Written by Greg Evers - May 2022
The first of my many weeks here in the US has just wrapped up and what a week it has been.
It initially started with my request for an upgrade on the flight from Sydney to Dallas being approved, but only to the Premium Economy section, not the Business section as requested. That’s still better than no upgrade, which meant that I did have a little more extra room than if I was in Economy, as well as access to slightly different food and drinks, so that was a good start to the trip. As the plane accelerated down the runway I had a huge feeling of excitement flow through my mind as I knew that I was just about to depart on a trip that is going to have a huge impact on the rest of my life as it’s aligned to my lifelong goals and purpose.
The flight was slightly delayed getting out of Sydney, by about 45min, but due to a 4hr planned layover in Dallas, it didn’t impact on that. Once arriving in Dallas, and trying to get access to the American Airlines lounge, there was confusion between the two types of lounges that American Airlines has and I ended up being constantly shuffled between, but by treating the receptionists in both of the locations with respect, they eventually were able to get me in to one of the lounges. This allowed me to grab something to eat and just relax while I waited for my flight to New Orleans.
With about an hr before my flight was due to depart, I headed around the gate to get ready to board. When I checked in to the this flight I was fortunate to be able to get an exit row seat for no additional cost, so I was looking forward to being able to get on and stretch out a bit more. This flight was slightly delayed as well, and we didn’t end up boarding until about 30min after we were scheduled to leave. Being in an exit row, I was one of the first people to board the plane and this is where the trip took another really cool turn, and if you didn’t know better you would think it was straight out of a fiction story.
As I was sitting in my seat waiting on the other passengers to board, I was wearing the hat that shows the podcast that I listen to and engage with (Rule 11) as well as my International officiating (IAFOA) jumper that we got when we went to the U19 World Cup in Mexico years ago. I had a passenger walk past and recognise the hat, which kind of surprised him, and he mentioned some surprise about seeing it. As I turned around to talk to him, he then saw the logo on my jumper, which has a football theme, so he asked about it. I mentioned that it was for the International American Football Officials Association and his interest was raised even further.
We started to talk about what I was here to do, and as soon as we heard that I was an official here for a camp, his told me that he’s also a football official here in the US and after letting him know where I was staying, he offered to give me a lift there if we caught up once we got off. I thanked him for the offer and he then continued to his seat.
Sure enough, after we landed, I went to the baggage claim area to grab my checked on bag, and as I was waiting, he walked around and found me. We then talked over to his car and he followed up on his offer and gave me a lift to the hotel that I was staying at. During the drive over, we were talking about our various officiating experiences, I’m letting him know what I’m doing here and how long I’ll be here for and he was really intrigued and excited for me. We started talking about his officiating career and funnily enough he came through the High School officiating ranks with one of the officials that was organising the camp here in New Orleans, so he started to message him to let him know. The official that picked me up is a current Div 1 official here in the US who lives here in New Orleans and just happened to be returning home from a work trip.
What a cool experience to go through, and just really shows how officials around the world, across all sports, instantly have this common bond and will go out of their way to help each other. I was extremely thankful for his assistance and hopefully I’ll get to see him down the track and have a chance to thank him again.
The camp hadn’t even started and I’ld already had an awesome experience, and was thinking if this is the start of the trip, this is going to be a fantastic and extremely worthwhile trip. As it was extremely late by now, after 11pm, I checked in and tried to get some sleep.
The next day was a “free” day before the camp started, so I spent the morning (only getting about 4-5hrs sleep, which tended to be a theme for the first couple of days), trying to get used to the timezone, with the afternoon and evening spent working during Aus hours, with the night finishing up around 1am.
Again, I was only able to get about 4-5 hrs sleep before my body decided that it wanted to wake up and be awake for the day. I spent the morning doing some final preparation for the camp and just getting things ready as the camp was due to start at 12pm.
We started with a check-in for the campers and during this time I was able to meet some of the camp organisers who I have been engaging with online for some time, which was pretty cool. I ran in to some of my crew (we were assigned to a crew for the entire length of the camp), and meet them in person before we started the camp.
The camp started with the first session being straight in to “getting to work” with a play and rule review session. This was a great way of getting everyone into a “gameday” mindset. Once this session was completed, we were left to go and get ready for the game that night. During this session I started to have people walk up to me and go “you’re from Australia, aren’t you, I want to catch up with you later”, as they are all fascinated by why I’m here and want to here about football in Australia.
The game was held up at Baton Rouge, about 1.5hrs drive away, and I was fortunate to sit next to the Referee of our crew for the bus ride and get to know him a bit more. For the camp there was 8 crews, so for this game, there was a scheduled scrimmage at the start, followed by 2 x 15min quarters. Each crew rotated everytime the offense rotated, which tended to be after about 15 plays. During the “game” component, crews rotated with each offense.
We all then headed back to the hotel to get changed and then a couple of us from the crew headed out to a small bar to grab something to eat and continue to hang out. We headed back to the hotel and managed to spend some time with the camp organisers. I was asked what my ultimate goal with my officiating was, so I mentioned that it was to officiate here in the US and see where that took me. They already knew about how passionate about officiating I was but it was pretty cool to talk to them specifically about what I’m trying to do in regards to starting my journey over here, as well as why I want to do it.
Day 3 of camp was straight to the field, after breakfast, we there were 2 games for us to cover during the day. We all piled in to the car, like the day before, and headed to the ground.
Once there we all got changed and headed out to the field. It was starting to warm up, so we knew it was going to be a pretty hot day. Until our crew went on the field, we watched the other crews work their periods of the game and were able to ask questions of the clinicians and get some feedback that we could incorporate in to our game.
During the film review on Friday, the clinician for the group of positional officials that I was a part of spoke about some techniques that might be worth utilising, so I ensured that I had a chat to him before we went out to clarify how that technique would work and get some advice in regards to how to implement it.
When it was time for our crew to come out, we were able to work through our part of the game without too many issues. We were able to learn from some of the lessons learned on Thursday night and apply those to the game, which was good to see.
Once our ½ of the quarter was completed, we spent the time between that and our time on the field for the last game watching the other crews work and observing and learning from what they were doing, as well as ensuring that we stayed hydrated.
The day ended up being around the high 80’s – 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and a decent amount of humidity, so it was crucial that we all regularly applied sunscreen and kept dehydrated. As our time approached to go back on the field, we went inside the locker room, to cool our bodies down, grab some water and just have a bit of a rest to ensure that we were as fresh as we could be out on the field.
Some of us used the time to do some warm up exercises to just loosen our legs up and get ready to officiate the last part of the game.
We were able to do that quite well and then we all headed back to the hotel for a social event.
Speaking with our crew, we were initially going to attend the social event for a short time and then head to experience some of the New Orleans food.
However, we started to talk to one of the clinicians about some rules and discussions from our game, and we decided that we were going to get so much more out of staying and having further discussions that we stayed and kept talking with the clinicians. They were really great in how they helped us to work through various scenarios, always questioning our thought process and helping us to see how we can work through processes to help make our judgements more accurate. It was worthwhile hanging around as we were able to discuss some unique scenarios as well as get to know them on a personal level.
While eating breakfast on the last day of camp, we sat there reviewing film from the games the day before. There were a couple of plays specifically that we wanted to look at, as well as just doing normal film review to self-evaluate ourselves. It was good to see that I implemented some of the feedback from during the camp in to my game, but there’s still plenty more to work on.
We worked with Instant Replay and had a play where the game was stopped to review the play. This was the very first time our Referee, and others in our crew, had also used Instant Replay, so there were some things we did well as a crew but there were a lot of things that we learnt out of that experience. It was awesome to work through that experience and that’s exactly why these camps are so beneficial.
We then had a session with everyone where there were some select plays that they reviewed as a group, with the actual play that we had reviewed being one of them. It was really interesting to work through all of those plays and hear from the calling officials, as well as the rest in the crew, about what they saw, how they communicated and what learning opportunities to take out of it.
This finished around mid-morning, but the Referee that I worked with all camp and one other official didn’t have to leave for some time, as they both had a late flight, so we continued to sit in the room and review more plays, while everyone except for 1 of the camp organisers left. As everyone left, I specifically spoke to the clinician looking after our positional officials and thanked him for his time and for his feedback. He acknowledged that I was coachable and appreciated me taking on the advice he provided. I was able to speak to another clinician who gave me some great advice in regards to what to look for in regards to an area to start officiating in.
With everyone left, except for the other 2 officials and the camp organiser, we were able to have some pretty honest and open discussions about some of the plays that we were reviewing as well as asking him about some of the processes and routines that he follows on gameday. He really challenged us on some plays, in particular why we ruled on what we saw. He had a unique way of asking questions to really challenge our thinking, but it was great as it helped to reinforce what we saw and to be able to explain why we did what we did. It was definitely uncomfortable and at times made us doubt what we ruled, but it was a great way of helping us to learn and grow as an official.
Once they all left, I went back to my room and started my IT work for the day, as from now on for the next couple of weeks I’ll be working Aus hours 5 days a week, starting mid-afternoon and going to late at night.
Having finished working at approx. 1am, to keep in line with Aus time, and no camp on in the morning, the alarm was set for 8:15am to allow time for breakfast before it closed.
After breakfast, I went back to my room and back to bed and managed to sleep for another couple of hours, finally waking around midday. Considering that I had been surviving on only about 4-5hrs sleep each night since arriving, it was good to get some really good sleep and allow the body to recover from the weekend activities. Obviously I needed it but it also felt great to feel like I’m finally starting to adjust to the timezone differences with Australia.
I decided that for “lunch” I was going to go for a walk to a restaurant that was by the water, about a 45min walk away. Venturing outside the heat and humidity hit pretty hard, but I knew that walking for a substantial amount of time was going to wonders for my recovery, and adjustment to the timezone.
During the walk, as I was approaching a bridge over one of the water inlets, another person walking the other way noticed that I was taking a couple of photos of things, including one of the longest bridges in the world (approx. 26miles long), and mentioned that I should check out the alligator that was swimming in the water inlet. Sure enough, as I walked over the foot bridge, there is was in the water trying to stay cool. It was a decent size and it was pretty incredible to actually see one of them in the wild.
During the walk, it was kind of surreal to be walking around a massive lake, fed by the sea, that had not only a rock wall but also a decent size levy, including full flood protection gates, protecting the city. Having heard about the numerous hurricanes that have gone through the region, it’s easy to see why they have them but to actually walk and see them was pretty powerful.
I continued my walk and found the restaurant that I was looking for, only to be told there was at least a 1hr wait and this was at 2pm as it was. Seeing as though I had to be back by a certain time for a couple of work meetings, the timing wasn’t going to work so I walked back to my hotel, stopping at a couple of other restaurants only for them to also have a long waiting time, so I ended up skipping “lunch” and just walked back to the hotel.
All up I ended up walking around 10km in weather that was in the low 30’s degrees Celsius (high 80’s Fahrenheit) and pretty humid. Yes, I could have run ahead and booked a seat but there’s no fun in that. The whole point of these trips is the spontaneous activities and just enjoying discovering things in the area.
Anyway, I ended up having dinner in the hotel and then spending the rest of the afternoon and evening working, finally getting to bed just after 3am due to having to complete some work before finishing up for the day\night, so it was a good thing that I had a really good night sleep the night before.
All up the camp experience was more than I could have hoped for. I knew that it was going to be a great opportunity for growth but there was so many things to take out of the camp that I’m hugely appreciative of being able to attend the camp.
This is only the start of my trip over here, with another 4 camps to come as well as attending some professional games, to continue my growth. I’m really looking forward to the next couple of weeks and seeing what other opportunities present themselves.