The motivation behind the changes is simple: to create a safer, higher-quality game. And it all starts with training a broader spectrum of officials.
This summer, USA Hockey’s Officiating Program camps will have a new structure and objective at the entry and intermediate levels. What were once known as the Regional and National Camps, are now the Futures and High-Performance Camps, respectively, and will aim to educate a larger group of referees.
“We have been constantly reviewing all of our programs to determine, first of all, if they’re the most effective way to use our resources, and, simultaneously, if they are serving our membership to their maximum benefit,” said Dave LaBuda, USA Hockey’s national referee-in-chief. “What we decided to do was restructure our entry-level camp as well as our intermediate camp to not only better serve our officiating membership, but also the general hockey community.”
The Futures Camp is an entry-level program aimed at educating attendees and bolstering their officiating foundation. The men’s program will expand from two camps to four — regionalized by east, north, west and central — while the women will still have one entry-level camp. Both are undergoing similar changes, and with 12 to 18 participants, LaBuda hopes they’ll be able to educate a stronger corps of grassroots officials.
Unlike the former entry-level camp, USA Hockey won’t be ranking officials at the start of camp, a procedure that shifted participants’ focus to finishing the program in the top five to 10 percent. Instead, they want to eliminate that competitive environment and introduce a session focused on bettering the game at the local level.
“We’re going to give them as much information and as many resources as we can to take back to their local area, to not only improve their individual skill levels, but hopefully pass that on to other officials in their area, too,” LaBuda said.
“With the Futures Camp, the objective and the importance to us is that we provide those participants with a thorough understanding of the fundamentals and basic philosophy of officiating. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the subject matter is going to be taught at a very basic or fundamental level. We’re going to do our best to evaluate those that attend to make sure they have a foundation in those officiating mechanics, the fundamentals and so on. Because without that, quite frankly, you have a very shaky foundation to build off.”
While LaBuda emphasized that the Futures Camp is open to any official regardless of experience, age or goals to advance within the game, they hope participants grow on that foundation in the High-Performance Camp — though it’s not a requirement.
The intermediate-level program will be more competitive and designed for officials who hold an interest in pursuing officiating on a more full-time basis or possibly as a career at a higher level.
“The Futures Camp lays the foundation for their future activities or goals in the game,” LaBuda said. “The High-Performance Camp starts to build that structure upon the foundation so they can then experience higher levels of hockey. They’ll be exposed to more of the mental and psychological side of the game.”
USA Hockey has already made an effort to provide consistent instruction for officials no matter where they work, with online video programs and in-classroom seminars at the start of every season. Changing up the camp structure is the next step in that process.
“We want to provide a better-educated, a better-trained official at our grassroots level, which will hopefully, as they work with other officials who have not attended a Futures Camp, teach them and apply it back to the grassroots level — in turn, making that game a better quality game not only from a fairness standpoint, but a safety standpoint,” LaBuda said. “Ultimately, what we’re always trying to do is to better recruit, better train and better evaluate our officials to make all of amateur hockey, from the grassroots level all the way up to juniors, a better game.
USA Hockey has started taking registrations for this year’s camps. Information about each program is available on USAHockey.com
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