The NFL is Focusing on Conditioning for Its Officials This Season

My sister pointed out this article from The Wall Street Journal which says that the National Football League is making aerobic fitness a priority for its game officials for the 2014 season. This is the result of several teams in the NFL using the no-huddle offense for a large percentage of their plays from scrimmage.

According to the article, "Veteran referee Mike Carey, now an NFL rules expert for CBS, estimates referees run anywhere from 6 to 7 1/2 miles over the course of a game. This year, they'll have to do it at an unprecedented pace. Last season, teams ran 150% more plays without stopping for a huddle than they did in 2008. From 2012 to 2013 alone, the increase was 37%."

It's interesting that the article relies upon an estimate of distances run by referees that seems so back-of-the-envelope. Because so many NFL games are played in open-air stadiums, they could equip each official with a GPS-enabled device, and accurately track their movement in terms of speed, distance traveled, and so on.

Then, once they had a good data set, they could build training programs that truly prepared officials for the pace of play.

FIFA had officials instrumented in this fashion during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

I should also point out that the National Hockey League is in the forefront of physical fitness and training for its game officials. NHL officials move the fastest of any professional game officials due to their skating and the speed at which play moves in ice hockey.

The issue with measuring the movement of officials in ice hockey is that pedometers do not work, because they measure the foot strikes that happen when an athlete is running or walking. GPS-enabled devices are also extremely difficult to use in ice hockey, because the games occur in indoor arenas.

When I officiate ice hockey, I use a Polar RCX5 heart rate monitor. I use this for both on-ice and off-ice fitness measurement. It is extremely flexible, because it is well suited to cycling and running, plus it's durable.

Polar heart rate monitors also consume less power than many competing products and feature user-replaceable batteries. This means I can buy watch batteries at a supermarket for both the heart rate transmitter and the receiver (the watch). These batteries each last for a month or more, and make preparation for workouts less complicated.

As a result of my nearly-constant use of a Polar heart-rate monitor, I have years of detailed workout records. This lets me judge my own fitness level, and helps me determine whether I'm ready to run a 5K or officiate a hockey game before I do it.

If you take fitness seriously, as the NFL officials should, you need to:

  • collect the data for yourself,
  • analyze it regularly, and
  • set short term and long term goals that help you improve your overall fitness, as well as the parts of your training where you are weaker than you should be based on your overall numbers.