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Jeff Soiu

With a knack for knowing what to say and when, former President Ronald Reagan was known as the “Great Communicator.”

While officials don’t give speeches as Reagan did (at least on the court or field), good communication is key to being an effective official. Good officials must know the language of their respective sports and be able to communicate that language in a way that coaches and players understand. It’s as important a part of the job as getting the tough call right.

While much of officiating revolves around nonverbal communication, and many veteran officials believe the fewer words spoken the better, when we do speak we need to use correct terminology.

Using the language of the game speaks volumes. Knowing that language indicates you understand not only the rules and mechanics, but that you know the game.

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It almost sounds odd to say so. How would you not know the language of the sport you’re officiating? Wouldn’t it be difficult to officiate a sport that you’re not familiar with?

What’s important, though, is that we make sure we don’t perpetuate the same myths and incorrect terminology that coaches and media often use.

“Lateral” used as a football term to describe a backward pass is wrong. “Lateral” means sideways, which is not a backward pass. How many times have you heard someone refer to a “forward lateral”? In soccer, the violation is not a “hand ball.” The correct term is “handling of the ball.”

There are many other words or phrases, however, that you should know and use. Do you know what “the paint” refers to in basketball? How about “the block”? “The circle”? Don’t just know the rules, know the language.

By the same token, you will impress no one but frustrate everyone if you recite rulebook language when asked to explain a call. “Coach, the rule states that when the barrel of the bat goes past the body of the batter, that is to be considered a swing,” would be a correct interpretation of the NFHS baseball rule on checked swings, but it also sounds pompous and overly technical. Avoid the commonly used but incorrect terminology, “He broke his wrists.”

Asked what they want in officials, coaches often say they want feedback. They don’t want officials who stand with their backs to the sidelines without ever acknowledging them. What better way to earn the respect of a coach than by using the language of the game and using it correctly?

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If you know the terminology, then you know the language. If you know the language, then you can be an effective communicator, just like our late, former president.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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