COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Each spring, the USA Hockey Officiating Education Program takes over the U.S. Olympic Training Centers in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs for its annual Eastern and Western Seminar Instructor Training Programs.
The goal of the specialized officiating training programs, which were held April 25-28 in Lake Placid and May 2-5 in Colorado Springs and just completed its 35th year, in essence is to teach the teacher. In other words, these programs are designed to provide ice hockey officials resources and lessons that they can then take back to their home rinks to share with colleagues at local officiating seminars, where more local officials would come to learn how to up their game.
Participants in both sessions of the training program were recommended by their District Referee-in-Chief as some of the top performers in their field, and were selected for the chance to attend after an application process.
“We try to give them a foundation to go back to the local classrooms at the beginning of each season to instruct our officials who are attending the mandatory seminars,” said USA Hockey National Referee-in-Chief Dave LaBuda. “This gets them started in learning how to use the instructor manual.”
At the beginning of the four-day event, each participant was given a Classroom Seminar Instructor Manual containing all topic guidelines, on-ice drills and other materials necessary to conduct a USA Hockey Officiating Classroom Seminar. The program was broken up into both classroom and on-ice sessions.
“In the classroom sessions, we’re covering some of the material contained in the instructor manual,” LaBuda said. “On the ice, they’re actually demonstrating having an actual ice session with real seminar participants in order to learn how to manage those drills on the ice and make the most effective use of the ice time.”
While on the ice, groups of officials would create the drills based on a topic that was given to them, explain it to the other officials and then run the group through the training. These drills included faceoffs in various zones, icing and offsides, and how to properly call a penalty among others. Once the drill was completed, the instructors received feedback from the other participants as well as USA Hockey staff on how to make sure the drill was performed as efficiently as possible.
“Getting feedback from the other participants and instructors on what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong has been good,” said Robert Pugh, an official from St. Louis, Mo. and a participant in the Western program. “We’ve been going over a lot of classroom techniques, and for those of us who aren’t teachers by nature, that has been good.”
For participants such as Matt Wilhite, becoming an official and participating in the Training Program was a great way to stay involved in hockey. He was also named the Western Instructor Training Camp Milt Kaufman Award winner.
“It was literally the last thing I had done for the sport. I had played, coached, ran a rink and ran leagues,” said Wilhite. “I felt like I needed to give back in another way.”
LaBuda said that the training program is a way to reach out to membership at the local grassroots level, and provide consistent messaging as to the expectations of officials during a game. He said that anybody that is interested in becoming a seminar instructor should contact their District Referee-in-Chief.
“Everybody has a limited amount of time on the ice. There are opportunities to stay involved in the game, and becoming a seminar instructor is certainly one of them.”
To get involved and become a USA Hockey official, click here.
Many sports across the board have begun to see a decline in their number of officials. USA Hockey is no different, with numbers lagging slightly behind player growth.
With that in mind, USA Hockey has made a particularly concerted effort over the last couple of years to incentivize officials to stick around.
Not surprisingly that was the main topic discussed at the annual USA Hockey's Winter Meetings, according to National Referee-in-Chief Dave LaBuda.
“I'd say the overriding tone of the meeting was us talking about retention and trying to come up with ways in which to address that particular issue,” LaBuda said. “It's a very complex situation. There are a number of different factors that go into why an official decides not to stay registered. We can only address a certain number of those factors and the rest we have to hope fix themselves in some way.”
In an effort to be proactive, USA Hockey has implemented sweeping change in the registration process for existing officials.
It started by revamping the registration fees, and while some of the other minutiae is rather hard to digest, the most notable change is the reduction of registration requirements for officials that reach the Level 3 or Level 4 status.
As soon as an official has obtained Level 3 or Level 4 status for three consecutive years, they will become eligible to apply for tenured status. In order to attain that tenured status, officials must also attend what USA Hockey is calling an advanced officiating symposium.
“It's designed to encourage people to continue their level of registration and to advance to a higher level of registration,” LaBuda said. “Just getting them to climb that ladder and try to attain the highest level of registration will make them better officials, and in turn, improve the game.”
Essentially, USA Hockey wants to send a message to its officials, making it clear that their time is important to the organization.
“We understand that people's time nowadays is becoming tighter and tighter,” LaBuda said. “We wanted to make sure that we made the entire process as efficient as possible from a time standpoint.”
It seems to be working so far as USA Hockey has been able to stabilize its registration numbers over the last few years, according to LaBuda.
“We are starting to see some movement in that retention area,” LaBuda said. “It seems like every sport is experiencing a critical loss of officials to work their sport. We are hoping that these changes in the registration process will help us retain more officials down the road. It’s been a positive step in the right direction so far.”