The Domino Effect

By Gary Whelchel on August 19, 2014 officials

Like dominos falling in unison;

It is the lining up a cache of items that assist in reaching an ultimate goal,

The BIG Dream.

Then watching them tumble together to reach the destinations;

First varsity contest,

Tournament consideration,

Tournament games,

That championship high school game assignment,

Then moving on up the ladder to the next level.


That lineup of dominos, with each domino representing the next step in the process of goal achievement, becomes crucial to each official when setting the goals for advancement in this avocation we call officiating. Let's explore what each domino might represent from start to finish:

  • Have the desire: Is the passion burning? Is there the drive to excel and get better? Can you honestly say you have the desire to put in the long hours of study and commitment to work any time/anywhere to improve? "Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything." (Napolean Hill)
  • Attend Camps/Scrimmages: Can you answer yes to the question "Do I have the time, energy, and means to do what it takes to get better sometimes at my own expense and time?" Be actively involved in learning situations outside the reading component. Be an active partner in your own improvement. "Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember, Involve me and I learn." (Franklin)
  • Absorb the Rules Book: Be like a sponge - read and absorb. Spend time in the rule book of the sport, engaging in question and answer forums to seek insight for why a rule is written a particular way. Dedicate time each day to reach deep into the reading of the rules. “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”
    Abigail Adams)
  • Embrace Ethics: Officiating demands a high ethical standard that cannot be compromised. Seek guidelines on behavior to avoid, behaviors to grip, and behaviors that embody integrity from respected veteran officials "Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do". (Presley, 1988)
  • Understand who you are working for: Multiple conferences, several levels, a variety of commissioners and assigners - how do we keep straight what each one wants? It may be differing playing rules, mechanic and/or floor positioning variation. It may involve philosophical differences, or uniform distinctions. It doesn't matter. Officials need to educate themselves on what each league, group, association, organization or entity requires, and be nimble enough to distinguish among them on the various game assignments. "Get along and you will move along."
  • Expect Unfairness: Officials are expected to portray the ultimate in fairness and equality as we ply our skills and trade in the venue we officiate. However, many times the road to our dream is filled with barriers and potholes that we perceive as not being fair. Someone else gets better games, the assigner does not like me, or I never get an opportunity are common complaints that are based in the "unfairness doctrine." We have no control over most of these. Instead of whining about what is not, handle the items you do have control over, and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. You need to see the officiating world through the prism of the individual or individuals that you answer to at that moment, and adjust accordingly. "Life is not fair; get used to it." (Bill Gates)
  • Take Stock of your appearance: Appearance and looks tell a story about you to an audience who is reading your every move whether you like it or not, or accept or reject it. You are the face of officiating when in uniform, and represent the fraternity when on site out of uniform. Sloppiness, being out of shape, unpolished shoes, an unprofessional look, or unkempt appearance send your credibility on a downward spiral. Be cognitive of your appearance and stay in shape. "What lies behind appearance is usually another appearance" (Cooley Mason)
  • Listen: Critique and criticism come with the territory. Seek to be evaluated and observed often. Be a good listener and avoid any "yes, but" excuses. Always remember, "Evaluators are only responsible for what they say, not what you hear."
  • Get a Mentor, Then be a Mentor: To get better, you need help! Find a fellow official who not only is a solid and well respected official in your sport, but one who shares your officiating values and philosophies. Hang out with that individual, go to his or her games, sit in on pre and post game discussions. Then, as you develop into a quality official, reach out to a younger upcoming official to share with that person how you advanced and achieved your goals. If you keep asking yourself why somebody did not step up and help that young struggling official, or why somebody didn't do anything to correct an officials error - you need to realize that you are that somebody. "We must open the doors of opportunity for other officials - but we also have the responsibility to equip those officials to walk through those doors."
  • Avoid Defining Moments and Emergency Situations: Do not let your officiating career become a "moment frozen in time." Be prepared for any situation, any happening, and any explosion. Read players, read situations, and read coaches. Anticipate situations. Do not let your "moment" be defined outside of your control. One lapse of attention and attentiveness can brand you for a season, a decade, even a career. Avoid this by diligence and a solid grasp of rules and established positioning developed for your sport; fully understanding that you then will be better equipped to handle the inevitable defining moment. "Defining Moments either make you who you are, or show you who you are."
  • Accept Responsibility: Do you have the courage to make the tough call? Can you admit a mistake? Understanding that failure isn't fatal and using errors in your officiating as emblems of improvement will enhance the journey to your goals. Be willing to accept responsibility and be honest about any errors you may have made, or having frozen on a tough game changing call. Remember, there are no perfect officials because there are no perfect games.  "When you blame others for your failures, you give up the power to improve or succeed." (Robert Taylor)
  • Understand that Decisions Determine Destination: All decisions we make have an impact on our officiating career, whether on or off the court/mat/field. These decisions can affect your officiating journey either negatively or positively. Negative decisions like turning back an assignment, making a questionable call, arguing with an assigner or debating a rule you really do not understand can derail a career that has been on an upward path. Positive decisions like mentoring, accepting that last minute call to officiate, or teaching a class/clinic can elevate you in the eyes of those making decisions. These decisions determine destination and where you eventually land on your officiating journey. They become your resume. Choose to make positive decisions, good judgments, and be a solid role model for other officials and the community. "What is right is often forgotten by what is convenient." (Bodie Thoene)
  • Develop Feel: I can't define it and can't describe it. I can't bottle it and can't distribute it. But I know it when I see it. It is the thread that sews together the makings of an excellent official. Is it knowing when to adjust or when to anticipate? Is it about understanding when to reposition to make the call, or stay put to observe a development about to occur? Does it involve expecting the unexpected? Maybe managing or micromanaging depending on the situation? Do you medicate or operate a concern with players? The answer is “yes” to all of the above! Feel develops over a period of time – over continual practice and application. Some get it naturally, but some must work at it. In sports, it is called "The it factor", and some officials just have it. One thing is certain; it usually takes years to surface, many games to cultivate, and much effort to nurture. This may be the toughest domino to work with. "How many things have to happen to you before things occur to you?"


Let the Dominos fall;


One pushing the other,

Each one leaning on the other.

That is how we achieve our goal,

Our dream.

Collectively together,

Leaning on each other,

They make us better and who we eventually become as an official.

This is called teamwork.

As officials, we speak continually about teamwork.

Consider each domino part of your team as you move toward your dream.


 "It is Teamwork that makes the Dreamwork"