Camps and clinics are a critical component of the overall development of your advancement and officiating career. There are many camps from which to chose over the United States. These training opportunities allow you to received instruction from some of the world’s greatest football officials. They also allow you to network and build relationships with those same officials. Some are expensive, some take several days to complete. Some are better, some are worse. So how do you find the right camp?
First you need to do some research in order to make a good decision about what camp fits your goals and developmental needs. Determine how much time and money you have available to devote to the camp environment. What are your immediate officiating goals? There are basically two kinds of camps: teaching camps and exposure camps. Both are valuable and have their place, but you need to understand the difference so your experience is both rewarding and beneficial.
The off-season is devoted to development of your officiating skills. Early on in your career, your first consideration will be instruction in fundamentals. Finding a camp that teaches the essentials is paramount. In exposure or “try-out” camps, there are opportunities to meet conference supervisors and other key decision-makers but less focus on the basics. The expectation is that you have a solid foundation of the essentials and are ready to take your skills to the next level. There will certainly be teaching but it tends to be more focused on the details of this craft.
There are often multiple talent scouts at the exposure camps and they serve as a great vehicle to showcase your officiating skills in your attempts to climb the ladder. They are definitely a valuable component of every aspiring official’s career but your number one priority is to address the developmental needs you had at the end of the previous season. Get your game ready for that next level and there will be a proper time and place for the exposure camp in your future.
I won’t attempt to recommend one camp over another. Rather, I’ll give you a checklist on how to choose a camp. If you will follow this simple method, you can use it to choose a camp or clinic for years to come.
In addition to the two previously discussed camp types, I want to point out two additional classifications: Classroom and Field Instruction. Due to the limited availability of spring football, some camps are conducted in a classroom-only mode. Others guarantee live snaps on the field at colleges and universities when teams are conducting spring scrimmages. Both can be valuable learning experiences and I wanted to point out this difference as we discuss our checklist.
* Who are the instructors?
The quality of the camp is directly proportional to the staff. You want to be taught by successful officials and from officials that have achieved those levels to which you aspire.
* Instructor to Student Ratio?
Just like in a normal class room, this ratio can have an impact on your ability to receive feedback and individualized attention. Ask about the number of clinicians and the expected number of trainees. Live play camps will typically limit the number of students in order to maximize the number of snaps and tailor the personal instruction to the student.
There is no right number, but realize your experience in a class of 50 students with one Big Ten umpire talking about chop blocks will be much different than having an NFL line judge standing behind you on the line of scrimmage discussing pre-snap duties.
* College or high school mechanics?
There are camps that focus strictly on each and with that comes a different level of instruction regarding each levels rules and mechanics. Understand where you are in your officiating career and what your immediate goals are so that you chose the camp format that is appropriate for your needs.
There are fewer opportunities for live play at the high school level due to the restrictions placed on high school student-athletes. College camps often coincide with spring training and offer the ability to officiate college level play. Fundamentals are taught at both levels and it should be easy for you to choose a camp that fits your needs.
* Is there video review?
There are many good camps with veteran instructors. But you may never see yourself on video. Ask about the availability of video review. Coordinating video during a camp experience is a monumental task and many camps do not offer this tool. But I believe it’s a necessary part of the optimal camp experience. Not only from your development watching your own video, but working with those NCAA and NFL officials on how to break down your film will accelerate your advancement and learning for years to come.
* Is there classroom instruction?
Some camp formats only offer classroom instruction and this type of camp is perfect for the less experienced official. Often the Field Training camps complement the training with the classroom to review play situations, film and other teaching points. Classroom only camps typically are one day in length and start off with a key-note speaker followed by breakout sessions by position and/or emphasis on a skill such as goal line plays.
* Will you receive written evaluations of field work?
Written critiques should be very helpful to identify some of your strong and weak points. Most often, camp instructors will see some small intangible need for you to improve upon that you may not have known. They will also provide excellent insight and advice on what to expect at the higher levels giving you a clear path on what you need to address as you seek advancement.
* Are there returning students?
Is there a waiting list? Does the website have testimonials from former students? Are there success stories where past students have been successfully advanced into higher levels? This is a true test of a camp’s quality and should not go unnoticed during your evaluation. Ask those questions of the camp leadership personnel.
Camps can range from $25 for a single day of classroom instruction to well over $1000 for 3 day clinic with live play and film review. Each can prove beneficial to every official and learning can occur in many ways.
Finding the right camp can reap rewards in your officiating career. Money and time can be wasted if your officiating goals and needs are not properly aligned with the mission of the camp itself. My intention here is to educate you to make an informed decision. The off-season camp should become an integral component in your development as an official and accelerate your progression and improvement as you pursue your officiating goals and dreams.
Camps can be a valuable resource for your improving your officiating skill set as well as providing opportunities for you to network with key decision-makers and gain much-needed exposure. As you progress in your officiating career, not only will your goals and needs change; so will your expectations of each camp environment. If you reach a point where you feel the camps you are attending are not providing value or honing your skills, you may need to seek other camps that can satisfy your expectations.
Finally, the camp environment is a great chance to associate with like-minded football officials. You will find that your mild obsession with football officiating may not be fully understood with your friends and family. Most won’t truly appreciate your desire to officiate football at the highest levels. People will continually question your desires and dreams. Some may even attempt to discourage you from pursuing those dreams. Camps provide you a unique opportunity to surround yourself with similar motivated people passionate about officiating football. This environment is conducive to learning and improvement. The people you will meet and associations you make will reach beyond the short camp schedule and provide you meaningful relationships in and out of the officiating community.