Officiating at a sporting event is a demanding position. Initially, I was motivated to do it for only one reason: to give back; but, much to my surprise, it proved to be an inroad into my career promotion.
As an athlete in junior high and high school, I remembered that we were always short of officials. Now I know why. You need thick skin.
Sports referees are put in a position of trust. They have to be knowledgeable about the game and to have the confidence to make a call when rule infractions are violated. The officials must have thick skin to take the verbal abuse that the coaches and spectators throw their way after making a call on the playing field/court. On every call, 50% of the crowd thinks it’s a great call, the other 50% of the crowd consider it the worst call ever!!! It gets really interesting when the entire gym is rooting for the home team and the official makes a call against the home team! Add to this scenario, the fact that officiating is a thankless job and you can understand why recruitment for officials is constant and why most quit after their first season.
I stayed committed and in the process, I was surprised that officiating proved to be an unexpected training ground where I developed important skills that helped me secure promotions at work. In the United States Air force, an Airman earns the promotion to Sergeant when the Airman has proven his or her knowledge. The challenge is the ability to apply his or her knowledge to subordinates during critical situations. This can take years to master, and sometimes never happens.
The younger troops can tell who the true leaders are by the way the leaders carry themselves with confidence, the way they make educated decisions, the way they physically communicate knowledge of a required task, and the way the real leaders can look past a “Yes, I understand” to offer help to subordinates who are still struggling. Senior leadership can also see those same traits in up-and-coming young Sergeants. Going from an Airman (follower) to Sergeant (leader) happens overnight. One day you are an Airman, the next morning you are a Sergeant. You don’t gain all that confidence, applied knowledge and critical decision making overnight.
In my Air Force career I have had many opportunities; I have had to compete against hundreds of my peers and colleagues over a 21-year career. I have had to find a way to separate myself from the pack. Officiating helped me do that.
Studying the rule book in order to officiate at the games was the easy part. The challenge was to apply the knowledge and develop the ability to execute the call during the right situation in the game. Making calls in front of hundreds of rabid fans forced me to be knowledgeable about the sport I am officiating and to apply that knowledge in a quick, decisive, minute-by-minute scenario. I learned to make rapid decisions and to take the “heat” when those decisions were not popular. Most importantly, it was through officiating—which was initially motivated purely as an attempt to give back– that I learned to sell myself in any situation through confidence, knowledge, and leadership.