We’re All Selling Something!

“A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.” – Glengarry Glen Ross

Most who know me well know that I am a sports official by profession. After 27 years in management, project management, payroll and some form of customer support, I’ve spent the last couple years building upon a career path that I embrace more for the love than the money. Currently I work within 4 different kinds of sports and that number is expanding. I work with adults, high school students and even small children.

Being in business for myself has brought me to realize some things. Like my friends and colleagues with the National Sales Network, St. Louis Chapter, my line of work includes selling. The product is me.

You see there are many sports officials out there. Every year there are a plethora of young men and women who venture into this business with different aspirations. Some do it for side income. Some want to stay active in the games they used to play. Some love being around the kids and helping them. Some take the craft of officiating quite seriously and want to be the best at it. Many want to go into the college and pro ranks. Some are what I call Official/Umpire/Referee mercenaries. Their sole motivation is to get as much money as possible; and that’s it.

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I have worked with all of these categories of officials. And from the beginning I plotted my own path step by step by understanding the basic principles of selling myself as a viable commodity among my customers.

The first step was in becoming qualified and certified by state standards. Currently I am certified in two states. Second is to learn the craft as well as possible by not only working as much as I could, but also reaching out and learning from other officials. As the saying goes, I’ve learned as much of what not to do as well as what to do.

Next I always show up on time unless I’ve arranged otherwise. Nothing aggravates athletic directors, coaches, players and parents more than some slacker holding up their games and treating them as if their event is not important.

There are many outstanding officials who are on in the marketplace. A major way that I’ve learned to shine and differentiate myself is to be engaging and show a lot of energy and enthusiasm while performing. I’m not afraid to smile or even joke when the tension get a little chippie. Everyone who sees me can recognize that I want to be there and am invested and involved in what’s going on. I hustle and get into position to make the right calls. I communicate with the players and the coaches. I answer questions with courtesy, though I am firm and not afraid to settle a conflict.

Most people can tell if their official is competent, engaged, and cares about what’s going on. The games we officiate are just games. They don’t save lives or change the world. But when I played it was important to me. Whatever the gender, age, or experience level the competitors deserves to have quality officials who gives them the chance to enjoy their sporting experience within the assigned set of rules and rules interpretation.

There are several officials related associations that I am a member of.  This makes for great networking opportunities.  No matter how good you are, you cannot make it without the help of others.  Through these organizations I benefit from the training and development they provide.  They in turn assign work to me all over the area.  However, most of my work and references have come through relationship building and word of mouth based on my performance, which includes my attitude.  My name is my brand. And when people think of me, my brand is what comes to mind as they decide who to hire for their sporting events.

These principles and skills are transferable to any line of business.  Remember we are all selling something every day.  Even in your personal life, when you go on a date, is that anything less than a  sales job?

No matter the product, your name, your brand, and your reputation is the first commodity people will consider first.

Umpire

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Blue Strikes Back, or If My Whistle Could Talk

Real Talk:  I love what I do.  Sports’ officiating is not only a fun job, it’s an important job.  Whether the games are played by little kids, teenagers, or adult men/women, the officials play an important part in managing games that mean a lot to its participants.  They uphold the integrity of live competition. 

As a fan of sport, and a former participant as a youth and adult, I understand the fun, the passion and the intensity when competing.  Often part of the art and drama of sports is the give and take between players/coaches and officials.  Some try to bully officials.  Some are more cunning.  I welcome some give and take because it’s a part of the game.  I expect players to gripe a little in the heat of battle.  I expect coaches to try to ‘work’ me into giving them the next call to their advantage.  Games are as much psychological as they are physical.  You have to have thick skin in this business to be successful as a competitor or official.

 

Still, every once in a while I find it funny how some of the players and coaches I work with take the give and take a little too far.   Most good officials take a lot more than they give in the first place.  We can’t get caught up in too much conversation even as we try to respect dialogue.  There are times when the chatter I hear is ridiculous.  The verbal assaults can clearly get out of hand.

While doing men’s basketball game recently one team in particular whined and bitched throughout the entire contest.  Several comments were made not only questioning our abilities as referees, but also our character.  Two of their players ended up being tossed from the contest.  And even after the game they persisted to make excuses for the ass whoopin’ they just endured.

But what if the tables were turned?  What if there was actually equal access to criticize?

I posed this question to one the whining players who kept at us as my partner and I were changing to leave the gym.

“You know what?   I can do what you do.  But you can’t do what I do.  You’re not qualified to do my job.  But what if I in the course of the game could talk to you the way you talk to me.  What if I critiqued your every move on this court, your missed shots, turnovers, every time your man scored on you?  What if I walked up and down the court saying, ‘What a lousy pass that was?  Your defense is shit.  You can’t shoot so why do you continue to try?  Coach, your game plan sucks and you can’t coach worth a damn!  Hang it up!’  Believe me I see it every week!  It’s not like I don’t notice.  But you spend so much time critiquing my every call or no call.  He had no answer for that. 

I’m umpiring a youth fall baseball league in a well to do area.  Some of the kids on the teams are sons of St. Louis Cardinals, Rams or Blues players.  Some of them are pretty good while others not so.  Some of them are good kids who love to play the game.  Some think they are automatically following in their father’s athletic footsteps. 

 

Anyway, I’m behind the plate and this one kid has Albert Pujol’s stance down to the tee.  (Not Albert’s son) He’s posin’ it real good but refuses to swing unless the ball crosses the middle of the plate.  I’m calling corner strikes and he’s huffin’ and puffin’ openly showing off his disapproval.  Later towards the end of the game, one of his teammates ducks out of the way of a pitch on the inside corner of the plate like it’s a missile.  (STRIKE!)  He turns and shows his frustrations with some grunts and rumblings under his breath.  Then he barks, “Hey – where was that blue?”  My response,  “It was in the strike zone that’s where it was.  Besides that, you are up 17-2.  Swing the bat and stop ducking the ball like you’re scared.”  He struck out and that was that.  But what if I said what I really wanted  to say.  It would have been pretty much the same except I would have added.. ‘Smart ass lil fucka!  Now shut yo punk ass up before I take my belt off and whip ya right here at home plate!’ on the end of it.  Here he was 11 years old trying to ‘big time’ me in front of his teammates and the fans. 

Fortunately, for the most part I’m good at holding my tongue while managing the game professionally.  Every now and then I still lose my tempter.  I’m working on it.  But I bet for those kids/adults who act a fool, if officials can just have one contest where the talking was equal, they would choose their words much more carefully.