Officials meeting with the coach before the game

An Efficient On-Field Pregame Enhances Crew Performance

If we don’t have an on-field pregame routine, our actions sometimes devolve into wandering around the field looking for activities to occupy time or mindlessly chatting with crewmates.

List of Helpful Pre-game Activities

The Field and Markings

Depending on the level of play, we may find multiple issues with initial equipment placement. The stadium staff sometimes does not correctly position yard-line markers and pylons. Yard-line markers should be no closer than 5 yards to the sideline (NFHS 1-2-2) and many times we must move them. The stadium staff also may not properly set the pylons at the intersections of the sidelines and the goal lines and end lines. The end line pylons at each intersection of the hash marks extended can be placed 3 feet beyond the end line to give the back judge an unobstructed path (1-2-4).

Game Equipment

It’s interesting to note in a high school state championship game held a few years ago at a professional stadium, the linesman discovered the yardage chain was two inches too short. In the same game, the coaching staff presented game balls that did not have the NFHS Authenticating Mark.

The linesman should inspect the down indicator to ensure it properly functions and while not prescribed by rule, should ensure tape is properly positioned five yards between the two rods. We use the tape to determine if a 5-yard penalty will result in a first down. If the box is beyond the tape, we say “5 will get you one” or “Butkus” (Legendary Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus’s number was 51). If the box is short of the tape, we know a 5-yard penalty will not result in a first down.

Player Equipment

Detecting player equipment problems is likely one of the most important pregame activities that can prevent game time disputes and possible player injury. While we should not be self-appointed “equipment police,” we should take time to look for and correct equipment errors. Interestingly, the same equipment errors seem to occur every week of the season; this may be indicative of our lack of attention to detail or indifference in enforcing the rules.

Common NFHS equipment infractions include jerseys that do not completely cover the shoulder pads or pads worn above the waist on the torso (1-5-1b1), pants that do not completely cover the knee (1-5-1e), eye shade that is not solid stroke (1-5-3c3), eye shields that are not completely clear (1-5-3c4) including polarized eye shields, and play cards incorrectly worn on the waist (1-5-3c8).

In 2024, the NFHS rules committee updated Rule 1-5-1d(5)(a) to state players may equip a single mouthpiece. They cannot attach one mouthpiece to the facemask (as an “ornament” to emulate NCAA and NFL athletes) and have another mouthpiece in the mouth.

Meeting with Coaches

Professional game cards are a great first-impression tool. (You can find game card templates in the Resources section of this website.) The referee and sideline officials should know the name of the head coach before stepping on the field. MaxPreps and team websites are great resources to provide this information.

First impressions are important, and greeting the head coach by last name will demonstrate the officials have taken the time to prepare for the game. While the referee and umpire meet with the home team’s head coach, the linesman can identify the location of the visiting team’s head coach to assist the referee when he transitions to the other side of the field.

Sideline officials can also greet offensive and defensive coordinators (if known); this will help if they need to address one of the coordinators during the game.

Numbering and Formations

Officials can accomplish valuable research before the pregame by learning the names and numbers of the most prominent members of each team. MaxPreps and team websites will provide information on top passers, receivers, and rushers. (It will also offer evidence regarding a team’s proclivity to run or pass.)

During the on-field team warmup, officials should position themselves to view formations and plays and mentally note the numbers of the linemen and skill players. The practice plays will provide valuable clues about what to expect when the game begins. Umpires can view linemen splits and determine player positioning relative to the free-blocking zone.

Player Prowess

The on-field warmup is a great opportunity to ascertain the physical abilities of the players who will handle the ball. We should note quarterback arm strength, skill player speed, receiver ability, and placekicker and punter leg strength.

Official Warmup

We should try to carve out time for personal warmup. Simple stretching in the locker
room may not be sufficient to prepare to sprint downfield on the opening kickoff. This warmup should be as inconspicuous as possible, preferably in one of the end zones.

Crew Observation Discussion

At a predetermined time, the crew should meet in one of the end zones to discuss observations from the coach’s conferences and the team warmup period. Special plays and formations should be shared with all officials. This is a final opportunity to mentally prepare for kickoff and ensuing scrimmage plays.

Preparing for the Coin Toss

The referee will inform each head coach when the coin toss ceremony will occur. It is not uncommon for team captains to arrive late on the sideline. To keep pregame events on schedule, wing officials should be cognizant of remaining warmup time and be prepared to get the captains from their respective locker rooms in plenty of time to transition to the proper sideline.