I was asked to submit a blog which I hope will benefit officials, new and more experienced. The mechanics of officiating take practice and court time to reach a certain level of confidence and competence. As with the players, the mental side often gets overlooked. The following are some ideas that will help you with the mental side of officiating.
- Know the rules. Obvious, yes. But you cannot read the rules too much. When you go on court you should know the rules better than anyone except maybe other officials. When a rule question comes up on court, your confidence in providing the answer gives you immediate credibility. The only way to have that confidence is to read and reread the rules (ITF, the Code, USTA especially relating to code violations and medical timeouts and ITA if you do collegiate). I read the rules several times a year and learn something new every time I read them.
- Prior to an event, think about the verbiage you will use on court, and anticipate potential problems or issues that may arise during the course of an event. Expect the unexpected. I also often warm up my voice while driving to an event. While this may sound silly to some, it helps me focus and the first call of the day comes out a little easier.
- Arrive with the right attitude. Players want acceptance from their peers, and as officials we want the players to accept us, albeit in a different way. “Relaxed confidence” is one way to think about your attitude when you arrive at an event. Also, players will have less respect for you if you act unprofessional (talking with spectators, etc.), too casual or nervous. Just like a judge in a courtroom, you will have fewer problems if it is clear you are in control.
- Play from the first point. Some players use the first few games of a match as a continuation of the warm up. As officials, we don’t have that luxury. Be mentally prepared to make calls from the first point. An appropriate foot fault or overrule called early in a match often keeps the players on an even keel throughout the entire match. Ignoring obvious calls because it is early in the match and you aren’t “warmed up” will only cause problems later on.
- Conserve mental energy. Unnecessary talking or conversation, even if in the context of officiating, drains mental energy that will likely be critical later in the event. In addition, if you are talking too much on the court to the players, particularly junior or collegiate players, you may be stressing them out as well.
- One point at a time. This cliché applies to officials as well as players. If you make what players, coaches, and/or parents perceive as a bad call, remember that like the players, you must move on to the next point. Do not dwell on the negative as it can only lead to more problems. Save self-evaluation for after the match.
If you pay attention to the mental side of officiating, you will find that your best officiating experiences will occur when you are focused and confident no matter what happens on court.