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Making The Choice To Officiate High School Football

Making The Choice

Deciding to become a football official requires you to ask yourself some tough questions

by Tim Cahill


First in a series, What It Takes To Be A Successful Football Official

Making The Choice

Preparing For The Season

Working The Game


There are many reasons why people decide to try their hand at officiating high school football.  Many played the game and simply wish to remain involved in it in some capacity.  Some watched it and say to themselves that it would be fun to be on the field.  Certain folks have used officiating to remain active and get some exercise.  For others, their spouses demanded they get out of the house and find a hobby.


But no matter the reason, the decision to work - or remain working - as a football official is not a decision to be made lightly.  Notice I used the word “work”.  Football officiating is a job, a vocation.  Relatively speaking, it takes no less time, effort, and energy to be a good football official than it does to be good at your current job.


To be successful on the field requires three things.  First, you have to make the commitment to be successful.  Next, you have to prepare yourself to be successful.  Finally, you have to take all of the knowledge you gained in preparation and manage the games successfully.  You will not get to be a good official if you do not concentrate on all three areas.  


In this and future posts, I will provide you with some insight as to what you will need and the questions you will have to ask yourself, as told through the words of veteran officials.  While critical for new officials, I think it can also serve as a sort of refresher for even the most decorated of our officials as we begin preparing for the upcoming season.  


We are going to focus on the first item - making the choice - today, and will follow up with the last two items in later posts.



Making the commitment

The decision to work as an official might seem an easy one for many, but it is not one that should be made flippantly.  While officiating football may look easy from the comfort of your easy chair or sofa, actually working as one is a whole different ballgame.  (Pun intended.)  


There are many factors that go into being successful on the field, but it starts with a proper mindset.  There are certain traits, considerations and attitudes that need to be present in any good official, not only when first starting out, but also after working several years.


I asked some officials in our district to comment on what those traits are, and what all officials need to ask themselves as they consider, or continue, a career in high school football officiating.  Their replies follow.  As you read them, continually ask yourself, Is that me?  Can I do that?  Am I cool with that?  (Or, to sound hip, Am I down with that?)


  • “One of the best officials we ever had (Ernie Nelson) gave me the following advice in one of my first year preseason meetings.  I’ve never forgot it.  He said, ‘Son, keep this in your head.  If you are lucky enough to receive a game, be happy that you got one no matter where it is or if it is a B team or 4A varsity.  Those boys all practice the same amount of time no matter what high school they go to, and that game means just as much to all of them and their parents, no matter where they live.’  If you are doing this for any reason other than the love of the game and the safety of the players, do yourself a favor; find something else to do on Friday night.”

-Wayne Brannan, Back Judge


  • EVERY game is the biggest ball game.”

-Luther Brown, Linesman


  • “Dedication and commitment to study and understand the rules for proper application on the field.  Desire to be early for pre-game conferences so that you and the crew are not rushed in preparation for that night’s game.  A commitment to want to be at the scheduled game even when there are other places you might want to be. A yearning to be the best that your skills and knowledge allow you to be.  While not everyone can be a top ten, everyone can give their best every game.”

-Bill Peter, Referee


  • “[It takes] a desire to get better every year, every game, and every play.  We are never too old to learn something new, try things a new way, or put in more effort.”

-Marshall Conner, Line Judge


  • “All it takes is courage, commitment, and character.  The rest will fall into place.”

-Jody Bishop, Linesman


  • “You first need a love of the game.  If you don’t have passion for the game of football, you’re not likely to succeed.  You’ll not be willing to put the time and effort in that is needed...[You need] a desire to give back.  You have to have the understanding of what coaches, players, and fans are pouring into the game, the effort and time, and be willing to do the same to give back to the game and the participants...Whether it’s the 4A game or the 1A game, it’s football, and that deserves our best effort...[You need] a willingness to learn, get better, and be the best.  If we do not go on the field with the mindset of making all attempts to call the perfect game then we have failed from the beginning and are doing a disservice to the game.  Whether you have worked 5, 10, or 50 years, there is some way you can improve and get better; there is something that you can hone and refine to become the best you can be.”

-Nathan Umberger, Referee


  • “An official should have a love for the game and participants, a desire to give back some of himself, and an active desire to learn.”

-John Hill, Referee


  • “There are guys who have been around football, and they understand both the mental and emotional parts of the game.  They simply love the game of football and they let the players play and the coaches coach.  They understand that it’s not our game and we’re there to keep the game within the rules.  The cream of the crop has similar personality traits and characteristics.  The biggest one is confidence in yourself; you can’t doubt yourself.  You have to have goals.  If you don’t, you’ll fail and not progress.  Then there’s the other guys out there trying to fulfill a fantasy.  They pick up a book, read it, and all of a sudden they think they’re officials.  They are usually exposed quickly and drop out just as fast as they come in. ”

-Steve Brush, Back Judge


  • “You should never get too big to work a game.  You may be too busy, but you should never be too big.  Confidence is a good thing - arrogance has no place.”

-As told to John Hill, Referee


So how did you do?  It is vitally important that you are honest in your self-evaluation.  If you can live all of the above statements, you are well on your way to becoming a successful football official.


Next:  Preparing For The Season






   © 41/88 Content / Tim Cahill 2015