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Back to basics: The foundation of good officiating



The individual and collective psyche of NFL officials may be shaken after several rough games in the 2015 season. There are a few techniques that officials can use to help break out of real or perceived slump. One of the best techniques is getting back to the basics. The basics. Basic mechanics, rules, everything. NFL officials can do the basics in their sleep, but sometimes an emphasis on the basics can re-establish the foundation of good officiating.

Officials at all levels can start doing some of their duties by rote. This doesn’t mean they are lazy, but they can fall into skimming over some duties. “I counted 11 on defense on the last play, no subs came on during the dead ball, so I don’t need to count 11 again.” Or, officials don’t run through their entire pre-snap routine of cross-checking 11 men, the what keys they have, running through certain formation scenarios and reminding themselves of special timing rules.

So, when officials get back to the basics, they have to slow down. Spot the ball and count 11. Once they count 11, then confirm the count with the rest of the crew. Say aloud their key. The back judge says, “My key is the tight end, he’s number 81. Read what he does at the snap.” When there is a flag, confirm the status of the ball, enforcement options, and what the next down will be with the referee. At the start of the fourth quarter, confirm the special timing rules. When the clock gets under two minutes, make sure everyone is knows it is now time to enforce the forward fumble rule. Repeat the axions: The whistle doesn’t kill the play, it only announces the play is over. Slow whistle. Err on the side of safety. Call what you know, not what you think.

How does that help an official call a better game? When an official slows down, he deliberately runs through the proper rules to apply, he concentrates on getting in proper position, he concentrates on the player his is supposed to watch and he makes sure he communicates with his crew mates. The basics build the solid foundation for making great calls all game.

It would not surprise me if each crew stresses the basics for the rest of the season, to make sure officials call a solid game.



Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"