Transitioning From a Coach to an Official
By Clay Reisler
What factors and dynamics enter the picture when a coach decides to move from coach to official in that sport? Is it easy? Is it difficult? Is it for everyone? Many people assume that because a coach is supposed to know the rules for his/her sport, that going from coach to official is not a difficult adjustment. There are some things that make the transition easy; there are other things that make the transition more complicated.
Eight Conference Championships in ten years, multiple individual state championships,
responsibility for over 100 athletes and five coaches, uniforms, bus lists, release lists,
websites, record boards, entries and results of athlete's performances for all meets,
workouts, and communication with everyone became a formula for BURNOUT. Burnout
from the sport that I participated in from seventh grade until a senior in college. Burnout
from a sport that provided me so many opportunities to positively influence the youth of our
school district. At the end of the 2008 track and field season, I knew I could not function in
the capacity of head track coach and still provide energy for my classroom and my family.
How was I going to remove myself from a sport that had given me so much? I was known
as "Coach" to so many people, invited to graduations and weddings of former athletes, and
became friends with the athletes’ families. Fortunately, my athletic director, a Wisconsin
Interscholastic Athletic Association certified track & field official, suggested to me that I
become an official. An official? An official!
The transition has actually been quite seamless. The process of becoming a certified official was an unknown to me at the beginning. However, one of the common links between coaches and officials is that the same rules exam must be taken by each group each year. Our local track officials association was helpful by providing assistance and interpretation of exam questions that were challenging to me.
Another aspect of becoming an official requires a person to know everything about all events. This parallels being a head coach in that a head coach has usually at one time taught all of the events to athletes. The experiences of rules, technique, and procedures for all 18 events in Wisconsin can be beneficial in officiating those same events. Having student-athletes experience the thrill of success and the agony of defeat as a coach has given me a perspective as an official of just how important competition is to student-athletes.
More Than Required
I am very aware of how much energy, time, and planning it takes to run a successful track and field meet. It is for this very reason that I as an official try to do "more than is required" at a meet. For example, helping to place hurdles, moving starting blocks if needed and helping get runners lined up in proper lanes technically fall under the description of other meet officials. But if things have to be done to help the meet run smoothly, I will try my best.
It seems that as a head coach, there was never enough help to make a large meet
run smoothly. Many times event judges are not versed in the rules and procedures of running an event. Clearly communicating expectations with event judges, and working with the meet coordinator are tasks that I take very seriously as an official at a meet. I take many steps in my shoes in order to meet with each event judge many times during the meet. Why? Because I know that in order for the event to run smoothly, event judges sometimes need guidance and direction. While it is important for an official to administer the rules, it is important to remember that the judges are humans and possibly not as knowledgeable in the specific event rules as we would like to see. Creating a good working
relationship with event judges during the meet has gives everyone a positive experience during a meet.
Proactive and Preventive Officiating
I have seen officials who just let things happen without trying to prevent a problem. I have seen officials take the initiative to intervene in a situation to clarify, correct or prevent a problem before it actually becomes one. The official in this case does not ignore or circumvent the rules. Rather, this official takes steps to ensure a fair and safe competition for the athletes. This directly relates to a reference in the “Foreword” of the 2009-2010 NFHS Track and Field and Cross Country Officials Manual: “Track and field officials shall provide each athlete with an opportunity for safe and equitable standards of competition.” When an official engages in preventive officiating, he or she is helping athletes enjoy a positive experience in the competition. Coaches as well as athletes appreciate a situation being addressed that results in clear, positive resolution. Sometimes an official can better establish relationships with coaches and athletes by dealing with an issue informally rather than authoritatively. I want to be the best official I can, and that may require different approaches for different situations.
A coach has it! Leaving coaching can appear to create a void in a coach's life from the competitive atmosphere of that sport. In changing roles to becoming an official, I have found that the competitiveness is still present. Not in the same manner as trying to defeat all opponents in a mile relay, but the competitiveness with oneself that fuels the drive to work a sectional meet or quite possibly the state meet. As a first year official in 2009, I took the approach of working middle school meets and dual varsity meets. I really didn't want to appear that I "knew everything", because I didn’t. Working low profile meets, along with shadowing a state meet experienced official, gave me the desire to advance to larger meets in year two. The competitive drive is still present; however, it is a drive within myself to be the best, most efficient, and most knowledgeable official that I can be.
Owning The Schedule
A slogan that we had on the back of our track team shirts one year was 24/7/90: for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and for 90 days, track coaches and athletes in Wisconsin give one hundred percent to track and field. It seemed that every waking hour was
consumed by an activity related to track. While this devotion is required to make a
program successful, few hours in the day are reserved for family and a teaching job.
Becoming an official has allowed me to reduce the amount of days I work in a sport I love.
Currently, five days a year are devoted to our local track and field officials association and
officials' clinics. An additional amount of hours (not days) are devoted to completing the
NHFS official rules test. Finally, the most beneficial aspect of scheduling, is working as
many, or few, meets as I want. Last year, I worked five meets. This year, I will work
thirteen meets. Having the flexibility to work meets on days that do not conflict with family
activities has truly been a blessing.
Track and field coaches, with their experiences in the sport of track and field, can be
officials who are still proactive, dedicated, and passionate about the sport they love. If you are officiating a meet and hear a coach expressing interest in retiring from coaching, suggest to him or her the great opportunities of being an official. They just may be the next great track and field official.
BIO: Clay Reisler coached varsity track and field in Wisconsin for fifteen years, ten of which he was the head coach at Pulaski High School near Green Bay. He left coaching in 2008 and became a licensed track and field official in Wisconsin. Clay teaches mathematics at Pulaski Community Middle School.