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New Year's Revelations-- the Journey Continues

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Happy New Year!  Duke Won!  UConn won! Basketball  season is officially over, and in a few months, my new year begins.  Thats right, at the end of June I'm headed for officiating summer camp.   In preparation for the new season, my eleventh year of officiating  I begin with  New Years Revelations.   Revelations, not resolutions  are important to me for they are more than  lessons learned. They are major stopping points during the season that force a confrontation with myself.  This is the time of year that I reflect on those unforgettable moments of pain, elation and confusion that have the force of redefining my goals.  There are four revelations from last year:

1) Disappointment is a good thing.  Disappointment is like being lost—  it forces a person to figure out where he/she is and ask the follow on questions— am I  completely lost or is this just temporary ? Am I  still headed in the right direction, or do I turn around and go home?   This past year, despite approaching  each game with  “I’m ready to conquer the world” kind of confidence,  at the end of three games I felt as if I had failed miserably.    And what bothers me most is that two of the games were varsity assignments where I hoped to shine.  In hindsight, these games were characterized by either a severe imbalance in team skill level, and/or equally significant experience imbalance amongst the officiating crew, which by the way,  is far worse than the former.  When a crew is imbalanced, for whatever reason, the crew’s behavior is inconsistent and communication before and during the game is ineffective or non-existent.  The net result is a runaway game where regardless of which team won,  the coaches, players, parents and officials are frustrated and unhappy with the way the game was managed.   Now with months to reflect on this, I realize that the failure I felt, the huge disappointment  in myself, is a painful  part of the learning process.   And while I take some solace in the fact that these failures happen to all of us at different points in our lives,  that despite this, I still received several varsity assignments even after those games in question  I even received a post season varsity assignment which tells me that I am still on the radar of the assignor, problem games notwithstanding.  Of course, I still have much to learn,   and  I know that the only way to learn is to keep moving forward with games, camps, and mentoring feedback. This is the same path, the same formula since 2005 when I first started this journey with disappointment (and success ) a necessary companion.

2)I am outnumbered. Every year our association grows with an influx of new officials who are younger, more physically fit, had played high school or college ball, and have more time to fail - and  succeed- than I do. Many of them are clearly bound for college officiating.  They are today where I wish I could be— starting their officiating careers with assets that I am only now beginning to earn.  And as I approach my 6th decade of living,  I realize that one of my original goals— to be a college official- is no longer realistic, and that I need to focus exclusively on becoming a high school varsity official instead.  While this could be discouraging, it is in truth, liberating for my goal is clearer than ever  before. This may also mean working at least twice as hard as my youthful colleagues  on my mental and physical fitness. It may also mean finding ways to shore up on my greatest weakness, actual game knowledge - learning team offenses and defense strategies and anticipating the kinds of plays and potential  fouls these strategies generate.  But these tasks I take on willingly because, unlike my youthful counterparts,  my age is also my asset.  For at this stage of my life,  I have nothing to lose, no ego to bruise and everything to gain- for just the trying.   As I stated earlier, disappointment is a part of the journey, but so are the successes- however small.  At one game, I noticed the assistant coaches for both teams was a woman while the head coaches were men.  I tend to feel a certain camaraderie with women who, like me, strive to carve out our stake in a male dominated culture. It seems that in some cases, these assistant coaches felt as I did and we established an unspoken professional connection that facilitated the overall tenor and management of the game.  On the weekend following a game, I was surprised and pleased to see that same assistant coach was assisting  in a recreation youth league game to which i was assigned.  We chatted about the game earlier in the week and it was then that I realized that this official:coach exchange,was in fact, a gift— a gift of  professional and personal connection valued by me and very likely other women  who share a passion for basketball and youth sports.
3) Don’t forget the value of (non-basketball) wisdom and experience.  I had the opportunity to help Wendy, the daughter of a close friend by offering her a place to stay while she relocated to this area. Wendy is a college official and was recently invited to audition for the National Basketball Association at their upcoming camp.   Wendy, like other officials, has a full time job during the off  season and her relocation was prompted by a new job  in this area. When I learned of Wendy moving here, I was excited to help.  I looked forward to talking “shop” with her, attending one of her D3 tournament games, watching the Final Four together  and even asked her to observe me at a high school game one night.  What I did not expect, was Wendy’s interest in my opinions regarding her new job and a myriad of non-basketball issues.  Wendy  asked for advice on writing, editing and rebuilding her resume.  She asked about  interview preparation and techniques.  What questions to ask a prospective employer and and what to listen for.  We discussed corporate structures and industry nuances that factor into deciding which jobs may be best for her.  I was amazed at how much I could share with her as I took for granted my 35+ years of work history— an experience 300% larger than my officiating career…. something that I never thought about until today.  I now realize that my years of business success does indeed play a role in the officiating world, but in ways I never dreamed of.
4) I hate rec ball. This is by far the toughest revelation of all and I am still on the fence about how to deal with this going forward.   For years, I advocated the rec ball experience especially for newer officials as a way to develop basic officiating skills.  In the last several years, my opinion of rec ball has soured due to abusive coaches and parents whose behavior towards officials goes unchecked by youth league leadership.  After a particularly ridiculous set of games one weekend, I vowed to quit after this season.  Then,  the next weekend I was assigned a three game set for different league.  These coaches and players restored my faith in youth leagues and reminded me of the reason I started officiating in the first place : to use sports as a way to teach kids life lessons and indirectly influence coaches and parents on this philosophy.  This league clearly shared my perspective. The coaches never yelled, belittled or berated the officials. When I felt I missed a call, or if a coach disagreed with a call,  I found a way to briefly discuss the it  at the right time, and with a smile and nod between us— we moved on.  After the game, coaches and players approached the crew  to thank us.  There were times when a coach, before a game, would approach me to discuss a particular rule that confused him. This league created a rare environment where all stakeholders could literally work and learn together.   It is one of the instances where an official is not only part of managing the game, but also a teacher, of sorts in a way that is not applicable or appropriate  for high school officiating.  I enjoyed my experience so much, that  I approached the league president who was also one of the coaches and told him so.   I also told my assignor, and to my delight,  was assigned to that league several times over the next few weekends. And every time, the experience  was a positive one— regardless if the teams won or lost.  If I had my way, I would find  ways to bottle and sell the formula that makes this league so effective. I don’t know if next winter, this league will be the same…..  In the meantime, I have a few months to think about it.