It has been repeatedly said that technology has made the world a smaller place. The development of device hardware and software has made communication and collaboration more efficient, and the USA Hockey officiating program is proud of the many improvements to membership services over the past 10 seasons through the development and launch of new technology.
The online membership registration status feature available in the USA Hockey Courses System profile offers more than 25,000 officials 24-hour access to their annual registration record information to check progress with certification. The online Game Incident Reporting System has brought consistency to the process of submitting game reports and tracking repeat major offenses by players to ensure accountability for poor behavior on the ice. Lastly, the Mobile Rule Book App places the roughly 400-page USA Hockey Playing Rules and Case Book in everyone’s pocket at no cost.
However, the launch of new products are not the only goal of USA Hockey. Each product is constantly evaluated for improvements to better serve our members and volunteer administrators.
The most recent upgrade is adding an officiating assignments permissions feature to the officiating information page in their USA Hockey courses profile that allows officials to share personal contact information across district lines. This will allow local supervisors and game assignors access to contact information of officials living across state lines who want to work in their area.
USA Hockey sat down with USA Hockey Coordinator of Officiating Education BJ Ringrose to learn more about the feature.
USA HOCKEY: How much technology is used by game assignors?
BJ RINGROSE: It varies, but it’s become much more prolific during the last 10 seasons. Twenty years ago, local game assignors would sit down with the local game schedule, a pencil and a book of phone numbers. Some assignors actually still use this method, but larger areas have adapted to using online game assignment software to send out weekly assignments, and in most cases, make direct deposit payments of game fees with the press of a button.
The officials can use the same software to submit weekly availability schedules, activate automatic text messages to remind them about upcoming assignments, and in some cases, pick up last minute assignments when someone needs to turn back a game.
USAH: It sounds like online software offers a lot of convenience and benefits to those who use it.
BR: Technology has definitely made the game-assignment process a lot more efficient for game assignors who cover large hockey communities. However, most assignors will tell you they could always use a few extra officials on their roster. With expanded use of the three-official and four-official systems at higher levels, the demand for labor as gradually increased. Generally, game assignors are always looking for officials who are willing to work for them. The question is how do they find them?
USAH: So this new officiating assignments feature serves both the officials and the game assignors?
BR: Yes, in addition to helping the various district and local administrators become aware of non-local officials who want to work games in their respective area, the feature serves as an advertising tool for officials looking for opportunities to work games beyond what they might get locally.
Maybe you might live in a small hockey community like Lewiston, Idaho (Rocky Mountain District), where games are limited due to the size of the local hockey association. If you’re willing to drive a few hours up to Spokane, Wash. (Pacific District), your opportunities for more game experience, higher level assignments and better development might increase.
Or, you might live in the Northeast, but you go to college on the West Coast. This tool allows you to keep your personal information consistent with USA Hockey, but at the same time, share it with your administrators and assignors near your school during the season.
Basically, this new feature allows the official to share his or her contact information with district administrators in any area of the country with a message of, “Hey, I’m interested if you need me.”
USAH: So it’s as simple as checking a box to open opportunities for yourself as an official?
BR: In theory yes, but in reality, it won’t be quite that simple. If the official is still unknown to the administrators and game assignors in the area he or she reaches out to, that official will still likely have to directly reach out to those administrators via email or phone call.
It’s the responsibility of every official to build a professional officiating services brand around their name. This is done by working hard locally to build a respectable game experience resume and list of personal references who will share positive recommendations with administrators in other areas.
USAH: Were there any major challenges during development of this officiating assignments feature?
BR: Not challenges as much as recognition of the responsibility to protect the personal information of our members. That is paramount. We would not and cannot allow any game assignor or state supervisor of officials to see everyone’s personal information, so we designed a tool that allows the official to personally choose which parts of the country he or she shares their information with. Once a particular USA Hockey district is selected, administrators in the USA Hockey courses system can download that information.
Furthermore, we made sure the information shared was exclusive to the game assignment process. In other words, only contact information, mailing information (for tax forms), age and officiating level and completion status are included. The assignor simply is looking for the fact that the official is completely registered at a certain level and eligible to work games. They are welcome to gather any other information they feel they need directly from the official, but that is in the control of the official to share that info, if needed.
Most importantly, the feature is an “opt-in/opt-out” tool that the official can turn on and turn off at any time. You don’t ever have to share your information with anyone beyond your local USA Hockey membership registration-based district staff who receive that information directly from USA Hockey.
USAH: It sounds like USA Hockey has the best interests of their officials in mind with this feature.
BR: Absolutely, we first and foremost properly educate and prepare officials to work USA Hockey sanctioned games, and offer membership support in the form of protection and insurance during an incident involving injuries or liability provided they follow our playing rules, game procedures and guidelines.
In other words, we serve our officials who become independent contractors and then can choose to work for whoever they would like. At this time, we have no formal mechanism to recognize assignors and/or have any influence over them, unless the USA Hockey affiliate has created that avenue.
USAH: Are there other safeguards in place for the protection of personal information?
BR: Yes, each district has a designated district database coordinator with whom USA Hockey directly shares all of their respective membership information. These database coordinators are required to sign a privacy agreement document that prevent them from distributing or selling membership information to third-party companies or through any avenue other than to perform the necessary activities of USA Hockey. The district database coordinators are charged with filtering this information and funneling down only what is necessary to the local assignors so they have the information on their eligible officials within their area.
The game assignors are responsible for collecting any additional personal information from officials in their area, which officials naturally want to share. This is usually done during classroom seminars or after seminars, once the official receives the USA Hockey card and crest.
Furthermore, all administrators in the USA Hockey courses system (where registration for referee seminars and coaching clinics is hosted) are required to read and acknowledge an online privacy agreement when they join as an administrator. This privacy agreement is similar to the privacy agreement signed by district database coordinators.
The basic principle is it the USA Hockey official’s choice as to whom he or she decides to share personal information with.
USAH: Back to the feature, how did this project get started?
BR: The concept was originally suggested by some of our district referees in chief. When you think about how close the district boundaries are in the Northeast, it makes a lot of sense that officials in that part of the country might want to drive an hour to another state for additional opportunities.
On the flip side, a local supervisor or game assignor might be initially set for manpower each week, but there might be a few weekends when they host large tournaments. In this case, they can reach across state lines and bring in 4 – 6 extra officials so no one gets burned out through the weekend.
USAH: So it’s another case of USA Hockey using technology development to better serve their membership.
BR: Yes, we take a lot of pride in providing our membership with exactly what they need.
NOTE: The new officiating assignments feature in an official’s USA Hockey courses profile can be accessed by signing into USA Hockey Courses and using the links to proceed to their officiating information page.
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