Your team has worked all year to build a certain cohesive flow and the last thing that you want to happen is to have an external factor throw of that mojo. Observers are an often overlooked addition that often comes right at your most important game.
While many teams have the luxury of playing some observed games throughout the regular college season, many D-III College teams arrive at Nationals having little to no experience with observers. Teams often don't even know their game is going to be observed until they get to the field. I still remember my sophomore year at D-III College Championships in Westerville, OH when we arrived at our field to find a woman and a man dressed in orange shirts waiting for us.
Our captains realized that they had never talked about observers so, in the huddle they fired off some dos and don'ts for us to remember:
"Alright, since we have observers here, don't be offsides, don't swear, don't rush the field too soon, make your own calls like always, but if you have a disagreement you can ask the observer. Now, we don't have time for a cheer so let's have the following 7 people get on the line..."
And that was that.
The problem was, playing with observers for the first time interrupted the flow that we had worked all year to build. For new players who have recently learned how to self-officiate, it's difficult to add this new element into the mix so abruptly and at such a key moment in the season.
I learned that if you find yourself mentioning observers right before the game, it's too late. So, when I became a captain my senior year, we had 4 key goals in mind as we prepared to go to Nationals:
1. TALK ABOUT OBSERVERS EARLY
As captains, we strive to ensure that no matter who steps cleat onto the field, our team remains confident, poised and spirited so that we play our best ultimate. Observers are an added element on the field and it would be a shame to let them throw off your team's unique balance.
Set your team up for success by talking about observers before your first observed game.
Keep in mind that players coming from other team sports are likely to see observers as umpires or referees. Observers are a great tool for you to use, but they do not replace knowing the rules, a huge part of Spirit of the Game that still applies.
2. PREPARE FOR A FASTER PACE
This requires some extra focus and organization from everyone since there isn't time to dilly-dally during an observed game. Give some forethought into the game so that you're not wasting time changing lines or thinking about what cheer you want to do. This will take some of the time pressure off of your teammates.
While you may feel pressed for time, aim not to rush the fun aspect of the game. Your team can still flood the field (after the observers raise their arms), do silly cheers, and play spirit games with the other team afterwards.
The more you play with observers, the more natural it becomes. So, try simulating observers in scrimmages. Give players a sense of what it feels like to only have 90 seconds between points or 20 seconds after the offense signals they're ready (see VIII. C in the 11th Edition Rules). Picking up the pace in practice will give your team a huge advantage come game time.
3. EMPHASIZE THE RULEBOOK
In addition to working on your team's game speed, it's also a good idea to get your team in good conduct habits for when that observed game comes around. During scrimmages urge your team to practice staying off the sideline, picking up the disc within 20 seconds when it goes out of bounds (see rule XIII. 4.), waiting a second before rushing the field, and not swearing.
Building good habits or at least getting familiar with technicalities that are often overlooked during unobserved games will help your team not to get flustered and instead play your game.
It also helps to keep in mind that observers love ultimate just as much as you do. Show them the love and respect that they deserve, and they'll help you at any point if you have questions about the rules.
4. SHIFT FROM SCARY TO EXCITING
Make sure your players understand that they're still playing the same beautiful game of ultimate. The only difference is that they now have an additional option should a disagreement arise.
Players who are "directly involved in a dispute" can choose to (note, they don't have to) ask the observer to make the call (rule XVIII. 2.a.). Preparing players for this new option is important because it has the potential to change the outcome of a disagreement given the observer's outside perspective.
This isn't meant to be scary, but instead to help players understand how rewarding it is to play with observers. You have two outside perspectives who know the rules of ultimate inside and out, watching YOU play. How cool!
Additionally, observing games is often done on donated time. To become certified, one must attend a two-day clinic put on through USAU's Observer Training Program. So, it's really a treat to get to play with observers!
Once your team gets the hang of playing with observers, it's likely that you'll look forward to observed games. I've always felt more legit when they're present.
Over to you
What was your experience when you played with observers for the first time? What do you wish you had known? Share your advice for captains in the comments below.
Don't forget to click here to subscribe to the Captain's Resources Blog, and never miss a post!