Thinking of becoming a Judge?

As we head into 2024, maybe one of your bucket list items is becoming a NAFA judge. Perhaps you have been considering it for a while and just are not sure if you should take the leap. Recently, I had the chance to sit down with several of our judges to tap their collective brains on what it is like being a judge and gather some sage advice.

Why Did You Become a Judge?

Their reasons for becoming a judge really varied. For some it was their background in another sport. Jonathan Bescher (supervising judge and head of the NAFA Judges Committee) had a background in swimming and always appreciated how the officials were essential to the sport. Bruce Boulanger saw the transition from being a Football Referee as a natural fit. For others, it was noticing a need for judges in their region and being willing to step in to help fill the gap. This was the case for Steve Schlosser (Provisional) and veteran judges Dale Smith and Randy Kenzie. Monica Johnny  (approved) was actually recruited and at the time there were hardly any women judges – she jumped at the chance. Patricia Howell (approved) came to it after dealing with an issue with one of her dogs and having to research the rule book. 

Regardless of their reasons, it all came down to the same thing – giving back to the sport that they felt had given them so much.

Training Program

There are four stages to becoming a fully approved NAFA Judge. The time it takes depends on how quickly you are able to move through the stages. All the details are on the NAFA website

Novice – learning the rules and procedures and observing a supervising judge

Apprentice – actually in the ring with full support and guidance of a supervising judge – making sure you know the rules in practice.

Provisional – on your own in the ring – evaluated by the Tournament Director and Regional Director.

Approved – allowed to judge at any tournament.

For many of the judges I spoke with, supervising judges and other approved judges, both in and out of their region, were a huge support system while they were working through the training program. Jonathan was quick to point out that it is a real community of judges that are there to bounce ideas off of and support one another. 

That was important for Steve who is still working through the process. The first time in the ring was “overwhelming”. But, once he got over the initial race jitters, he started to feel more comfortable and rely on his preparation of learning the rules.

Dale noted how far our training program has come since he started in 1990. It was much less defined. Now we have a solid program that ensures new judges are prepared and supported throughout the entire process.

Best Advice for New Judges:

Use your inside voice – know when it is an appropriate time to say things (Patricia)

Be prepared that when you go from being a participant to a judge you have to realize you can’t be everyone’s friend in the ring. Be professional and courteous but you are now the judge. (Bruce)

Have an open mind and be consistent in how you make calls. If a competitor has a question – listen to them and then give them a reason as to why you made the call the way you did. (Randy)

Take measuring seriously – learn all you can and remember that you are the controller of the criteria. It is up to judges to maintain a consistent standard. (Steve)

We all make mistakes – just be open to learning from them and moving on (Monica)

Talk to your team, your partner, your family about the decision to become a judge – it does take time away from them when you are standing in the lanes judging all day. (Jonathan)


Favourite things:

Judging can mean long days of standing on your feet, dealing with challenging situations and having to make difficult decisions on the fly. You will be away from teammates and family and even maybe not be able to race your own dogs. So, why do our judges still do it?

It was amazing that when I looked back at my notes, the reasons were pretty consistent.

Firstly, it is a way to give back to the sport they love. But most said they love it because they have a front row seat to the best moments in flyball. The debuts, the retirements, the tight races where you have to look at the clock to know who won.  The milestones for teams earning new PBs or dogs earning titles along the way. How many times as a competitor do you miss those moments because you are back at your campsite? Judges get to witness it all and it is amazing to be a part of those special moments.

We Need You!

We all know that we can’t run a tournament without judges. Dale noted that the more judges we have, the more we can lighten the load for our current judges. Maybe it means they can actually have the time to handle their own dogs. In some regions there is a shortage of judges right now. If you think that you have what it takes and are curious about how the process works, just reach out to a current judge, or any supervising judge to start asking questions. For most of us that is how we started and no one that I spoke with regretted it for a minute (ok – we might have had a “moment” here and there when something didn’t go to plan).

Final Thoughts :

Let me leave you with what I think are some of the best quotes from the interviews:

“Bring at least 2 pairs of shoes and rub voltaren on your feet before you start” – Monica J

“Have a lot of fun while still getting the job done… enjoy the experience with the host team and the competitors – it is a community.” – Patricia

“I don’t see why you would want to do the job if you weren’t having fun.” – Randy

“The slow teams are amazing to watch – the diversity of the dogs I wouldn’t get to see if you  weren’t judging” – Steve

“Just enjoy it – watching the relationships between people and their dogs is the best part” – Bruce

“That opportunity to watch new dogs succeed, the excitement around a perfect start – all from the centre of the ring.” – Dale

“To me it is fun – I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. It has opened up a world of opportunities for me including travel to Alaska, Nova Scotia, Washington State, etc…it is VERY rewarding.” – Jonathan

Thank you to all the contributors to this article. I wish I had enough room to include it all because they were so willing to share their thoughts and ideas, but it would be a 20-page blog if I did!

Jonathan Bescher (Supervising and Chair of the NAFA Judges Committee) – Region 9

Dale Smith (Supervising) – Region 21

Patricia Howell (Approved) – Region 15

Randy Kenzie (Approved) – Region 7

Monica Johnny (Approved) – Region 10

Steve Schlosser (Provisional) – Region 19

Bruce Boulanger (Approved) – Regions 5

Payson Paws Flyball – Region 6 (Payson, AZ)

We are a brand new club in the Rim Country of Payson AZ.

Payson Paws Flyball is a local community club created with the intent to enrich the lives of dogs and their human companions while training and participating in the canine sport of flyball. We are an organization that values teamwork, diversity, building relationships while having fun with our dogs. All are welcome; humans, including our dogs come in different shapes, sizes and abilities. Our training and club practices will include an environment which provides positive communication, willingness to listen to others ideas and be able to think outside the box.