by Dave Boland
You're familiar with the clichÃ©: "You never have a second chance to make a good first impression." Well, one of the reasons certain phrases become clichÃ©s is that they are absolutely true, so there's no need to say it any other way.
During this past basketball season, I had the opportunity to see a lot of high school games. I had an extra motivation because my oldest grandson was captain of the Old Saybrook (Connecticut) High School varsity team and I wanted to watch him play. At his team's home and away games, I saw plenty of officials who had a chance to make a good first impression on me but didn't. Many were overweight and generally in such poor physical condition that they had difficulty running up and down the court and keeping up with the play, let alone getting in position to have the best possible angles to see plays and make proper rulings.
Physical conditioning is paramount to being a good official in most any sport, especially basketball. When an official is not in shape and looks so on the court, coaches, players, athletic directors and spectators form a negative impression about that official's ability. It often prompts another clichÃ© either from the bench or the stands: "How can you make a call from way out there?" It's not an unwarranted complaint if the official is out of position because he or she can't get to a better spot.
I sometimes ask myself: How can these officials be allowed to work varsity games? I wonder if standards in high school may be a bit lax. I can tell you from personal experience that the standards for physical conditioning are much higher at the college and professional levels. I am a college women's basketball observer and in that role I see a fair number of UConn and Providence games. Rarely if ever have I had to make a comment about the physical condition of the officials I observe at those games.
I have also had the opportunity to talk with some NBA officials who have served on the faculty of my Stripes University camp - as well as with my son Matt, who is an NBA official - about the league's physical standards and requirements. For one thing, NBA officials attend a preseason camp in late September. In addition to written exams and updates on new rules, they are subject to in-depth and very rigorous physical fitness tests. Those, if any, who do not pass the physical tests are asked to leave and can only return if and when they work themselves into good enough shape to meet the test criteria. Look at most of todays' pro basketball officials. They look athletic and they move athletically. That's what the league wants.
Let me throw another clichÃ© at you: "Perception is reality." How you look on the court is just as important as what you do on the court. That may be a little unfair, but it's true. Not everyone is born to be tall and svelte. Some who are on the short and stocky side may actually be in great shape and can run the court just as well as anyone else â€" maybe better. Sometimes, though, the official with the more athletic look gets more and better opportunities because of it, even though he or she may not be as good an official as others who don't have that look. That's not fair, but it's life.
The bottom line is that, whatever the body type, an official can and should become and remain physically fit. An official can and should do whatever conditioning it takes to be able to hustle on the court and get in the best position for every play. When officials do, good things happen. Rulings are more accurate because they can see the play better. Plus, by being in position, officials diffuse a lot of potential complaints and arguments from coaches and others. A coach may not like a call that goes against his or her team, but if that coach sees that an official was right where he or she needed to be to make that call, the coach can usually accept it.
Finally, perhaps the best incentive to become and remain in great shape is that it can improve an official's health, well-being, and longevity regardless of whether you officiate a sport. So, to quote an ad slogan that is so recognizable, it has become a clichÃ©: "Just do it."