heartedly flap your arms in the air while making calls. Do it right, or don’t do it at all.
- Keep your availability up to date. Sometimes assignors give out games a few weeks in advance—or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve never gotten my games earlier than a week beforehand, but that works for me, because I can plan my schedule week by week. But make sure your availability is up to date. Set it up about three months at a time—for example, I just went in and got my calendar set up from September to early December. If something comes up and you’re suddenly busy, make sure to go in and adjust your schedule accordingly. I’m not an assignor but I imagine it’s a pain in the ass to give someone a game and then find out two days beforehand that, surprise! They can’t actually work the game. The more you turn down games, the less you’ll get assigned to them.
- Look the part. Even if you have NO IDEA what you’re doing on the ice (like maybe this is your first game ever), you should try and LOOK like you know what you’re doing. Referees get evaluated once or twice a season, and one of the sections on that evaluation sheet grades you on how you look. Make sure your pants and sweater are clean. Make sure that you actually have your crest on. Make sure your laces are white. I had a partner once that started frantically digging through his bag before a game, and was worried because his laces were yellow, not white. It’s just like how you wouldn’t show up to the office wearing sweatpants and an old t-shirt. Dress the part.
- Be bold. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but you are the referee; you control the game. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If a coach starts yelling at you, use a firm (loud) tone of voice to politely tell him to calm down (and back the hell up). If you’re intimidated (like I am sometimes), don’t let it show. Fake your way through it and eventually, you’ll find that your bold attitude is no longer an act.
- Get your skates sharpened. Because you do not want to be the ref that is sliding and falling down all over the ice. Everyone will point and laugh. Everyone.
- Keep your head up. In a literal and figurative manner. Literally keep your head up, otherwise you’ll be that referee that got in a player’s way and ruined the play and no one will let you forget it. And figuratively, keep your head up. Don’t let one bad call, or one mistake get you down. You will make hundreds of mistakes, so just embrace it now. It’s tough to be the person that everyone’s yelling at. I once worked a game where my partner didn’t call what was apparently a blatant penalty, and the coaches, the parents, and the rink manager were hounding him relentlessly afterwards. Sometimes it’s hard to want to get back out there after something like that happens. You’re gonna make mistakes and make bad calls, or let calls go that should have been whistled, but you have to keep your head up, otherwise you won’t make it very far.