Officiating has highs and lows, but the good times stand out

I’m one of those guys people love to hate.

Not because I’m a jerk or a particularly disagreeable fellow. It has more to do with a certain after-hours activity that I’ve been involved in for the past dozen-or-so years.

You may have yelled my name and not even known whom you were barking at. You know, “ref” — as in, “come on, ref!” I’ve been called much worse, believe me, but when you’re a sports official, catching flak just goes with the territory.

Yeah, I’m one of those gluttons for punishment and perpetual ridicule. A human punching bag. The guys who are only right when a call goes your team’s way. Fact is, half the fans think nearly every decision we make is wrong, so we have to develop a pretty thick skin if we’re going to last.

It’s no surprise that those who can’t let criticism roll off their backs don’t stick around very long. It’s a difficult, thankless job that eats up a lot of time and has a tendency to burn people out. But if you like working with kids and serving the community, officiating can be highly rewarding. It’s a decent source of income, and it can be pretty fun, too — most days (sigh).

I’m proud to say that I have weathered the storm and come away better from the experience, both as a referee and as a person. I’ve taken my share of crap over the years, but I survived the harsh initiation period to become a respected official in soccer and basketball.

Just a little background: I have logged roughly 2,000 soccer games in the Yakima Valley at the youth, high school and adult levels since 2009. I have officiated dozens of high school playoff and State Cup matches, I’ve worked on eight Yakima United semi-pro games, and I was selected to represent the Yakima Valley at the 2019 state tournament in Shoreline.

I’ve been reffing youth basketball for even longer, but I didn’t get serious about hoops until 2017 when I joined the high school association. I’ve managed to work my way into the varsity rotation the past two seasons, and I’m motivated to keep learning so I can reach the same level I have in soccer.

I don’t pretend to be infallible, but I am an effective game manager who implements the rules correctly and works well with players and coaches. Some people inevitably will take exception to my calls, just like they do with every other official. But I don’t let their dissent bring me down.

I know the rules better than most people watching, and I know how to put myself in position to make a sound judgment on every play. If someone can provide me with information I don’t already have, I’m willing to listen. But that’s still not likely going to change my decision. My advice to coaches, players and fans would be to accept the call and move on.

So how do we, as officials, get through all of these controversial encounters each year and still maintain our sanity?

I have found that if you act professionally, enjoy yourself and show some humility, people generally respond well to you, win or lose. Being a good communicator and showing some hustle will also earn you respect. The rest comes down to building confidence in yourself and learning from your experiences.

But even when you do everything right, the job is still full of challenges. That’s why we spend hours every year improving our skills. We attend training courses, watch situational videos online, attend games when we’re not working, and discuss scenarios with one another. A number of local soccer officials go to an annual developmental clinic at Central Washington University and participate in out-of-town tournaments so we can continue to improve.

You may not be able to tell from the stands, but we put a lot of time and effort into being the best game managers we can be. So next time you find yourself yelling at one of us on the field or court, try to remember that we don’t just show up and start blowing the whistle. It’s a process and everyone is at a different stage in their development.

Do we deserve criticism from time to time? Sure. But by no means should we be treated as second-class citizens or know-nothings because someone happens to have a different opinion about a particular call or non-call.

People are passionate about their sports, and if they think someone is responsible for their team not winning, they’re going to air their frustrations. Believe me, I get it. As a former soccer player, I understand the frustration people feel when dealing with officials. But now that I’ve been on the other side for the past decade, I can tell you that the job is much harder than it looks. Be frustrated, be annoyed, but please be respectful.

That being said, I would say I’m treated well by 95 percent of fans, coaches and players in the Valley. Other refs may not report the same level of acceptance, but for me, feeling appreciated didn’t happen overnight. It came from years of hard work, building relationships with people in the community, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

This job isn’t for everyone, but I’ll bet there are a lot of folks out there who don’t yet know if it is or not. You don’t know until you give it a try — and I’m really glad I did.