A new partnership between the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and USA Hockey Officiating Education Program is on a mission to recruit, develop and retain first-time officials. Next Shift, a new initiative overseen by Kendall Hanley, the NAHL’s Manager of Officiating, is designed to provide long-term support for new officials through education, experience and mentorship.
USA Hockey: How did you get started in officiating?
Kendall Hanley: I got started right out of college. I loved every aspect of my day-to-day life playing college hockey — the camaraderie, the teamwork, the challenges, the ups and downs. When my college career came to an end, I didn’t know what I was going to do.
I was very fortunate to fly home to Dallas over spring break my senior year, and meet someone at a local pickup hockey game who happened to referee. She explained to me what officiating meant to her and what opportunities existed at the time. I thought about it, and for me it was a no brainer.
So I got my start in Dallas, and then 15 years later and a few states, I’m here in Minneapolis, and I work everything from international to youth.
USA Hockey: You recently achieved a huge goal…
Hanley: Yes, I was very fortunate and honored to be selected to represent our country and officiate this past February at the Winter Olympics. I’ve had many amazing experiences come to me through officiating, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and the mentors who have guided me along the way.
USA Hockey: You accepted a new position with the NAHL as Manager of Officiating. What’s that experience been like so far?
Hanley: Leading up to Beijing, I started thinking about my next career step. In the past, I had been a director of hockey and coach — I love that side of the game, but my true passion is with officiating. The family of leagues that we have in the NAHL was an incredible part of my ladder of development as an on-ice official, so it felt like a good fit for me. We have junior jockey and youth hockey, and that is really important to me, the youth side of it. I’ve stepped into this role with the goal of creating opportunity, development and support for officials. Whether they strive to work at the junior levels and beyond or just be the best official that they can be and bring that back to their community. That’s what this is really about — that’s why I took this role.
USA Hockey: You’re leading the Next Shift initiative. Can you tell us about it?
Hanley: I’m overseeing this initiative with the full support of Keith Kaval, NAHL Director of Officiating, and the entire NAHL family of leagues. Next Shift is a program intended to inspire players 18 years of age and older who are at the end of their youth, junior, college or professional career to consider becoming an official as their next step. It’s a program that recruits, develops and advances new on-ice officials through education, exposure and experience. We incentivize them by covering the start-up costs to get into officiating, we guide them through every step of the process to get started, and we provide continuing education and support through our team of experienced mentors.
Depending on the official, they might get fast tracked. Again, we want them set up and working hard in their local community, but if one of these new officials is excelling and deserving of an opportunity and a challenge within our family of leagues a little sooner than later, then we can make that happen.
USA Hockey: Why is this initiative so important?
Hanley: Fifty percent of officials quit before their second season. There’s proven evidence that with a mentor program, continuing education and support, these officials will make it beyond year one and onwards in their career. Everything we do in this program is intended to support the officials in both the short- and long-term.
Also, many of the skills they will use on the ice translate into other aspects of their lives. Learning how to navigate challenging situations by using emotional intelligence to read the room and using de-escalation tactics when necessary are just a few different tools in their toolbox that will help them on and off the ice. Likewise, time management, professionalism – all important life skills.
USA Hockey: How’s it going so far?
Hanley: It’s off to a fantastic start. All our officials are in our Google Classroom, participating in “Whistle Talk!,” our monthly webinar continuing education series, and “You Make the Call!,” which is a monthly quiz. Everyone has been paired with a mentor and, at minimum, is connecting with them once per month.
Leagues are starting up and officials are beginning to work games. We leave time at the end of each webinar to discuss how everyone is progressing, talk about any situations they have seen or rule questions and interpretations they have – it is a great opportunity to connect, reflect and grow.
USA Hockey: How can someone get involved in the program?
Hanley: They can go to nahl.com/officiating/next-shift/ where they can read more about the program, the requirements and the application process.