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Create a Threshold

I have too many things happening… There is no way I can focus on this game!

Have you ever sprung out of your chair, raced into a room, and then stood there wondering why you are there? Congratulations! You just fell victim to the “threshold effect,” though I prefer to call it the “doorway effect”. In those moments, you are intensely aware of everything in the room, but the reason for why you traveled there has escaped your mind.

There is an evolutionary advantage to this weird mental lapse - by transitioning into a new environment, your mind prioritizes the immediate environment as it tries to log potential threats. Your need to get a handful of double-A batteries is dropped in favor of making sure that there is nothing that can hurt you in this new room. Fortunately, sports officials can take advantage of this useful lapse in mental processing by using it to distance ourselves from the daily worries of family, work, and the like.

Your car door is a superb threshold. As you settle yourself into your seat, take a minute and breathe deeply for 3-5 breaths. Let your day go before you drive to your game. Once you park, breathe deeply again for 3-5 breaths. Then, open the door and step out in a more relaxed state of mind.

Make this a habit, and eventually the very act of getting into and out of your car becomes a welcome break from any daily stresses.


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Focus on the Positive

DFIU… DFIU… DFIU…

Have you ever asked your partner to go to the grocery store and to not forget to pick up a carton of milk? What is the result when your partner returns home? No milk.

This is a remarkable piece of human psychology: phrase a request in the negative, and there is a better than fair chance that your request will remain unfulfilled. Then why do sports officials tell one another to “Don’t F___ It Up”? Sometimes it is in jest, and other times it definitely is not. Either way, it puts a person into a fixed mindset that is naturally limiting.

Instead, try talking to yourself as if you are ready to make the correct call:

  • I want the big play.

  • I am ready to make the critical call or no call.

  • I can adapt to any situation.


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Take Care of Your Feet

I don’t think my feet can take another game.

When was the last time you looked at your feet when you weren’t putting on shoes or stepping into the shower? It is unsurprising that we think of our feet so little. They are, after all, the furthest body part away from our brains. Feet should do what feet do without much thought to what they go through every day.

Reflexology, though based on pseudoscientific ideas that are highly untrue, is one way to standardize how to give yourself a foot massage. Doubtful that you’ll improve digestion by stimulating a particular zone of your foot, but foot massages feel good and you should set aside time to care for your feet when they strike the ground an average of 80-100 times per minute while running.

Don’t have the time or are squeamish about touching your feet? Invest in some acupressure sandals! They hurt like hell the first few days, but after a long day on your feet or an up-and-down game they feel absolutely heavenly.


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Take Advantage of Pause Points

Am I ever going to get a chance to slow down?

Teams get timeouts, officials get pause points. There is a significant distinction between the two. Players and coaches get to relax their guard. Officials do not get that opportunity.

As arbiters of the game, officials are paid to pay attention at all time, and it always seems like the worst things happen when you are the least attentive. Try adopting pause points during timeouts. These are not as restful, but these moments of respite add up over the course of a game.

AFTER both teams are huddled in their areas, situate yourself somewhere in the middle of both and turn to face the team benches. This is the time to converse with your partners and to take a pause for yourself. Enjoy the 20-30 seconds of needing less laser-focused attention. When it is time to return the players to the competition you will be much better prepared for the start of play.


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Block Your Schedule

I am exhausted, but I have games the next four nights!

Almost every officiating organization has some award for the most games officiated during the regular season. It’s typically some young college kid with only morning classes, or a recently retired individual who has an empty nest and plenty of free time.

Do not make the mistake of competing with those who have such a serious scheduling advantage. You likely have your regular job, kids to take care of, something you volunteer for, or perhaps you enjoy building furniture or working on a screenplay in your spare time. There is no need to feel guilty about blocking your schedule. It does not matter that your assigner needs you. Remember, you come first.

Focus on quality of game experiences rather than accumulating a mass of games. If your assigner really needs you, push back - “I can do it, but only if you have no one else.” Then when you do that extra game, your assigner will appreciate your willingness to help (always a good thing).

Officiating is weird in that you can work as much as you want - don’t be that person that loads up their schedule only to offload it once their body breaks down or their boss comes along with a new initiative for the firm.


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Settle on a Mantra

Why can’t I get into the groove?

To quote Aristotle: “excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” When attempting to hit a target several hundred yards away, snipers are trained to control their breathing and fire in the natural pause between the inhale and the exhale. Through training, they can force that pause to be longer and increase the amount of time they have to take a quality shot.

While that doesn’t sound so difficult in print, imagine controlling your heart rate on a battlefield after spending hours slowly sneaking to a concealed firing position. To do their job snipers must focus, and officials can do the same by repeating what they want to do well over the course of the game through positive self-talk:

  • Stay focused.

  • Run to point to point.

  • Let the play come to me.


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Vent to a Friend

This is such BS!!!

To modernize Donne: “No human is an island.”

You need someone in the officiating world who is a close friend, mentor, or both who you can speak with in confidence. Unpleasant comments will be shouted at you. Your integrity will be questioned by a coach. Your ancestral history will be denigrated by an irate player. You won’t get that game assignment you feel you earned.

Have someone who you can speak with and know your words will go no further. Call it an officiating confessional, and it is vital for your long-term sanity in a hobby where observations from all perspectives are necessarily subjective and sometimes feel capricious.


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Ghosting

I need to develop a thicker skin.

In 101 Tips to Be a Better Bouncer - you learn effective methods of de-escalating confrontation with drunk people, which is a great deal similar to de-escalating confrontation with angry coaches and fans.

The technique is called ghosting, and it acknowledges the fact that we have all known since elementary school - “stick and stones may break my bones, but dammit words do hurt.” As social primates, acceptance by the tribe is a deep-rooted need in human psychology. This is why you remember the names you were called as a child, but only have a vague memory of any physical injuries sustained on the playground.

The concept is a simple thought-experiment done before a competition:

  1. Write down the words/phrases that rile you, but not so badly as to distract you - mark these in green.

  2. Write down the words/phrases that upset you so much that you are distracted - mark these in red.

  3. Imagine that you are as transparent as a ghost and that the green words can pass right through you with no reaction whatsoever.

  4. Imagine that the red words interact with your ghost body to produce a loud “BANG”!

  5. Take the “BANG” as your cue that you must professionally address the problem person or persons according to the rules of the game.


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Research the Teams You Might Officiate

I’m so nervous, I hear this coach is a nightmare!

The more knowledge you have about a team or a coaching staff the better off you will be. Not because you are going into a game with a perceived bias for or against any team, but because you are prepared for unpleasant eventualities and can be happy if you do not happen to come across them.

As you improve your officiating skills, your game schedule will also improve. You will work more challenging games, more rivalry games, more playoff games; the stakes will be higher and the pressure on you rises accordingly.

Partner with a more senior official who has done these games with these coaches. Go over your schedule with this person. Learn about a coach’s likes and dislikes, discover which players on the team are the true leaders, and ask questions about what the environment might be like. Most importantly - figure out the best place to park if you’ve never been to a school before.


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Cartoon Voice Replacement

That person is terrifying!

A gem of a technique for those with distorted thoughts because it it hard to argue with thoughts said in your own voice. It is equally difficult to argue with or to not be intimidated by a person screaming in your face.

Instead of allowing your heart rate to increase, make it so your verbal jousting partner’s voice sounds like that of your favorite cartoon character. Elmer Fudd is a fairly easy one to bring to mind:

  • You awe a howwibwe pewson!

  • You’we the wowst wefewee in the wowwd!

This is low-effort/high-yield technique in battling negative thoughts and when imagining frightful arguments with someone that intimidates you because it is easy to laugh at a thought or a person that sounds so ridiculous!


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Circle Breathing

I’m so nervous!

Max Strom terrifically explains the benefits of controlled breath work for better quality of life in this talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Lb5L-VEm34.

He also leads the audience through a short exercise in Circle Breathing. It is known by other terms, but most refer to performing the following actions:

  1. Inhale for a count of four.

  2. Hold your breath for a count of four.

  3. Exhale for a count of four to six.

  4. Hold empty for a count of four.

  5. Repeat.

This is a simple and discreet method of calming yourself in just about any remotely stressful situation. Great if you are nervous around crowds, while flying, presenting at a board meeting, or asking your crush on a date. It is also FAST. After 3-5 repetitions you’ll noticed a marked lowering of tension in your body, which leads to calmer thinking, which generates better decisions during crucial moments in a game.