In order to see growth, first the seed must be planted. USA Hockey is continuously planting seeds to grow the game we love, and part of that means sewing the seeds of growth and development for officials.
“We want to see the officiating program grow at the grassroots, too,” said Central District Referee-in-Chief Bob Cunningham. “And I think there are great strides being made in that.”
An official since his 30s, Cunningham has seen increased efforts take root. He shared what some local programs are doing to attract and prepare new officials.
USA Hockey: What are some different types of techniques and approaches local groups are taking to recruit officials in your area?
Bob Cunningham: One stands out in mind and that’s St. Louis (Missouri). They use all their new officials on two separate weekends when the youth teams are playing scrimmages that don’t count (toward their record). During that time, all of the new officials have another experienced official as a shadow on the ice. It’s a big thank you to the (hockey affiliate) and local youth teams to allow this, because it’s a great learning experience without some of the trauma that can be experienced when a new official is just tossed out there.
Additionally, the affiliate has given the officials association a number of officiating equipment sets, which includes the helmet, visor, sweater and whistle. Newly registered officials just have to put a $100 deposit down. At the end of the year, if an official decides that officiating isn’t for them, they get the check back. If they want to keep going, they keep the set and the $100 is cashed. It’s been very popular and I’m eager to see how many people decide that officiating is for them.
USAH: What are some struggles local affiliates encounter in gaining officials?
Cunningham: It’s never been an easy job (recruiting officials). Lately though, I think there’s been an element of time involved and trying to find people that have the time to officiate. There are only 24 hours in a day, unfortunately, and we can’t give anymore.
USAH: How much time is involved in officiating?
Cunningham: To become an official, you’re looking at a commitment of 12-15 hours to complete registration. Now, some of those last for two years before having to renew. Then you have the game. Most last an hour with officials having to be there 30 minutes before and after the game, plus a commute to the rink. So I figure you’re giving about three hours out of your evening or weekend.
USAH: But the games are there if officials want them?
Cunningham: There are areas where an official can get as many games as they want. The Chicago area is assigned roughly 40,000 games per year, so officials can get as many as they want. Other areas where there are more officials per capita, those might be a bit tougher to schedule a lot of games.
USAH: What do you look for when recruiting an official?
Cunningham: You have to target skaters. That’s another tough part because you can’t just go and pick people off the street unless they can skate because it’s a necessary skill to the job. You’re looking for people that can skate and have hockey sense. Once you get them, then it’s the process of training and keeping them.
USAH: What are the benefits for officials who stay on board?
Cunningham: There are plenty. Yes, there’s money involved, but there’s also an element of competition that people are attracted to. There are a lot of people officiating who were players and they like being an official because it’s competitive. You’re in competition to be an honored official and you’re competing to control the game, too.
I think that’s why I love officiating. The competitive nature, plus it’s a pretty good fraternity. More importantly, it’s a way to stay involved in a sport you love.