Making the commitment to become a USA Hockey referee requires, well, a commitment.
Thirty percent of first-year officials don’t complete the registration process and are therefore ineligible to work games. While it takes dedication and time to complete the registration process, all steps are necessary in order for new officials to understand their role in the game and provide a safe and fair playing environment on the ice.
Finding a solution to reduce the number of “incomplete” officials is a big challenge. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for the hundreds of hockey communities across the country and many people who need to be motivated to make a difference.
“You can only do so much,” said Leo Boylan, Atlantic District referee-in-chief. “The official has to want it also.”
Completing registration as a referee isn’t as simple as signing up and getting on the ice – and that’s by design, since it helps with quality control.
First, a prospective official must complete membership registration with USA Hockey. Once their registration is confirmed, they must complete roughly eight hours of training divided between a scheduled local classroom seminar and online video modules they can complete at their own convenience. These steps provide the educational foundation of rule knowledge, positioning, procedure and teamwork.
“There’s a lot to learn,” said BJ Ringrose, coordinator of USA Hockey officiating education. “We all think it seems simple at first, until we step on the ice with the whistle on our hand and realize what is expected of us. Our annual training is designed to provide all 24,000 USA Hockey officials with consistent information and set them up for a successful season.”
Beyond classrooms and online modules, all USA Hockey officials must successfully pass an online open rulebook exam. Additionally, officials attempting a higher level of registration must pass a closed-book rules exam at their classroom seminar. The exams are designed to test an official’s knowledge of playing rule application and fundamental on-ice mechanics similar to what they might face during a game.
Lastly, all USA Hockey officials who are 18 years of age and older must complete USA Hockey SafeSport training and a local criminal background screen every two years. This process is no different than any coach or adult volunteer, and is necessary to ensure the safest, most positive environment for all participants in the game of hockey.
While the registration process might seem extensive, USA Hockey believes a thorough training process is necessary when you consider how many hours of practice a team goes through prior to their first game of the season. Once this process is complete and the official receives his/her officiating card and sweater crest, an official can start officiating games.
According to Boylan, the problem with officials not completing registration isn’t solely attributable to the process. Many first-year officials are teenagers who are excited about the opportunity to ref, but if they lose their initial focus and enthusiasm, officiating takes a backseat to playing hockey, school and other activities. In those cases, it’s not uncommon for the registration process to be left incomplete.
Another challenge of registration is the self-motivated nature of the registration process. Once they leave the seminar, it’s the would-be official’s responsibility to complete the remaining steps. Without the necessary guidance and motivation, they will sometimes struggle to finish the modules or take the open-book test. Boylan noted that the Atlantic District officiating administrative staff considered hosting an after-seminar optional classroom session, to help these prospective officials complete their modules. But since the modules must be completed online, every official must be working on a mobile tablet or laptop. At this time, they simply don’t have the resources to make this idea a reality, but they consider it an option for future seasons.
Another solution Boylan suggests is assigning registration mentors to the officials. A handful of new officials would be assigned to a veteran who would periodically check in with them and make sure the rookies have the support and guidance they need to complete the registration process.
“If I have 300 incomplete officials each season and can cut that down to 150, I think we win,” Boylan said.
The mentors would engage with the officials and help them get through the registration process. They wouldn’t be able to sit down and finish the modules with them or hold their hands through it, but they’d be there to encourage them to complete it.
Once fully registered, Boylan has encouraged officials to take part in a shadow program at the recreational house level, during which a veteran official is off the ice, watching from the sidelines and available should the inexperienced official on the ice have questions. The mentor on the sideline has no official bearing on the game, rather they serve as a coach to the new official, helping with positioning and providing encouragement. Additionally, they can be quick to communicate with an overly emotional team bench that might be creating a less-than-optimal environment for players and officials alike.
Boylan has already implemented this program in the Atlantic District and the hockey associations he works with welcome it.
“The new officials are shadowed and they get confidence, which is what we need them to feel,” Boylan said. “We want them coming off the ice saying ‘that was fun. I liked what I did and I want to do it again.’ That’s what the shadow program does."
Boylan is also focusing on targeting specific demographics of USA Hockey members to recruit more refs who are more likely to complete the process. They’re looking for people who played hockey competitively growing up. The ideal recruit would be someone who, after playing for a junior-level or collegiate team, graduated college and are starting to work full time. They’re people who are responsible, understand the game and, ultimately, are accountable.
The Atlantic District staff hopes that these initiatives and programs will help someone who is considering becoming an official make that thought a reality, and create the most positive environment to develop.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter