Why would anyone want to officiate? Clearly a question every youth sport is asking themselves right now. As the number of players grow the officiating pool is unable to keep up. Clearly there is a reason for this crisis, right? Maybe it isn’t that simple.
Is it the rigorous training officials must go through to have the privilege to step on the ice for a game? maybe abuse? Or it is a combination? I would like to highlight the privilege of a 12-year-old official on the ice in an 8U game. Sounds funny I’m sure until that 12-year-old is threatened by a parent in the rink, doesn’t sound so crazy now, right? It does happen and many people reading this right now have witnessed this or heard nightmare stories of it. Now I will admit these are mostly isolated incidents, but these are the ones which make the news and drive away parents of future officials.
Let me give you a brief back round of myself, I am currently on my 24th season of officiating, I am the current Referee in Chief of Illinois I have had the privilege of working youth hockey since the ripe young age of 16. Which my father said to my mother, “he will quit in 2 weeks.”. But after a few years and hard work, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the development program Illinois started when I was 17. Which lead me to junior hockey and eventually professional and NCAA hockey. Take that “two weeks” is what I say.
Over those “two weeks” or 24 seasons I have learned the value of friendship, responsibility, and commitment. All of these are transferable to everyday life. Hockey is a game but the values it teaches are immense.
Illinois has an intense training for our new officials which currently is a 4 hr zoom and 4 hours in person with 1.5 hrs of on ice training. Unfortunately, it is a drop in the bucket pertaining to the on the job training every official receives when they step on the ice the first time.
As for abuse, hockey is a passionate sport and sometimes people lose their cool on the ice, bench, or in the stands. I think everyone can deal with this if it stays on the ice. But many times, it spills over to degrading behavior and personal insults, which is a violation of zero tolerance. Zero tolerance is a USAH initiative that started many moons ago, but people still feel it does not apply to them. Once the game is over it is over, does it feel right to threaten an official after a game? Maybe sleep on the outcome and report it especially here in Illinois we have an investigation committee that investigates each report.
Over these many years I have realized officiating is more than just a “job” or “money maker” for youths & adults across the nation. It also becomes family, a bother and sisterhood you never expected. I know for a fact I surely didn’t see what was coming. This group of guardians of the game are aware people do not agree with vertical white and black stipes but why does everyone love zebras at the zoo? But this family supports each other and is happy when we succeed and disappointed when we fail. We truly understand we can be your best friend one day and your worst enemy the next. We also know the value of each assignment we receive. And yes, the worst feeling in the world is I messed up. Officials know this feeling all too well as we self-reflect on our ride home or worse when we wake up. I’ve been there it is the worst feeling in the world.
So again, I ask why would anyone want to officiate?
Most older officials do this job because they want to stay apart of a game they love. For the younger officials to pocket a few bucks and free ice time, personally my boys are beyond excited to start. But for me it is the game, crowd, and the absolute passion devoted to every contest.
Next time you are at the rink understand these officials are here for the sport not for entertainment like the NHL. If you are unwilling to accept that IHOA would be honored for you to come and try out a seminar and then work a game.