While sports officials frequently incur the wrath of players, coaches and fans, they play a vital role in any organized sporting contest. Without them, games could evolve into chaotic events where rules are repeatedly broken and players' safety becomes jeopardized. Good officials are fair-minded and impartial and have a thorough understanding of the sports they officiate.
Officials must have a thorough knowledge of the rules of the sport and be able to enforce them during play. This can involve studying the sport's rule book, as well as attending classes or seminars. Some sports organizations review and update their rules annually, so continuous study is often necessary.
Officials are responsible for ensuring that the sport is played safely. This may involve intervening in altercations between opposing players and administering penalties or ejections if warranted, and possibly reporting flagrant behavior to league officials. They also check players' uniforms and equipment to verify compliance with safety rules.
While officials typically do not keep the time in sports that use a clock, they keep an eye on the clock to ensure it is started and stopped properly. If discrepancies arise, officials direct the timekeeper to make the necessary corrections.
Officials may be required to inspect the playing surface before a contest to ensure that it is properly configured and that there are no safety hazards. They may also direct facility workers to perform tasks during a contest, such as when a baseball umpire orders a grounds crew to cover the field with a tarp during a rainstorm.
Officials need strong communication skills since they often have to explain rulings to coaches or players. In the case of football officials, they are required to communicate the details of a penalty to the entire facility via microphone. They are required to communicate well with other officials to ensure proper teamwork.