Written by Greg Evers - June 2022
Week 3 of my trip to the US to continue in my growth as an American Football has just concluded and the positive experiences continue to present themselves. This week involved a trip to El Paso, Texas, for another football officiating clinic.
This week started off with the online study group that I engage with on a weekly basis mentioning that they were able to catch up with me after the USFL games on the weekend with a comment of “we don’t know anyone more dedicated to officiating” and they continued to speak highly of me being over and them being able to spend time with me.
The following day I woke to a notification that my flight originally scheduled for 11:20am was delayed until 12:40pm, which meant my 90min layover in Dallas was now 5min, indicating that I wouldn’t be able to catch my connecting flight to El Paso. I had a quick look online and there seemed to be a 10am flight from Birmingham, so I decided that I would get to the airport as early as I could and see what options I had.
I walked up to the American Airlines counter and spoke with the ladies behind the check-in counter about the situation and they had a look to see what they could do. The only option they had was to put me on standby for my original flight and then confirm me for a later flight from Birmingham, and then a much later flight from Dallas to El Paso, getting in around 9:30pm, approx. 6hrs after my initial flight. However, because I was a Qantas Frequent Flyer, part of the OneWorld partnership they were able to upgrade me to First Class for the Dallas to El Paso leg, as that was the only seat that was available.
I went through the security gates and just waited near the gate where the original flight was due to depart. There was another flight that was going to use the gate that we were going to use, but it was also delayed, until approx. 11:20am. Once that flight had departed, I walked up to the counter at the gate, saw the same lady that I saw at check-in, and asked if I could get on the original flight, with the current delay, and I was then planning on hanging around at Dallas waiting for the late flight to get me to El Paso.
The lady was able to confirm me on the original flight, leaving approx. 80min after it was originally scheduled and she was also able to confirm me on an exit row seat, which on this plane had a lot more space available for legroom, so that was a huge positive.
As she was checking earlier flights an available seat came up for a 5pm flight from Dallas to El Paso, also in First Class and the very first row, which she was able to confirm for me. Once that was done, everything else went smoothly on the flights.
I ended up getting to El Paso approx. 2hrs later than I was initially, but I ended up having an exit row seat with a huge amount of leg room on the flight to Dallas and a First Class seat on the flight to El Paso, which actually meant that I was the very first person off the plane at El Paso.
Once arriving in El Paso, I grabbed my bags from the baggage claim, being First Class they were the first ones off. Walking out of the terminal, I could see my hotel at the end of the carpark, about a 5min walk away.
I checked-in to the hotel and then walked over to the main hotel for the camp, where some of my crew were staying. I was in a different hotel because the main hotel was fully booked when I tried to register.
I met up with some of the crew that I’ll be officiating with and as one of them had a car and wanted to meet a friend in New Mexico, we went for a drive to get some dinner and to meet his friend. The trip was a great opportunity to get to know some of our crew that we’ll be officiating with. While our driver caught up with his friend, the rest of us talked through some of the things that we needed to discuss about officiating the game tomorrow. As it was our Referee’s first game as a Referee we were able to give him some advice around how to manage the game and how to do his announcements.
All up it was a great day and a real positive experience, especially considering the actual clinic hadn’t even started. We arranged to meet when registration opened (the following morning) and we’ld all grab our gear and then organise something as a crew.
In the morning I walked over to the main hotel and walked in to the hotel reception and saw one of the NFL officials that I had met at the Tom Beard Football Officiating Clinic back in March and went up and said hello. He introduced me to a current NFL Referee, who remembered me from the blog that I wrote after the trip in March and they both commented on how well written it was. That was a great encouragement.
I proceeded around to the registration area and picked up all of the items that we received as part of the registration and then waited around for the rest of our crew. After registering we had free time until just after lunch, so we headed out to a local Spanish restaurant with most of our crew and a couple of other officials who were from the same area as one of our crew members.
Once again, these types of activities and experiences are what makes these camps so enjoyable. Being able to spend time with officials from all around the country and get to know them and talk about our own experiences, it’s an incredible privilege to be able to do.
We had to rush through the end of our lunch so that we could get back in time for the first session to start, which we managed to do with about 5min to spare.
The first session was an introduction to the camp, introducing all the clinicians and supervisors that were in attendance. As part of the session, each camp attendee was asked to stand up and introduce themselves (name, state that you’re from, position, conference etc). As we started to go around the room, I was wrestling with the exact words to say, as I’m obviously not in a conference within the US and don’t have any direct High School or College experience. Luckily, with the way that they had us all sitting in crews and allocated spots, I was part of the second last crew to introduce themselves. It was encouraging to hear all of the different levels of experience that each official had, and where they were from. When it came my turn to get up, after mentioning my name and that I was from Sydney, Australia, I just mentioned that I was keen to get involved in officiating here in the US. It didn’t come out as smooth as I would have liked, but at least I was able to plant the seed in their minds that this is something that I’m interested in pursuing.
We had a keynote talk from Walt Anderson, NFL Senior Vice President Officiating Training and Development. Walt officiated in the NFL for around 20yrs, mainly as a Referee, and with that level of experience behind him, everyone was keen to hear and listen to his thoughts.
During his talk there were numerous concepts and points of emphasis that Walt touched on that should encourage us in our own journey of officiating. They were:
- Be content at the level you are at
- Keep things in perspective
- Develop skills and habits that will server you later in your career\life
- Everything you do is important
- Be self-driven and work on self-improvement
- Take something positive from every situation
- Constantly “look in the mirror” and ask yourself how can I get better
- Find someone who can honestly review your performance
- Figure out why and how you might have missed a call
Walt explained that there are two main characteristics that they look for when looking at officials for the NFL, but these can also apply to officials at all levels. They are Competency and Character. Each of these areas are then broken down into components with a relevant question that you should be able to answer in the affirmative:
- Fitness – What is your level of fitness?
- Appearance – Do you look “professional”?
- Body Language – What is your body language showing?
- Professional Presence – Do you have a professional presence, do you treat people professionally?
- Visual Recognition -
- Dynamic Mechanics – Can you see the play in motion and put yourself in position to see what you need to see?
- Deadball Officiating – Are you a high quality deadball official?
- Manage the game – Do you help to manage the game effectively and fairly?
- Consistency – Do you apply the rules and philosophies fairly?
- Mechanics – Do you have sound and fundamental mechanics?
- Team – Do you work well as a team?
- Performance – Is your individual performance at the standard required?
If you’re able to answer in the affirmative for each of those questions then you’re putting yourself in position to be the best official that you can be.
After the session from Walt, we were left to our own accords to get ourselves ready for the scrimmages that we had later that afternoon. Originally our scrimmage was scheduled for 7pm, but during the introduction session we were advised that it was now moved forward to 5pm, which meant we only had about 2hrs between the session finishing and to be back at the hotel to catch the bus. I walked back to my hotel, got all of my gear ready, and headed back in time to catch the bus to our field.
When we arrived at the field, we were notified that because the turf was over 120 ℉ (approximately 48 ℃) our scrimmage was being delayed until 6pm. They allowed us to sit in their basketball gymnasium with the air conditioning on while we wait for 6pm. This time proved to be a positive step as it meant that the clinician observing our position (Centre Judge – CJ) was able to spend some with us going over some of the basics of the CJ position, as it was the first time for some of the officials.
Prior to the scrimmage I was talking to one of the officials that has been extremely gracious with his time while I’ve been here and really encouraging about my journey and he asked me “what level would you be happy with”, specifically around what level of games would I be happy to start officiating at to make it worthwhile to relocate to the US. I mentioned that while I would love to ultimately get to the Div 1 level, that I was more than happy to start an appropriate level and work on getting better and just see where I ended up. Ideally my preference is to start at a College level, due to the rules being similar to what I currently officiate with, but I’d be willing to do High School games if it meant that I had a starting point and could continue to improve. Within Texas their High School teams play under NCAA (College) rules so I mentioned that might be an option, as it keeps the transition smoother. He mentioned that I should go and talk to a specific clinician about that process, which I would plan on doing sometime during the rest of the camp.
There were four crews allocated to the scrimmage so it was decided that each crew would have ten plays and we would then rotate. I was part of the third crew, so while my crew was off the field, I was able to stand next to the clinician and continue to learn and ask questions while the other officials worked.
During one part of the scrimmage, I had the supervisor from one of the conferences walk up and introduce himself and asked why he recognises me. I mentioned that I went to the corresponding camp in March and that’s where he may have recognised me from. He then mentioned that he heard that I was interested in officiating over in the US and my response was “absolutely”. He then proceeded to give me his card with information on how to fill out a form with my information. This supervisor looks after officials within the Texas area, which would align with my initial thoughts about where to start officiating.
It's pretty amazing to know that I’ve been able to make such a positive impression in a really short period of time. Being an official that’s travelled all the way from Australia does seem to make a nice impression on them, even though to me it’s not that big of a deal to travel this far for growth opportunities, especially when I’ve done a similar thing with trips to Mexico and Italy previously. To see their encouragement and appreciation of the travel that I’ve done to just grow as an official is really encouraging.
We finished the scrimmage with each crew being on the field for approximately 20 snaps each, which allowed us to incorporate some of the immediate feedback from our first set of snaps in to our second set of snaps.
We then headed back to the hotel, got changed, and then had a social gathering, allowing everyone to mingle and catch up with other officials. Throughout the night I was able to talk to quite a few officials, with some of them remembering me from some of the podcasts and other camps that I’d been on already. I started to talk with the Referee from our crew just about various things, and we actually ended up being the very last people to leave the social, as we talked about our own experiences and possibilities moving forward.
The next morning started pretty early, as this camp has what they refer to as the “Zebra Run” which is just an optional and “casual” 2.5 Mile (4km) run on a nearby walking track. The timing of this meant that we needed to meet at the hotel lobby for 6am, so it was an early start considering that I had to also walk from my hotel across to the main hotel and ensure I was there in time.
At the start of the camp, anyone interested in going on the run was asked to put their name down on a list. It was interesting to see how many of those people didn’t turn up, but there ended up being 10-15 of us that went for the run.
Whether it was combination of the lack of sleep that I’ve had since arriving here in the US, between working Australian hours and attending camps, or the fact that I haven’t done a large amount of fitness work since leaving Australia, the “run” was quite challenging, but like everything that I do, I wanted to ensure that I pushed myself all the way and finished it strongly. It just reinforced to me how much work that I need to do to increase my fitness levels to a level that is required of the various levels of officiating.
We headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before catching the buses to the location for the rest of the camp. This part of the camp involved multiple sessions, rotating with the crews that all did the same game the previous day.
The first session that we had was a session designed around dealing with challenges during games. How do you work through a “deer in the headlights” type play, or how do you deal with certain scenarios during games. It was a great opportunity for the camp officials to ask questions of our clinicians around how to deal with these types of scenarios and what advice they would provide. We were able to hear how they had dealt with similar scenarios during their journey and take some learnings from those experiences.
The second session was a walk-through on the field working through various scenarios. The first scenario was to walk through the mechanics of plays around the goal line, and to work through how to rule on certain plays. It was a great opportunity to really work on the responsibilities of each official within each scenario and to ensure that we make the correct ruling. The second component of the on-field work involved working through penalty enforcement. A play would be simulated, and it would be up to the assigned crew to then report what happened to the referee and ensure that it was enforced correctly. This was another great way of developing skills around communication and ensuring that we all give the Referee succinct and accurate information so that they can make a clear announcement.
The third session was a film review session where it was planned that we would review the plays from our scrimmage the night before. Unfortunately, the film for our actual scrimmage was not uploaded in time, so we ended up watching film from one of the other crews. It was a good opportunity to talk through some of the learning opportunities from those plays but, unfortunately, we couldn’t critique ourselves. The film will be uploaded at a later date, so we’ll be able to review it then.
The final session was a review session on the new rules for this coming season. Unfortunately, with Australia playing under IFAF rules, none of the NCAA rule changes will impact us here in Australia this year, but it was good to see and have them explained so that if\when IFAF uses the same rule changes I’ll understand what they are. It was good to be across them, though, because future camps here in the US and other officiating opportunities will be using them so it was good to have them explained to us..
We then finished off the “official” part of the camp with some lunch and a final closing session with all the campers and clinicians, and a bus trip back to the main hotel. During the lunch break I made a conscious effort to find the supervisor that was recommended to me, from earlier in the camp, and after introducing myself his first response was “I had been meaning to talk to you, so I’m glad you introduced yourself”. We had a quick chat about what would be involved for my journey to start over here and he actually mentioned that I should talk to the supervisor who gave me his card the day before. I mentioned that I have that information so he was encouraging about starting there and then working from there.
One part that I’m constantly working on is making myself open to talking to people. Generally, I’m one of those people who is comfortable being in the background but one thing that these camps have shown me is that by getting in front of people and introducing yourself, good things will happen. At the camp in March, Walt Anderson mentioned something in one of his presentations that has stuck with me and that’s; “If you can’t approach and talk to people like Walt, how are you going to be able to communicate with the coaches at the higher levels”. That’s been really encouraging and something that I’m constantly working on improving.
The organisers of the camp organised an “informal” social back at the hotel with some food and drinks, so after heading back to my hotel, dropping of my camp gear and getting changed, I headed back across to attend the social. By now some of the other officials had already started to leave to head home, but it was still nice to catch up those officials that were still there.
Some people then organised to go to a local baseball game, while others went out to dinner. The Referee from my crew and I headed off to the movies to go and watch the new Top Gun movie. It was a good chance to continue to get know my Referee and after enjoying the movie we arrived back to the hotel just as others were getting back from the baseball and from their dinner. We briefly caught up with some of them before we all headed off to bed.
One of the NFL officials who I met in March, offered to help source me some games in the area that he’s located in, if I’m looking for some games, which was truly appreciated. He then surprised me even further by asking that I keep him updated with my journey. That was incredibly encouraging. The fact that someone at the level of officiating that he is at, to be interested in my journey is incredible, and I’ll be ensuring that I do keep him updated. I’ve got a feeling that I may not need to, as my development updates will progress up the officiating grapevine and people will hear about how I’m going before I get a chance to update them, so it’ll be fun to see how that flows.
I headed back to my hotel and after staying overnight, headed to the airport the next day for my trip back to Birmingham, Alabama. For the flight out of El Paso, they asked if anyone wanted to move to the exit rows, and to check their carry-on all the way to their destination. I obliged and ended up having more legroom for the leg from El Paso to Dallas and didn't have to worry about keeping my carry-on luggage with me in Dallas, as that was now on it's way as part of the checked-on luggage for no additional costs.
I’ll now be located in Birmingham for the next 2-3 weeks, working during the week and watching more USFL games over the weekends to continue the growth and development before finishing up with a couple of more camps before heading back to Australia.