Nate Ward, Redmond, Wash. (left) and Edward Tharp, Everett, Wash., keep their cool while a coach gestures. A question asked in a sportsmanlike manner will get a response. An accusation of cheating or other personal attack will result in a foul or possibly ejection. (Photo Credit: Dale Garvey)

Coaches have all sorts of creative ways to question the ethics and integrity of officials. During the pregame meeting, they are often curious about where we live. The unspoken implication is if we hail from the same city as the opposing team, the coach will suspect favoritism. If we’re from the same city as the home team, the visitors might automatically think we’ll favor the hosts.

The old feeling among coaches of, “I’m going to get screwed on the road,” may not be as prevalent as it used to be, but certainly a few coaches may still get that feeling before they step off the bus and may even convey that to their players.
Your integrity is your calling card. You need it to be successful at every level. It’s the catalyst for everything in officiating, from maintaining control during the game to moving up the ladder. We are the adjudicators of the game. If our integrity is in question, so is our judgment and the whole scheme of being fair. That’s why officials need to be extra protective when it comes to challenges to their character.

Recognize the Attack

The best way to avoid giving a coach any ammunition at all to attack your integrity is to work every game with a very simple four-point plan:

  • Arrive, saying little.
  • Treat each coach the same before the game.
  • Work hard during the contest.
  • Leave, saying less.

But even following that advice, there will still be times during a game when your good name will be smeared. Since coaches tend to jaw a lot, and about a lot of things, it might not always be easy to tell when they are questioning your integrity, especially if you are a newer official. Veteran referees and umpires can usually tell pretty quickly what a coach is driving at. A good rule of thumb is this:

If the coach is focused on a specific play, that coach — right or wrong — is questioning your ruling. If that’s the case, either it’s a rules-based decision or it’s a judgment call that could be disputed. Arguments about judgment calls involve a difference of facts — you ruled on what happened and the coach wanted a ruling that favored his or her team. When the application of a rule is in dispute, most often the coach either doesn’t know the rule, doesn’t understand it or doesn’t like that its application worked out badly for his or her team.

But if the coach is not talking about a specific play and is instead focused on you (“You’re terrible!” versus “That call was terrible!”), the coachspeak could be veering into questions about your integrity. That’s not the case every time, though. The coach could be saying that you’re incompetent — not something you should take lightly, but at least it’s not an attack on your character.

Fighting Back

Officials don’t appreciate it when a coach tells them to call it both ways. If a coach questions you about a foul-total discrepancy, you can respond with, “Coach, what are you trying to say?” Make the coach come out and accuse rather than imply. Most coaches will take the hint and back off.

If a coach questions every call, in a way, that coach is questioning your integrity, too. You have to stop that type of behavior. Don’t be afraid to ask point blank, “Are you questioning my integrity?” Most coaches know that is a line not to be crossed and may then rephrase their comments.

How should you handle the situation in which they directly accuse you of cheating? That’s actually easier to deal with than all those roundabout hints. Hit the coach with the penalty appropriate to your sport — which may include ejection.

If charges of cheating are levied during or after a game by a coach at any level, notify the league office, assigner or supervisor and document the comments in your game report. Documenting what happened while it’s still fresh in your mind is critical.

Because officials work so hard to uphold their standards of character and impartiality, and because those standards are the only things that allow us to do our jobs with credibility, attacks on our integrity are especially heinous.

Officials are part of a unique community. We are in an avocation that mandates courage, dedication and perhaps most of all, impeccable integrity.

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