Nobody ever said that officiating—especially officiating ice hockey—was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the abilities necessary to be a successful official. Some possess more of these skills, and those are the officials who advance to higher levels. But regardless of the level achieved or the skill set the official possesses, the one quality that should be equal among every official is a high level of integrity.
The USA Hockey national office staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of personal pride among our youth hockey officials. It’s sometimes said that no one is holding them accountable. A portion of this perception is likely a typical “blame-the-officials” mentality, but some anecdotal evidence suggests there is also some merit to this concern. That’s alarming to USA Hockey, as it affects the credibility of our entire program, along with every member it represents. The blunt truth is this: Even one official who isn’t on the up and up can and will damage the credibility of all officials who take pride in the integrity of their work.
Whether we like it or not, officials are under a microscope, and by the nature of the business, are held to a very high standard. When we signed up for this officiating gig, we committed ourselves to represent the game of hockey, USA Hockey, our local group of officials and ourselves as people of integrity who accept the responsibility and guardianship of enforcing the rules in a fair and consistent manner. Most importantly, we must remember that the game is bigger than all of us and that the game itself is what we serve. Those who lose sight of that not only compromise the competitive fairness of the games, they also make life more difficult for all of the officials by damaging the credibility of the officiating community.
The concerns that come forward range from an overall lack of effort to continued misapplication of the rules to a blatant targeting of an individual player/coach in abuse of power situations. Granted, calls and emails received are generally taken with a grain of salt, but after some further investigation, there are many cases where the complaints have merit. We expect players and coaches to be responsible for the equipment they wear, for their actions on the ice and for upholding sportsmanlike behavior at all times. The officiating community must also be held accountable for those areas that put into question the professionalism and the integrity of our team.
No one has ever demanded perfection from our officials, nor does USA Hockey place that expectation on us. But we do expect our officials to know the rules, give 100 percent effort on the ice, regardless as to the level of the game, and maintain a level of integrity that can never be questioned.
Officials should hold themselves accountable in these areas and acknowledge when a mistake is made, learn from it and do what is necessary to make sure the same mistake does not happen again. At the same time, local officiating leadership has to lead by example and set the tone for accountability and, unfortunately, failure at this level is what does the most damage to the game and our credibility.
When the officials that everyone is supposed to look up to can’t meet these expectations, it trickles down and minimizes the potential for success for any official in that area. It is here where the affiliates, local supervisors of officials and local leagues must take a vested interest in the success of the game and officiating by establishing clear expectations and then holding those officials who refuse to meet those expectations accountable for their actions. This can be done through continuing education, game fee fines or possibly even suspension.
Fortunately, these types of officials are few and far between, but they do exist and to simply stick our heads in the sand and not address the concern is irresponsible. Each of us, as officials, has an obligation to behave in a professional manner at all times and take our role seriously. We made a commitment to approach each game with the understanding that the game is about the players, and we should be invisible until the players require us to appear as a result of infractions that occur. Respect is a two-way street and simply putting on the sweater with the USA Hockey crest suggests respect is warranted, but it must be supported by your actions.
USA Hockey has an obligation to create a non-threatening environment that promotes respect for officials and an opportunity for officials to improve through education and evaluation. USA Hockey does this through playing rules, points of emphasis, zero-tolerance policies and comprehensive education programs for officials, coaches, parents and players.
In return, the game expects USA Hockey officiating members to bring a professional image to every contest and an attitude that creates a positive environment and makes the game better. We realize everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of the game. However, laziness or unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and being creative in rule enforcement and not holding players/coaches accountable for infractions will only make the next team of officials’ jobs much more difficult and set them up for failure.
The reality is that the game official must always hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and behavior both on and off the ice. That is the expectation we are required to meet.
As we finish off the 2016-17 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation and if you have been doing so throughout the season. If the answer is no, the off-season would provide a great opportunity to reflect on whether officiating is worth continuing for you.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter