All in the Details

December 3, 2015

By Brent Sorg
Collegiate official & MHSAA coach

In my experience as both an official and coach, my partners or officials assigned to work my match are judged the moment we meet and make contact. That is human nature.

What is important is to make that first impression a positive one. At first contact, when greeting an administrator, coach or fellow official, look the person in the eye when shaking hands and be sincere in your greeting. When the person speaks, look them in the eye and listen. Sounds simple, yet I’ve seen many fail at this task and thus set themselves up for a difficult match.

The next moment of impact is the conversations that take place. It is totally acceptable to have a laugh and a joke, but be sure the environment and timing is right. You may ask, “Who is to judge when the time is correct?” It is all a feeling – a sort of sixth sense. I have witnessed on numerous occasions during the pregame check-in where officials “dig their own grave” by telling the players how they are going to call the game. Then they continue with how they will only talk to the captain. That is nonsense! In the business of managing people, it is imperative to deal with everyone involved in the game.

Once the match begins, the next task to strive for is not looking at the ball the entire time. From the first class I took on officiating, I was told the ball never commits a foul. In my 25 years, this is still true. Look ahead, scan the field, watch the players battling for position prior to the ball arriving. If one of the backs has the ball at his feet and is under zero pressure, there is no need to watch him pass the ball. Look instead at the forward checking back who is tightly marked by an opposing defender.   

The game continues to evolve with faster, smarter, and more creative players. The coaches are implementing tactics to create every advantage possible. As you go about the game as the center official, don’t just judge fouls/non-foul moments, but expand your knowledge. What are the tendencies of certain players on the field? Are teams looking to build up or are they using a more direct style of play? This will help with your positioning and anticipating movement.

Almost every match has at least one defining moment that you as the referee must have the courage to deal with. It is often referred to as the “moment of truth.” It could mean you rule it is not a foul and don’t even have to blow the whistle, but you must deal with dissent. Or it could mean a stern talking to the player, issuing a caution, or showing the red card. Reflecting on the mentors I have had over the years and those I still look up today, I think about a consistent theme heard from all: Make sure you get something out of each caution or send-off.

Be brave. Make the tough decisions. Remember, the players are the ones who commit fouls forcing us to make certain decisions.

Many of you watch professional games on television, and I think we can all learn from them. In particular, I think the EPL (English Premier League) referees do an excellent job of isolating the guilty player, explaining the decision, and then showing the card. All while looking the player square in the eyes.

Your mindset to a match should be one of teamwork and one that fosters harmony with the players on the pitch. Not an “us vs. them” mentality.

Finally, be willing to admit a mistake. You are not perfect! You are a human being. It is OK to admit an error, but be genuine about it. Be sympathetic when appropriate. Be firm yet fair.

Most importantly, enjoy.

Sorg is a former National Referee and current NISOA Referee (ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Horizon, Conference USA, MAC); he also is a high school boys head coach who recently concluded his 11th season.

2024-25 MHSAA Officials Registration Underway

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 17, 2024

The MHSAA is accepting registrations online or by mail for game officials for the 2024-25 school year.

The MHSAA registered approximately 8,700 officials for the 2023-24 school year, an increase of nearly five percent over 2022-23 as the ranks continue to build back toward pre-COVID totals.

All officials who register may sign up for up to two sports as part of their registration. Officials also will receive membership in the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), which comes with a variety of educational and training resources and the NASO’s Shield liability insurance that will provide $6 million in coverage for officials while they are working both MHSAA and non-MHSAA events.

For new and returning officials, a $70 fee covers registration for up to two sports. Officials may register for additional sports at $16 per sport.

To avoid a $30 late fee, all fall sport registration applications must be received by Aug. 19, 2024. Winter sports registrations must be received by Nov. 18 to avoid the late fee, and spring sports registrations must be received by March 24, 2025.

Online registration can be accessed by clicking here. More information about officials registration may be obtained by contacting the MHSAA by phone at (517) 332-5046 or by e-mail at [email protected].

There is an officials' registration test for first-time officials and officials who were not registered during the past school year, derived from the MHSAA Officials Guidebook. New officials and those who didn’t officiate during 2023-24 also must complete the online MHSAA Principles of Officiating course. Additional exams must be taken by those registering for football or basketball for the first time or those who were not registered for those sports during the previous school year. Links to the Officials Guidebook, Principles of Officiating presentation and the football and basketball mechanics manuals can be found by following the “New Officials” link on the Officials page of the MHSAA Website.

There also are opportunities to officiate for students at least 14 years old and in grades 9-12 through the MHSAA Legacy Program. Juniors and seniors may officiate subvarsity contests, while freshmen and sophomores may officiate contests at the middle school/junior high levels. Mentor officials will work events with Legacy participants to provide guidance and support. Find information on the Legacy Program by clicking here.