Under the Gun? Decision-Making Tips From an NFL Ref

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Bryan Neale is used to being called a blind zebra — on a good day. As a weekend NFL ref and a sales trainer and speaker the other 60 working hours of his week, he knows how to mediate confrontation.

In fact, he claims it’s easy to shrug off angry insults and boos.

“First of all, you’re always harder on yourself than the fans, the players or the coaches could ever be,” he admits. “It’s not the kind of business where we get done with a game and say, ‘Boy, we really nailed that one, didn’t we?’”

But it is a profession based on making decisions in the moment that you can live with forever. Here’s Neale’s advice on how to approach this pressure:

  • Have a process for decision making. Trust:
    • What you see: what’s right in front of you
    • What you perceive: your peripheral vision
    • What you feel: your gut instinct
  • Take your time … even in a hurry. In the world of NFL refs, the mantra is “Let your mind digest what your eyes have seen.” Neales tries to slow things down in his brain: “We’ll see something, but then our brain will process it a step slower. That really helps. People are so quick to jump to decisions and they think they have to decide right away. Sometimes it’s OK to pause.”
  • If you’re going to be wrong, be wrong strong. When it’s time to announce the direction after you process the elements, do it. Don’t waffle or second-guess.

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