For the second year in a row, USA Hockey counted an increase in registered officials. While those numbers point toward a promising future, there’s always room for improvement.
USA Hockey’s officiating leadership recently assembled in Orlando, Florida, for the 2017 Winter Meetings. The Officials Section reflected on changes and discussed improvements.
USA Hockey’s National Referee-In-Chief Dave LaBuda recapped some of the important highlights from the meetings and shared with us what officials can expect to see:
USA Hockey: What were some of the main points of discussion at the meetings?
Dave LaBuda: The main focus is on registration. We look at registration numbers, which as things stand right now, are projected to be up three percent from last year’s numbers, which is positive sign. We start to dissect portions of the registration process, things like the testing program we have.
USAH: How do you go about improving the registration process?
LaBuda: We start the process for next year’s registration season by developing new test questions to perhaps replace ones that were most commonly missed. Or, we work on those commonly missed questions to give the test taker a better understanding of what we’re trying to get at with the question. We also talk about developing new online video modules, based on the feedback that we get from our district referees-in-chief, who get that feedback form the general membership.
USAH: What are some of the biggest concerns surrounding officials?
LaBuda: One of the ongoing concerns of our section has been recruitment and retention of officials. One of the decisions that was made by the Officials Section was to form a workgroup to focus on the registration program in its entirety, and its objective will be to review and recommend changes to the whole section that will provide better opportunities for anyone interested in officiating, as well as to our current officials.
USAH: What are some changes the workgroup is hoping to make?
LaBuda: Nothing is off the table as far as recommending change. The core has remained the same for a very long time. We’re not necessarily saying they’re not correct or right, but obviously lots has changed over the last 20 or 30 years and maybe it’s time to take a look at the program in its entirety. We need to make some changes to make the registration process and requirements more appropriate to what’s available and what our membership needs today, which is perhaps different than what it needed 20 or 30 years ago.
USAH: Who is a part of that workgroup?
LaBuda: It’s a smaller group of people, and it’s made up of people within the referee group as well as officiating program leadership. There are six people on it – I’m a part of that as well – but those people are currently gathering ideas and feedback from all the other district referees-in-chief. When they meet, which will be the middle of February, we will be able to put all of those ideas in the pot and start talking.
USAH: Are there any other major changes we can expect to see?
LaBuda: The fact that the section developed this workgroup signals that it realized we really do have examine the whole registration program and the requirements. That’s going to probably be the big news that will be coming in the future. Because the requirements to become an official at the various levels are part of USA Hockey annual guide bylaws, we really can’t implement any of the potential changes until 2018, which is the next legislative year for USA Hockey. That’s when we would be able to change the guidebook to reflect the new changes we might want to make in our registration requirements.
USAH: Attending seminars is a large portion of an official’s training. Will there be any changes to the format of those seminars?
LaBuda: Just two years ago we made quite a big change when we implemented our online training video modules. We reduced the classroom time and evaluated not only the classroom but also the online video module portion. We don’t want to waste anybody’s time. We want to make the time that they devote an opportunity to continue their education, which is how we see those video modules and classroom seminar sessions. We want to be sure they feel like we’re maximizing what they’re gaining from those programs for the time they invest. This being a rule change year, they’ll be more focused on not only the online portion but also the classroom with any new rule change.
USAH: How does the rule change affect education of officials?
LaBuda: USA Hockey went to a four-year cycle in rule changes. We used to be on two-year cycles. USA Hockey is currently entertaining some new playing rules. Those decisions will be finalized in June at our annual congress. Then, it will be our job in the officiating leadership to make those new rule changes known to our membership and educate them on how they manage a hockey game.
USAH: What’s the feedback been like regarding the online training modules?
LaBuda: It has improved as we’ve improved the quality of those modules. The first year was a learning year for us. We dramatically improved in Year 2. Every year, we’ll continue to work on improving the quality as well as the subject matter to make it more in tune with what the membership is telling us they want.
USAH: What are some promising changes happening for officials?
LaBuda: We continue to have success in promoting a certain minority of our officials. When I say minority, I mean the officials who have decided they want to continue to move into the higher level of hockey, which of course requires a greater commitment at the NCAA Division I college level, or semi-professional or professional ranks. We also continue to have a growing presence on the international level. If my memory serves me right, we had 36 assignments at the international level. I do believe that is probably the biggest number from a single national governing body.
USAH: What do you think sparked that success at the international level?
LaBuda: I think a big part of that is the commitment we’ve made to our education programs, and our push to get officials to work higher-level games when they’re ready to work those higher-level games. That decision is based on their individual level of commitment to becoming better, as well as the availability of the positions to move them up at the same time.
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