Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Chapter 15: I'm Blind, I'm Deaf, I Want To Be A Ref!

I'd never cared much for refs. I didn't like them as a player and learned to hate many as a coach and hockey dad and fan. I especially hated the ones with an attitude or those who seemed to act like they were more important than the game. If I thought a ref missed a call or made a bad call I would let them know it.   Idiots. 

Then I got kicked out of a game for being a jerk. It was a couple of years earlier. The Jaguars were playing a team at the Glacial Gardens in Long Beach, California.  Glacial Gardens is pretty much the center of the Socal hockey universe.  It is owned by Ron White, the godfather of Socal youth hockey. The facility had three surfaces.  Our game, on this day, was on the smallest rink.  It was tiny. Too small. 

I was behind the glass in the corner.  I was video taping the game and I had a clip board for recording stats.  Hitting from behind was a big thing and there was a new rule that year.  A penalty for checking from behind resulted in two and a ten.  A two minute minor penalty plus a ten minute misconduct. 

There was a girl reffing the game. She had either missed or let go a number of hits from behind, against both teams.  I was angry, not about any unfair advantage, but that someone was going to get hurt if she didn't crack down and start calling these hits. 

Just then there was another hit from behind against one of our kids in the corner.  I and a number of other parents were yelling at the ref.  I took my clip board and banged it on the glass a few times for effect. 

Next thing I know, the linesman is standing in front of me motioning.  He was ejecting me!   I did my perp walk with the rink security guy.  I think I have a problem. 

The problem was me. I needed to manage my emotions and not get so upset by what I deemed incompetence.  The next chance I got I signed both Max and myself up for the referee clinic to get trained and certified to officiate. This changed my life.  

For one thing, I realized how difficult it is to do that job.  When you watch a hockey game from the point of view of a player, coach or fan you have a bias, a vested interest in an outcome. Seen through this prism your perspective is colored by what you want to see. Someone hits, trips, hooks or punches you, of course it's an infraction.  When you do it to an opponent and he goes down you can claim you barely touched him. "How can you call that?"

I remember the first few times I reffed or even "lined" a game I couldn't even tell who was going which way. When objectivity is required everything looks different.  It's much more difficult to make a judgement call when you have no stake in the result.  A fellow official gave me a tip that was immensely helpful in "seeing" the game and sorting out who's who on the ice. He suggested that I do an internal play-by-play commentary in my head.  You know, like:  "the red team has the puck behind their own goal. The d-man makes an outlet pass up the boards to his winger...."   Etc.  this really helped me early on sort out the play.  Again, being neutral takes some time and experience to be able to make good decisions.  

It's also humbling becoming one of "them". I'd spent a lifetime hating on this group of policemen. Now I was one of them.  All of a sudden crazy uninformed screaming parents seemed silly.  I went on to work youth games at most levels and adult league.  I've had to deal with crying mites who refuse to go to the penalty box all the way to drunk grown men who I had to eject.  I officiated a game while Teemu Selanne watched his squirt aged son play.  He thanked me after the game. 

Officiating ice hockey has allowed me to learn innumerable life lessons about human nature, including my own.  Once I watched a series of plays where a forward was right at the edge of committing a penalty two or three times.  I didn't call anything.  Next he stepped in front of a player, interfering with a scoring opportunity.  I called interference.  By itself it was an iffy call. But in the context of what I saw it was the correct call.  He yapped and whined all the way to the penalty box.  I started to explain to him how he committed a number of borderline fouls that I'd let go before finally making the call.  He laughed and winked at me and told me he knew but he has to make it look good.  Great lesson for me.  No matter how legitimate the call it is human nature to dispute it.  It's not personal. No need to debate it.  This gave me tremendous freedom. 

Max also got his referee certification.  He's a very good official.  He's been working games since he was thirteen.  It's a fantastic work experience for any kid. It's a great way to make more money than any part time job he could have gotten. He's continued to ref through prep school, juniors and college. Where else can a kid earn $40+ for an hour and fifteen minute game.  How many hours  would someone have to work Jamba Juice to make the $120 or so you make doing a three game set? And the leadership and responsibility learned from dealing with whacko parents or uninformed adult players is priceless.  

There would be at least one more incident where I got upset with a ref while coaching.  It happens two years from this point. I'll get back to it in a chapter or two. 


  1. Good call ref.its interesting to be on the dark side. You realize how dumb and biased most people are. As someone that has reffed middle school lacrosse all the way to the pro's you go through quite a journey.
    First, learning what the heck to call. Then getting to a craftsman level where you don't call wvrything by the book and create flow to a game.
    Its hard not to become jaded or let your ego get to big since most people don't know the actual rules and nuances. If you do it right noone will know you were there and the balance you achieved to keep a smooth game.
    Good article stevie...glad you provided a little humbleness ti your well decorated hockey career.

  2. There's one thing I've always wondered about the occupation of refereeing. I mean it is a job as stated in this chapter. However, unlike most jobs I have always wondered what a referee must do to get himself/herself fired? Like any occupation there are always those who do their jobs better than others. There are employees who work harder and take their jobs more seriously than others. The are those who excel and those that do not. This profession/occupation is no different. If there is a difference than I would GUESS (not for sure) that referees that don't excel, that dont work as hard as other's, that don't take their job's as serious as their fellow workers don't have to worry about losing their jobs. I can make this assumption because we are all aware of referee's who have earned a reputation for being less than satisfactory. This same reputation would lead to the loss of employment in many fields, but it does seem that this is the case in the world of refereeing. Having assistant coached, and having shared a small changing room with many referee's for an entire season I have had an opportunity to listen in on some interesting conversations to say the least. What I've taken away from all of this is that no one refereeing is too worried about losing their assignments/jobs. If you're going to apply for a job and earn a paycheck as a result of employment than one should at the very least be held accountable for a job poorly done. If that's asking too much than not only should you not be referring, but you shouldn't be holding any other job either. Imagine a school teacher who has earned a poor reputation for not working hard enough, for being outworked by his/her colleagues, for not worrying about being replaced by other's willing to out perform him/her. Would you be willing to put your kids in this teacher's classroom?? Is anyone aware of a referee who has been fired?

  3. I'll take a crack at your question. It's not a simple answer. First of all,
    No matter who is reffing, there is always a learning curve. This learning process never ends. If a ref thinks they know everything they have a problem. It's a hard job and everyone makes mistakes. A big part of the job is the ability to relate to coaches, parents and players. The ability to master relating can make up for mistakes when they happen.

    The Association matters. Some referee associations care more and are run more professionally than others. The association manages the communication between rinks and leagues, schedules and trains officials and is accountable for dealing with quality control. It is up to the association to deal with acknowledging progress and achievement or with dealing with ineptitude, issues and failure.

    Poor quality officials if dealt with appropriately should be worked with by the association leadership, trained, observed and scheduled at appropriate(lower) levels.
    The world of officiating gets very competitve as you go up the ladder of levels, from youth house leagues, to travel then Tier Travel, to high school, prep school, junior and college and finally to professional hockey. Officials are tested, rated, evaluated and promoted based on ability. If you are playing coaching or watching hockey at the lower levels you need to understand that the quality of officiating is commensurate with the level of play.

    This is not to say that you won't get frustrated and disagree with an official at any level. If there is truly an issue with a ref it is usually taken care of by the number of complaints he or she receives and his or her ability to correct the issues.

    Finally, attrition tends to take care of bad officials. It's no fun bring a poor ref. A bad ref with no commitment to prove doesn't usually last very long at any level.

  4. Thanks for the reply. I guessing the actual answer to the original question/questions are both no. No, you wouldn't want your kids in a classroom with the above described teacher, and no you are not aware of a referee that has been fired. To me, the level of play matters not, and that's because the check must be EARNED not guaranteed if the job is truly going to benefit all involved. It just seems like a simple solution to me as it would to most employers. Weed out the bad and do it quickly!!

  5. Given the reality of recruiting officials for youth sports I believe it is a false equivalency to compare a referee in youth sports to the career of a school teacher. One begins as a part time avocation. The other is a full time profession. Sure they are both "jobs" but I would not put them on the same level.

    In my limited experience with one local association unqualified officials are not so much "terminated" as they are simply not scheduled to work games. I have not seen anyone terminated. They typically just go away because they aren't good enough to get scheduled to work games.

    The "job" of officiating at the lower youth and adult levels are barely more than volunteer positions for which there is a modicum of compensation.

    I've never seen a ref who warranted the kind of termination you are alluding to. I assume do to the likelihood that unqualified refs just don't last very long whether they are terminated or just stop reffing because it would be a miserable existence to be that bad. Believe me the money is not the motivating factor.

    You seem to have put some thought into this issue. Feel free to share your experience. I'm curious why it is such a peeve for you.

  6. First of most refs are pretty darn good at what they do. I respect MOST but not all. Last season I played in 18 games without seeing the box once. (beer league Icetown) I'm not a guy yelling at refs for their calls. That being said, there are a few LONG TIME refs I would have terminated had they been employed by myself. There are grown men and it most certainly is a part time job at the very least. As a business owner I would expect my employees put forth the same effort whether the are working on a Mercedes or a Hyundai. As a customer you would not expect that your vehicle would be serviced poorly, or paid attention to any less because it was not as FINE of a vehicle. If my son were to work at Jamba Juice, then it would be fair for his employer to require him to give the same effort when making drinks regardless of who they were for, or how much they cost. Basically, nothing should allow for him to give less effort from one day to the next. I am aware of a few refs who give little to no effort when reffing B level hockey but do a great job while reffing tier I/II AAA/AA hockey.
    Said ref skates hard and positions himself well last season during an 18AA game in Valencia. He puts forth a solid effort and refs a good hard fought game. Two days later the same ref is working a Bantam A game and the guy is in cruise mode. He's looking into the crowd making eye contact with me for some weird reason while the puck is two zones away. Basically, he's making it clear that this game is of little importance even though the kids on the ice would not agree. These kids deserve to have a ref who is paying attention and giving a solid effort. He's drawing the same pay as the day before but setting an example for the younger refs that we can take it easy when working some games. Most employers would have a problem with this work ethic, and it's not something one can get away with at most jobs. If you're going to make $120.00 for the 3 game set than EARN it. As a parent and a player I like to get what I pay for. I guess that's my peeve. Just venting it's not a problem thats going to go away thats for sure.

  7. Gotcha. Sounds like you have a legitimate beef. If I were you I would be contacting the board of the local association and voice my concern. You are right in every respect.

    You do need to watch out for the old boys network. If he's been around that long he could very well be on the board. You should be able to look them up online to see who to contact. The other course you could take is tto contact the hockey directit(Larry B?). He can do something about it as well.

    I doubt this guy would be fired, but it sounds like he needs to raise the level of his game, especially at lower levels.

  8. My kids was the one playing in the 18AA game and he's done with youth hockey now. Headed to college next month. I don't see this problem ever going away, and that's because it doesn't seem to be a "typical" job where an employer has the right to terminate the employee. If you don't have to be worried about losing your job, then some people will always be willing to take advantage of that.