Fitness, mental health and cognitive abilities are critically important for football officials.(Getty Images)
The night before game day, Gus Morris lays out his uniform, eats a meal that emphasizes carbs (think pasta with shrimp) and, like most days of the year, turns out the lights by 10 p.m. “Rest is really important,” he says.
Come morning, it’s peanut butter and banana toast for breakfast, a turkey sandwich (hold the mayo) for lunch and warmups with the team before kickoff.
Then, it’s game time, and Morris spends the next three or four hours sprinting, running backwards and doing any number of agility exercises – all while keeping his mind “laser-focused,” despite the inevitable heckles and boos from the crowd. Afterward, he’ll rest, reflect and do it again the next weekend. “When … they’re not talking about you after the game,” he says, “you’ve probably worked a good game.”
Mental health and cognitive abilities are critically important for football officials, too. “Being able to mentally function [is key] because sports is complicated, the rules are complicated and you have to be able to apply those rules in a split second,” says Morris, who also owns the Sports Officials Physical Training Institute in Cumming, Georgia. “You can’t be thinking, ‘there’s 7.5 minutes on the clock and then I’m out of here.'” NFL officials, for one, also attend a camp that teaches and tests the latest rules and the mechanics of their position.
Morris finds that maintaining a healthy routine – eating a balanced diet, exercising consistently and sleeping at least seven hours a night regularly – keeps his mind sharp, and his organization advises other officials how to do the same. “It’s establishing good habits and sticking to them and creating a routine,” he says. “It’s not reinventing the wheel.” The same advice applies to folks not working on the gridiron, health experts say. Research shows, for instance, that the minority of people who maintain weight loss do so by keeping up healthy habits like eating breakfast, limiting TV time and exercising every day – not yo-yo dieting. “Diet is a nasty word,” Morris says.
Officials also have to be able to manage their emotions and stay focused in the face of boos, jeers and Monday morning referees. In fact, almost 50 percent of respondents to a survey of male officials in a range of sports reported feeling unsafe or fearing for their safety due to administrator, coach, player or spectator behavior, according to the National Association of Sports Officials. “It’s hard for anyone in any walk of life to handle criticism, but it can be done,” says Morris, who believes preparation (both physically and in keeping on top of all the rules) and experience make the difference. If criticism is valid, he says, “learn from it.”
Ultimately, Morris finds his weekend gig is actually more of a stress reliever than a stressor. He finds the intense focus it demands is a sort of mindfulness exercise that helps him unplug from the week, and return to his other jobs refreshed.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher or a doctor or a mechanic, you go through your daily grind,” Morris says. One of the best ways to manage the stressors that come with it, he says, is to allow your brain to focus on something completely different, whether that’s cooking, painting or joining a recreational sports league. “If you can do it with passion and totally focus on it for a couple of hours every so often,” he finds, “a lot of problems solve themselves, or you can come back with the solution.”
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Anna Medaris Miller, Staff Writer
Anna Medaris Miller is a Senior Health Editor at U.S. News, where she covers fitness and athlet… Read moreAnna Medaris Miller is a Senior Health Editor at U.S. News, where she covers fitness and athletic performance; nutrition and fad diets; “invisible” medical conditions; complementary medicine, reproductive health; mental health; gender, sexuality and body image issues; and more. She also manages the Eat+Run blog, a practical guide for healthy living. Before joining U.S. News in 2014, Anna was an associate editor for Monitor on Psychology magazine and freelanced for the Washington Post. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post, Women’s Health, Yahoo!, Business Insider, the Muse and more. Anna frequently acts as a health expert and spokesperson for U.S. News on national and local TV and radio, and has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox 5 New York and more. She has held leadership positions on the National Press Club’s young members committee, the Association of Health Care Journalists’ D.C. chapter and the American News Women’s Club. Anna graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan, where she studied psychology and gender and health, and later earned her master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University. Anna lives in New York City and is a multi-time triathlete and marathoner currently training for an IRONMAN 70.3. To learn more about Anna, visit her website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram.
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