Never Stop Learning
I grew up all around team sports, but never as an athlete – aside from a brief stint chasing butterflies and picking blades of grass during recreational soccer games at a very young age, where halftime orange slices were a huge deal, or so I’ve been told. But I always had a love for competitive games, almost regardless of the sport. A fond memory was the New York Rangers in 1994 winning their first Stanley Cup championship in 50 years – with the team and their fans enduring numerous overtime, double overtime, and triple overtime heart-stopping close calls along the way. In college, I served as a credentialed sports reporter for my University’s student newspaper, and spent countless games on press row, in locker rooms, and interviewing coaches and players – football, basketball, soccer, tennis, lacrosse, you name it. While I never thought to interview a sports official, as reporters, we did occasionally benefit from an official running past press row with a brief explanation of an unusual ruling.
Fast forward to 2018. After hearing me remark for the umpteenth time how great sports officiating would be as a semi-retirement job, my wife finally persuaded me not to wait for semi-retirement to pursue the opportunity. Spring of 2020 marked my second year refereeing basketball, and first year calling scholastic games. Every minute was better than the last. The only thing better than a front-row seat at a competitive game is being on the court, as an integral participant – exercising body and mind, while keeping the game safe and fair for all participants. Calling an ever-elusive perfect game is the goal, and the pursuit of continuous improvement toward achieving that goal keeps me going.
Mechanics, signals, positioning, and communication are all critically important. That said, a willingness to constantly learn, and striving for continuous improvement might be even more important. There are countless ways – obvious and less obvious – to do so. Training classes offered by a local IAABO association are fantastic. Arguably there’s no better learning experience than “on the job” training – don some stripes and a whistle, and learn from live game situations. After the first game or two, if you’re “hooked” like I was, you’ll seek out every opportunity to get better.
I quickly found myself consuming every available Crown Refs podcast episode, watching officiating videos, and picking the brains of my officiating partners before, during and after games. My daughter is a varsity basketball cheerleader, so I often find myself in the stands supporting her activity. If I know any members of the officiating crew, I ask if I can participate in their halftime and post-game de-brief – every single time I’ve asked, I’ve been welcomed. I found myself doing the same with the officiating crews that worked the varsity games following the high school JV games I officiated. While I’ve never been shy, in the presence of these senior officials, I find myself wanting to listen more and speak less.
Never Stop Teaching
This piece already must be approaching a record length without having mentioned the crazy rollercoaster year that 2020 has been. Covid-19 has been a global tragedy on many levels. Nothing that follows is meant to suggest otherwise, but laughter truly is the best medicine.
Let me set the stage. I work a full-time job, Monday through Friday. I’m usually out of the driveway well before 8am, and rarely home before 5:30pm. And that’s if I’m not officiating a game, in which case I might not pull back into the driveway until 9pm. All that’s meant to say that my wife quarterbacks most things involving the house, and virtually everything during weekdays.
Fast forward to March 2020. Amid the global Covid outbreak, my company urged us to work from home, so I set up a temporary home office in a spare bedroom. Suddenly, I found myself answering the door for UPS deliveries, and encountering other people I’d never seen before.
One weekday afternoon (in April or May), when I stepped outside to check the mailbox, I noticed a middle-aged gentleman and a teenager with him. They were working on our yard, and I quickly ascertained this was the father/son crew my wife had hired to perform some yard maintenance for us. I said hello to them, and thought nothing further of it.
By the time I returned from the mailbox, I noticed the teenage son staring at me. After a few seconds of silence, he said, “You look so familiar, why do I feel like I know you?” I took a closer look at him, racking my brain, but couldn’t make any connection at all. I asked him where he went to school (thinking he might be a classmate of my daughter’s, but he wasn’t), and whether he plays baseball (thinking I might have umpired a game he played in). He answered no to baseball, and then a few seconds later, his jaw dropped and he turned pale.
He was briefly stunned into silence, and then managed: “You ref basketball, and you called a technical on me.” At that point, the light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that indeed, I had.
He plays in a local recreational basketball league that conducts weekend games in school gyms. (The season had concluded back in February, so our encounter in the front yard was several months after basketball season). But immediately, the details came flooding back. This particular kid had been “chatty” early in the game – nothing profane, nothing outrageous — just whining to me, asking for fouls or violations to be called. At one point, as a teammate of his was shooting free throws, I found myself standing near the kid. I walked a little closer to him, and quietly remarked that if I let him play the game and he let me referee the game, we’d get along much better. He understood exactly what I was really saying loud and clear: quit whining, and play ball. To his credit, he did.
Fast forward to late in the game. He and an opponent were getting in each other’s face – no profanity, but they were trash-talking each other. I dropped my whistle and told them both to knock it off. To their credit, they did. Shortly thereafter, the opposing team scored a field goal, and this kid retrieves the ball to inbound it. His opponent who had been getting in his face gets right up to the end line to defend the inbounds pass. The kid inbounding the ball fakes an inbound pass right to his opponent’s face. I blew my whistle and issued a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. The kid shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
Back to my front yard (and again, this is several months after the game). The kid’s dad – now alerted by his son that I had refereed his game and assessed him a technical foul – proceeds to ask for clarification about the technical foul rules. We had a pleasant conversation, and the dad seemed more than satisfied with the explanation – especially that a technical foul in that situation is designed to de-escalate the situation, and keep a fight from breaking out.
Lesson learned? That’s to be determined when basketball resumes.
Until then, stay safe. Keep learning, keep teaching. Serve the Game.
When he’s not refereeing basketball or umpiring baseball, Adam is also a full-time dad (of a high school sophomore), husband, and investment professional. He’s a University of Virginia graduate (still the reigning NCAA Men’s Basketball champions!), a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter holder, and a member of Hampton Roads Basketball Officials Association (IAABO Board 94).