As I was spending my Friday night at a local High School Football game in the fall of 2013, I was concerned about the physical fitness of at least one of the referees that night. Now I was judging only by the physical appearance of this referee by his girth over his belt line. There was no doubt this referee would be considered, morbidly obese.
The phenomenon that played out is I was only aware of his obesity while he was marching off a 5 yard penalty and bending over to place the ball back to the field of play. I never saw nor did I key on that referee the rest of the game, not purposely or intently as he “blended” into the game without further notice. So, was he able to position himself in the right manner during his official duty to get the job done as a team of officials or did he do his best with a limitation that was obvious to all fans, coaches, and players? I did not see a coach or player ever approach him or never were there any questionable calls observed any more than any college/pro game I have ever watched. Was this man beating the odds with his condition or was he gasping for breath after each play? I would tend to say he was not up to the standards expected from such the game of football.
The real question to bring to mind is, could the official be better at his game and the outcome of the player’s game by keeping an ideal body weight in check. My professional opinion is yes.
Physical fitness has been stressed for ages as our human bodies are more efficient and at a lesser risk for disease and injury with proper care. My biggest concern for any official is that they can perform their duty and be able to return home or their work without being at some risk. The players are pretty aware of head/neck/knee injury potential, but a referee’s outcome should be that of injury free.
What are the risk factors of being overweight and deconditioned? Generally for men at middle age is sudden death due to undetected heart disease. Would a referee be able to detect this disease based on the classic chest pain and shortness of breath on exertion? Usually yes, but have they been able to not exert themselves fully so signs and symptoms are not ever presented? I would say that conditioning themselves outside of the sport they are officiating, eating a healthy low fat diet, and maintaining an ideal body weight is a key factor in the outcome of the health of the referee. We all know of the phenomenal physical specimens out there who are in their 50’s,60’s or even their 70’s( the age of usual disease) that have never experienced any signs of disease and are very physically fit. Usually with the latter, it is a combination of good genetics and healthy lifestyle. The risk for sudden death of an official during a game who is at risk would vary on some other factors such as family history, age, gender, controllable risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.
So, what should an aspiring official of either football or basketball be concerned about before he/she steps on to the playing field/court? The answer should be, am I ready to perform at my best, have I adequately prepared myself for the event, and will my ability to be in the right position to make a call positively/negatively affect the outcome of the game, and am I at risk for injury/death due to my lifestyle choices.
You know that we sports fans/observers do expect the outcome of the game to be directly related to the strategy, ability, and the teamwork of the players and coaches involved, not the referee.
My recommendation for any official is to be able to keep up with the flow of the game, to be agile and to be aware of the danger of flying bodies and balls during a game. What does it take to be at the top of your game, it takes a conscious effort to prepare the body before the game by strategically organizing your weekly plan to include cardiovascular fitness training, muscular endurance training, flexibility, and agility exercises. I would call this specificity of the sport. Just like a sprinter would train a high intensities for short burst of power utilizing fast twitch muscle fiber training over a long distance runner would concentrate on utilizing a different approach to his/her success. Have you ever noticed the body styles of top notch athletes of a certain sport to match that of other athletes of the same sport? This comes from the proper training.
My advice to the officials is to get into a training program that prepares the body in the off season, realize the demands in an instance that can change during game play, and simulate this best during your training program. This will make you like the athlete and be prepared for the best outcome that results in a well played game, not determined by the lack of physical fitness of the referee, to be able to complete the task from the beginning to the end of the game, and be able to return safely home to your family, friends, or co-workers beyond the playing field.
In my next report coming, you will find out the proper way to train your cardiovascular system, your muscular endurance and strength, and your range of motion for referees from their prime ages to the near retirement age. We will also touch on a proper cool down. Until then, have a safe and enjoyable time with the games you judge.