Sarah Thomas is a pioneer. As the NFL's first female official, she is creating future opportunities for women in a historically male-dominated sport.
Undoubtedly, her performance on the field will be under a microscope. Despite her experience as an NCAA referee and in the NFL's Officiating Development Program, naysayers will express doubts about her ability,
When Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was asked about Thomas after her first pre-season game, he said, "She had a striped shirt on. There's no male-female, it's just striped shirts."
That's what Thomas is out to prove.
To prepare for the 2015 NFL season, Thomas got into the best shape of her life under the guidance of R. J. Barrett, performance director for STACK Sports Performance Training at the Madison Healthplex and Performance Center in Madison, Mississippi.
"Before I started working out with R.J., I thought I was in shape,"she says.
Officials don't necessarily stand out on the field. They stay out of the way of the players, making their presence felt only when they throw a flag or announce a penalty. But despite their relatively low profile on the field, football officials have an extremely challenging job.
Thomas explains that officials are constantly on the move—especially if a team is running a no-huddle offense. A football play typically lasts only four to seven seconds. During that time, she must sprint, shuffle and change directions to stay with the play and avoid the players. After a play, she's on the move to set up the next down and get into position.
"We do everything we can to be in the right position," Thomas says. "And we need the endurance and the legs and the stamina to go for four quarters."
In addition to endurance, Barrett prioritized strength. It's illegal to intentionally make contact with a ref, but accidental collisions happen. Having strength—especially in the upper body—helps Thomas absorb impact from players who are typically much bigger than her. She says, "If you're in shape and you do get hit or go down, the injury may not be as bad as it would be if you weren't in shape."
Her comprehensive approach to training gave Thomas confidence leading up to the officials' physical fitness test, which measures Push-Ups, Sit-Ups, conditioning and agility. She was able to do 20 Push-Ups, and she said that her endurance allowed her to complete other tests without worrying about time.
Below is an example of how Thomas trained for her new position in the NFL.
Repeat the circuit 3-4 times. Decrease by 5 reps each time.
- Med Ball Chest Pass - 1x20
- Push-Ups - 1x20
- TRX Row - 1x20
- Lateral Hand Walk - 1x20 yards
Repeat the circuit 3-4 times. Decrease by 5 reps each time through.
- Back Squat - 1x20
- TRX Squat Jump - 1x20
- Sled Push - 1x20
- Active Dynamic Warm-Up (As shown in the video above)
- Sprints - 10x10 yards
- Lateral Slides - 10x10 yards
- Sprints - 8x20 yards
- Lateral Slides - 8x20 yards