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Five Tips for First Year Referees

By Amy Hollingsworth, 11/08/18, 3:15PM EST


Best practices from experienced Officials and Supervisors

Photo Credit: Julie Whelan Photography

I remember stepping out onto the ice for my very first league game. New to officiating hockey but not new to officiating, I was relaxed, excited, and prepared. At least I thought I was prepared. I am not a ‘young’ official but I was newly certified and bring years of life experience, coaching, officiating, and love for the game with me as I skated to centre ice.

Regardless of the division we are officiating we need to remember that we are working to the best of our ability to officiate fairly and to ensure the safety of all players on the ice. We are officiating, often under unrealistic expectations from coaches, players, and parents but there are several best practices that new officials can adopt to ensure best preparation.

Here are the top five ‘best practices’ shared with me from experienced officials and Supervisors over the seasons.

Role Model

Dress the part and look professional – dress code matters. We only have one chance to make a good first impression when we walk into the arena. Be personable when greeting Coaches and Trainers on the ice and ask the Head Coach to identify themselves. Most of the experienced Refs I have worked with have a standard greeting which includes more than just a handshake and have a good game comment each time they hit the ice. Some indicate their willingness to speak with coaches but they ask for them to come down off the bench and meet them at the door where a respectful conversation is expected. Speak with your partner and be united during the handshake.

Know the Rules

It takes time and experience to observe and learn from the situations in the book to seeing them unfold in front of you and what that looks like from Novice to Juvenile. Sometimes it can take you by surprise how quickly you have to make a decision and sometimes we make mistakes. Fewer mistakes happen however over time and when we know the rules and procedures become automatic.

Work Ethic

Hustle and positioning are key to demonstrating to your toughest critics that you are invested in the game, and working to be in the best position to make the appropriate calls. Of course, hustle is defined differently depending on who you ask but skating hard between the lines and establishing yourself at home base, half piston or at the net quickly is key. Comfort and confidence develop with time but every new official should be aware of the vital importance to skating hard and be in the right position.

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Personally, I rank this high on the list of importance. I have learned over the seasons that the more the players and coaches hear officials talking in ‘good’ times, when there are penalties or bench management issues there tends to be an increased willingness to respect and hear each other. The best way to establish your standards and game management style is through communication. Respectful, calm voice, positive body language, calm but firm facial expressions, crisp whistles, and clear hand signals are all ways to ensure positive game management clearly communicated  to players and coaches.


As a team on the ice there are more opportunities then you may think to check-in to hear another perspective. I have been mentored by some of the best and enjoy supporting my referee as a linesmen, reassuring them that there is nothing happening behind the play resulting in their ability to focus fully on what is in front of them or to see something brewing. This was, they can communicate at a stoppage so the referee can keep additional eyes on the situation. Of course, equally important is for a referee to openly confer and consult with their linesmen frequently as well and not just after a situation but to check in prior to stepping on the ice, in between periods, and at stoppages as needed.

We were all new once and understand the anxiety and the challenges that go hand in hand with the responsibility of wearing an OMHA Officials jersey.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek clarification from your referee partners, assignors, or supervisors.  Have an awesome season in stripes!


Amy Hollingsworth is an NCCP Learning Facilitator, Coach Developer and a Referee. She is the founder of Maverick Field Hockey Club.

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