Jason Nickleby; Director of Officials, Minnesota State High School League
If you stick around any occupation for any length of time, it is in our nature to dwell on the negative at times. “We don’t get paid enough.” “My boss is too tough on me.” “The travel is not worth it.” “My colleagues are not team players.” Anyone who has officiated, no matter the level, has felt that one or more of these statements applied to them. There is no doubt officiating can be tough and challenging on occasion causing us to ask ourselves, ‘why am I doing this?’ At the same time, there are many elements of officiating and participation in athletics that are thrilling and challenging in a good way. We get so bogged down in the negative, that we forget why we got into officiating in the first place. In the middle of a tough game or a long season, we forget that officiating is fun!
The National Association of Sports Officials recently had a session at the National Summit titled, Help Wanted: Why Officiating is Cool. The topic really hit home with me. We, as an industry, are focusing too much on the negative. It is time to accentuate the positive! Officiating is cool. Being a part of something bigger than ourselves is cool. Give back to the sport that has given us so much is cool. Giving back to kids is cool!
We are altering our focus when it comes to recruiting and retaining officials by reminding our current officials that officiating is cool. Instead of worrying about not having enough officials, we will celebrate and encourage the great crop of officials that we have in Minnesota. We won’t lose sight of the fact that we can always use more officials in every sport at every level. However, maintaining or increasing our numbers includes keeping the ones we have. Hats off to the officials who go out every weekend and give kids a chance to play!
Officials are human. It feels great when we are appreciated and wanted every once in a while. Simply saying thank you goes a long way. Are officials expecting coaches, players or fans to agree with every call or non-call? No. However, any words of encouragement will keep someone in it for the long haul. Again, many communities and organizations do a great job with officials. However, if one person does a little more than they used to, then it our focus on the positive was worth it.
Our long-term goal is to highlight the great officials we have each season as we move forward. We will not dwell on what we don’t have. Instead, we will emphasize the contest officials who give so much without fanfare or acknowledgment. We will not listen to the noise or focus on the negative energy that surrounds a controversial call. We will celebrate the friendships and memories created. We will not give in to self-doubt or indecision. We will have the confidence and poise to make the big call. We will accentuate the positive!
As part of this on-going commitment to current officials, the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services (MYAS) is launching the Trusted Officials Program. Trusted Officials will provide feedback and support to youth officials across Minnesota, Wisconsin and the rest of the country so that they can feel supported and confident in the great service they provide. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) has great respect for all officials and supports them in the role they play in sport. Trusted Officials provides that support to youth officials, many of whom are registered MSHSL officials as well. Officials and youth organizations can feel good about the commitment by the MYAS to retention of current youth officials through development and relationships. Trusted Officials is the perfect vehicle for this endeavor and we look forward to seeing officials grow in their chosen sport by taking part in this one-of-a-kind program.