Watching youth soccer was a big part of my life while our three kids were growing up. I then made what I thought was the ultimate commitment, agreeing to coach all three of our kids' teams for many years. I soon found out, however, that there was an even greater commitment that a person could make when it came to youth sports, a commitment that demanded a much greater sacrifice and much thicker skin. In response to the fact that we could never find enough people to become certified and serve as soccer referees, my son and I decided to go through the training and both served for many years as referees for an untold number of youth soccer games. It did not take us long to find out why there was a chronic shortage of people willing to serve in this role! Being a referee is a thankless job. When you do your job well, no one notices and little attention is drawn to what you do. That all changes when you a make a call that is perceived as the wrong call by the kids, parents, and/or coaches. I can safely say that at no other time in my life have I been talked to with such open disrespect as when I was a soccer referee. And so it has been with great empathy that I have felt the pain of the recent replacement referees in the National Football League as they have endured so much hostility and criticism these last three weeks. While their time is now over, and the regular referees will return this week, there are a few things we can learn from all this recent attention on the role of the referee.
While making difficult calls is part of the job description for a referee, it is also part of the job description for everyone of us in regards to our own lives. We all have to make hard calls on a regular basis. Leaders have to make difficult, close calls. Parents make difficult judgment calls everyday. Each of us has to make difficult calls every day. Is this the right person for me to marry? Is it time to retire? Is it time to look for a new job? Is this the right course of action regarding a medical decision? Is this the right way to handle my child's behavior? Am I on the right spiritual path? Is this the moral or ethical thing to do in this situation?
The word referee means "one who is referred to as an authority." So, for example, if you are referred to a doctor for his or her opinion on a health matter, that doctor is the "referee"--the one who is referred to for his/her authority on such matters. You are the authority on your own life and so you are the referee for making tough calls for your life. And when you find yourself in any kind of personal or professional leadership position, you have been given the authority to make difficult calls regarding the people you are leading.
Here are few additional tips I picked up during my time as a referee that can help all of us whenever we have to make a tough call in our lives.
*A good referee knows the rules and guiding principles of a sport well and applies them consistently. We need to each know what our own guiding rules and principles are for our lives. This relates to our sense of spirituality. We need to be clear regarding our foundational beliefs and core values before the tough call has to be made. The call may still be difficult, but it should never be difficult because we are unsure of what the "rules" are. We should be clear about the rules--and about our core beliefs and values.
*Whenever possible, ask for help in making the right call. Good umpires and good referees are comfortable huddling up with their colleagues to discuss important calls, especially when they know someone else may have had a better perspective on the situation. Asking for help in making a call is a sign of strength.
*Do not be afraid to reverse your call, if upon further review, you realize you have made the wrong call.
*If you realize later on that you made the wrong call, make amends and move on. Last year an umpire realized he made the wrong call that cost a pitcher a perfect game. It was too late to reverse the call, but he apologized and learned from his mistake.
*When you make your call, do it with passion and conviction based on what you believe. Be clear, concise, and committed to the call you are making. It is hard to respect or follow a referee who seems unsure of the call he/she is making.
*Be fair and consistent in the calls you make. People who follow you will feel secure and respect you when you are fair and consistent over time.
*Be patient and forgiving of your mistakes. Players fumble, make errors, commit fouls, and make errors of judgment. So do coaches.
So to referees. Learn from your mistakes and move on. So get your whistle out and put on your zebra striped shirt. There are important calls to be made out there. Learn to enjoy the work of being a referee in your own life, because in the end there are no replacement referees--only you can do the job!