Teaching the Teachers

Instructor Training Helps Ensure That Officials Deliver The Right Message
Nick Salen

Nick Zaglifa and fellow instructor Erin Blair stood at center ice furiously scribbling notes while watching the flurry of activity taking place all around them.

Their experience as seasoned officials proved beneficial as they attempted to observe different things taking place on the ice at the same time.

“Those two gentlemen are teaching an icing drill,” Zaglifa pointed out. “Someone else is going over the proper techniques used to call the penalties. And another official is teaching offsides.”

It was all part of the Seminar Instructor Training Program, a yearly seminar held at the U.S. Olympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid, N.Y., where only the best and brightest refs are invited to learn the essential skills needed to “teach” the teachers.

“What we’re doing is critiquing them. What are their strengths that they can build on?  What are some things that they should have done differently that would have the drill go smoother or safer?” Zaglifa said.

It’s all part of giving back to the game by providing guidance and direction to the next generation of officials.

Zaglifa has been a registered USA Hockey official for 25 years and when he was approached two years ago to serve as an instructor he didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I love the game,” said the 42-year-old native of Frederick, Md. “USA Hockey has given me a ton of opportunities, whether it’s referee development camps or national tournaments. This is my way of giving back, and, at the same time, I love it.”

Those who are chosen by their District Referee-in-Chiefs go through a packed curriculum designed to help develop the skills needed to conduct officiating clinics in their areas.

“When they are here, they are learning more about what USA Hockey expects from officials, because we expect them to know the standards and know what the rules are,” said Blair, a Chicago native with 15 years of officiating experience. “Now we’re also teaching them how to teach … not only do they have to know it, but they also have to know the verbiage and the terminology.”

Time is split between on-ice drills and the classroom, and over the course of the four-day program the trainees enhance their public speaking skills and learn how to conduct drills and keep the learning experience fun, engaging and educational.

Attending the Seminar Instructor Training Program allows experienced USA Hockey officials to give back to the game and the organization.Attending the Seminar Instructor Training Program allows experienced USA Hockey officials to give back to the game and the organization.

In the classroom, each participant is required to create and execute two topics in the simulated setting. The sessions are recorded, and both instructors and their peers provide feedback in order to improve their teaching skills when the time comes to conduct their own local classes.

“A lot of what we’re doing is more education based,” Blair said. “When you have 40-50 people on the ice at a time, how do you get everybody moving and keep everybody functioning and working properly.”

Among the crop of new recruits this year was Matt Ward, a 14-season official from Kenwood, Wash., who has seen action in the Northern Pacific Hockey League, the American Collegiate Hockey Association and at the youth level of the game. Like most in the group, Ward was keenly focused on both the mental and physical sides of the craft, and hopes to pass the pride in wearing the stripes along to those back home.

 “I’m here because I can help out with younger officials back in my hometown. This is a great way to get started learning how to do that,” he said.

“We’ve learned quite a bit, especially about relaying your messages and getting the message across, about doing it and keeping people’s attention, and helping them learn.”

By the end of the week, officials returned home with a new perspective and appreciation for their craft, ready to pass along their knowledge to the next crop of newcomers who want to learn what it takes to earn their stripes.


Photos By Norman Hayward


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