For good or bad, for better or worse, I have an active mind. As I swipe up my iPhone to open the Spotify app, I turn on a playlist that me and my best friend Phil collaborate on, which features our favorite songs that we deem Unskippable when playing it. Mary J. Blige comes on. The song I’m the Only One comes on, from the heart wrenching album My Life, from 1995. I didn’t have to google that fact that the album came out, or the song came out. I have vivid memories of that song playing Donkey Kong Country in Eight Grade in my little red bedroom in Baldwin, NY.
“I know that I was wrong
For all that carryin’ on
But are you gonna hold this
Against me for life?”
– Mary J. Blige
I don’t find it a gift that I can recall things like this daily, frequently; it’s a curse in a way. Things that I want to forget, I never will. And things that are unimportant, always will be. And so, I remember everything and anything, and in turn, it helps me be the most open minded when it comes to facts, opinions and the like.
This trait bodes well for officiating. Not everything can be learned from a book; conversely, not everything can be learned through experience. Many things that you will experience someone never will. And something that someone has experienced a multitude of times may never come across your journey. I have never been able to put words into this concept until, unbeknownst in 2010, I ran a book called Pirates of a Buccaneer Scholar: Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion, when I was able to identify it into words. I had an apathetic relationship with formal school, although I excelled at it. I always suppressed my intelligence as a kid, because I didn’t want to one up anyone like a mushroom in Super Mario Brothers. I much would rather fit in than stand out, so I decided to reinvent myself as a Video Game Playing, Hot 97 listening, Basketball Dribbling kid. Not a Math Whiz.
“I display, Hot 97 rhyme-ready,
Cock MAC-11, line steady
Like Tevin Campbell, I’m ready,
To do what I do, continuously to-” – Notorious B.I.G.
AUGUST 2005: I ran into an old friend of mine named James, who I went to high school with. One thing about me in high school, is that my identity of liking basketball, and listening to music, and playing video games, continued. I never thought I was the smartest person in my class, nor do I do now. I was blocked by greatness, kind of like how the Beatles had the #1, #2, #3 and #4 song in the world, and the only reason why the #3 song wasn’t #1 was they were blocked by their own sunshine. Nonetheless, I was one of the worst of the best, just happy to be in the building. I told James, at a McDonald’s drive thru about how much I revered his medulla oblongata, and he expressed the same on mine. But I didn’t think I was ever on par with his. But in the previous breath, I was explaining the complexities of a Jay-Z lyric and how he’s the greatest of all time, a position that I still hold today. He said, “You just proved your intelligence.” With a puzzled look, I didn’t know what to say. He continued. “Just the fact that you are able to explain Jay-Z and his lyrics, is a form of an intelligence.” Never thought of it that way, but I’ll take it.
That lit a fire to me, realizing that all this time, I was subconsciously accruing information, tid bits, of information that would prove invaluable for all time. I decided after that to read books, but that’s an entirely different post. Hence, I was armored – with an array of street knowledge, wizened experience, and now book knowledge to seek me through. I thought everything was an opportunity to improve the mind; whether it be a commercial on TV, a song lyric on a turn you didn’t like, an overheard conversation at a grocery, and of course, your own mind.
“I love you, I love you, I love you
That’s all I want to say
Until I find a way
I will say the only words I know that you’ll understand.”
– The Beatles, Michelle
“The separation is clear in my rear
Objects is further than they appear.” – Jay-Z
There’s value in things that are invaluable, and things that you think are disposable. And to extrapolate that notion, these are the 11 elements of a Self-Educated Method, which is apropos in officiating – there’s so much information that people hold and keep close to the vest, with little direction to find it. It’s our duty to find what works for us, and disregard things that we don’t need. Enter:
- Scouting Obsessively – discover the sources and tools that you need. Browsing book stores, skimming books, surfing the web, trolling the dictionary. Using Instagram and Twitter. In terms of officiating, read referee.com, refereerant.com; follow @ crownrefs and other handles that hold officiating. Watch TV to see other officials in action, no matter what the level. Read newspaper articles and see how things can relate to officiating. Surely you can find gems without even knowing it.
- Authentic Problems – Engage your mind. An authentic problem is one that we personally care about, not that someone else thinks that we should care about. Do you care about being the best official you can, no matter what the sport? That sounds like it’s an authentic problem to you, something that means more than anything, to you. If your guided by the principle you care, then sky will always be limitless for you and your pursuits.
- Cognitive Savvy – means working with the rhythms of your mind. Thinking operates according to patterns and principles that I use to sail your mind, rather than driving or towing it. Researchers call this, “metacognition.” When writing for me, I often am guided by this principle. That’s why I set the mood. Playlist still going, fingers still typing away. Officiating is no different. If you have 4 games, back to back to back to back, you have to pace yourself. Conversely, if you are officiating a college Lacrosse game, you know you have to bring your A game. You are going to have to run as hard as you can. Your mind, sharp. Rules may not be colored by experience, until you indeed can call it an experience, having a story to pass on. Follow the rhythms of your mind, as it never fails you. Everything can be explained.
- Knowledge Attracts Knowledge – THE MORE I KNOW, the easier I learn. New knowledge connects with old, inspiring questions that reach toward yet more to know. Getting certified for a sport is drudgery. But as the days turn to weeks, as weeks turn to years, it’s easier to have a better quality of information comes to you, that’s received. Someone down the line, whether they know more than you or less, or may know something that you weren’t hip to, will be attracted because you have been a seeker of knowledge the whole duration of your career. Keep learning, because someone else is out there waiting to form like Voltron.
- Experimentation – makes learning vivid and direct. To experiment is to get close to it, to question it, play with it, poke at it, and learn from what happens next.. There’s one thing to hear why something is good or bad for you, there’s another thing to become the early adopter and know that it is indeed right or wrong. Use no lanyard. Experiment with different footwear. Try to memorize score and time in your head, or how many penalties a team has, or what the count is in Baseball. You can only go as far as your mind takes you; accordingly, aim for the stars.
- Disposable Time – lets you try new things. Disposable time is time that I can afford to waste. A great deal of the best work has come from me sitting at the beach, listening to a Spotify playlist, listening to my podcast, watching TV, and other things that others feel are wastes of time. I abhor officials who demean games that they perceive as a small game. It may be a pre-season game, or one where little kids have no idea what the sport is. It’s still time to work on something, that’s up to you to figure what it is. And when you are off the court or off the field, you can still find things that are relatable. I find myself often texting fellow officials, and talking about other officials and cracking jokes. Helps my wit, helps my sharpness, and forms a bond with other refs that won’t break.
- Stories – how we make sense of things. A story is a meaningful arrangement of ideas. Through composing, editing, sharing, or challenging stories, I advance my grasp of the world. This is the basis of Referee Rant. The podcast The Rant. The book 22 Rules of Officiating. I’m going to keep on keeping on.
- Contrasting Ideas – leads to better ideas. This means challenging my beliefs with opposing ideas. It means asking probing questions, developing skeptical and critical habits to avoid being fooled or ambushed. I’m a big advocate of this. When I was in my late 20’s, I read the book Mien Kampf, which is the autobiography of Adolf Hitler. Do I agree with his outlook on the world? YES. Do I believe he was an incredible speaker, that had great influence? YES. I can get outside of my own principles and beliefs, what I stand for, to understand what makes others tick. You’ll be quick to judge when you find this out about others. And brings your to a newer level of intelligence and understanding.
- Other Minds – exercise your thinking and applaud our exploits. Even though we are responsibility for our own ideas, we find it fun and useful to listen and respond to other thinkers. I get ideas from other people, then reinvent them for ourselves. As mentioned in #8, other people’s experiences and beliefs can help you closer to your own, whether they are opposing or shared. As my big brother Kareem Smith would say, you want to hear what other people have to say, but take heed to believe everything what they say. Rather, believe what they say, and take the meat from what they are saying, and throw away the bones.
- Worlds and Pictures – this makes a home for my thoughts. Beneath the level of stories, there are words, pictures, and symbols that embody meaning. I discover and deploy powerful words, take notes, fiddle with diagrams. There’s a power in words, in images, and stories, that compelled me to start my mission in making Referee Rant. The more we share, the more we know, where officiating, and everything it entails can be easier for the next generation. I encourage you to share your story, share your wisdom to those after you, because we grow as much as the audience that’s listening.
- Systems Thinking – helps us tame complexity. System thinking is the art of analyzing complex structures to find simple ones beneath. As a systems thinker, we learn faster because we see connections between what I’m learning and what I already know. I recently sat with a fellow veteran official, Nyreaf George, who shared his wisdom of how he started. When he got into officiating Basketball, he said that he got thrown in the fire, and learned the refined points of putting your hand up for a violation, and closing your fist, hand up for a foul. I found this a simple way to learn how to officiate. Squeeze first, ask questions last. Officiating, as a whole, is no different. Complex things that are difficult to put in words, must be experienced. Another notch of intelligence is taking these complexities, and simplifying it to people that know nothing of nothing.