You’ve been asked to evaluate a fellow official and have been given an evaluator’s checklist. In many instances checklists offer only a limited perspective on how officials perform. The trouble is that listed characteristics are often too general and don’t reveal specific officiating actions in a contest. There are specific things you can do to improve your evaluating.
Use descriptions. An evaluation or observation report must describe, and doing that requires more than a traditional number system, which can be rather vague. Descriptions should be done in neutral phrasing, using non-opinionated terminology and avoiding critical remarks as much as possible. When officiating judgments are part of the picture, the description should be couched in tentative terms, such as, “You appeared to call strikes on pitches that may have been high in the strike zones of shorter hitters.” (Using you means that the evaluation report will be produced for the official as well as an administrative entity.)
Keep score. An observer can itemize behavior by making a tally of the way an official operated. If you’re in a good position to evaluate strike calls, say directly behind home plate, you can “keep score” by tracking pitches that either seem accurately called or else seem off the mark. Charting would also reveal patterns of an umpire’s judgment: missing low pitches, expanding the strike zone beyond the outside corner and so on.
Charting can be done in other sports as well. Keep track of how many times a football wing official adopted a progress spot on running plays by moving downfield parallel to the play and pivoting at a 90-degree angle to identify a dead-ball spot. In basketball, record how often a referee got caught trailing a fast break by several yards. Signals can also be described.
If isolated behavior needs recording, then that can be done in narrative language: “With two minutes left in the first quarter, the referee and umpire conferred for 38 seconds before administering a penalty for holding.”
Give positive reinforcement. At upper levels of officiating, observers often try to record many more positive behaviors than negative ones. Part of objective evaluating is to reinforce correct officiating. With narrative descriptions, you can explain how an official appears to adopt the correct positioning before play, how he or she moves according to action and if the official seems to be looking in the proper places to execute judgments.
Share it. Should you share an evaluation with the person being observed? If you don’t, there’s little hope for improvement. Plus, a secret evaluation will likely be resented. Sharing a summary of patterns allows the official to reflect on the observations, moving the recipient to counter the perceptions or accept the evaluation as a positive stimulus for change.
Written by Jerry Grunska, a retired educator who lives in Evergreen, Colo. He officiated football for more than 40 years. This article originally appeared in Referee magazine in November 2004.