Photo Credit: Bob Messina

While officials have a fair amount of contact with coaches during a game, they are most often communicating with players. Here are some suggestions on how to keep those lines open.

Discreetly praise outstanding efforts

“I’ll congratulate players on good plays and try to encourage sportsmanship,” said Walter Panek, a football, baseball and softball arbiter from Wharton, N.J. Talking to players is part of preventive officiating. Players will often seem surprised that an official is really watching them even when they are doing the right thing.

Apply the Golden Rule, and think before you react

Do you do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s an effective technique that often gains surprising cooperation from players and coaches. Think about it. Are you more comfortable with a boss who tells you to “shut your trap” or with one who is considerate of your feelings? “I try to treat them like I would want to be treated if I were in their shoes,” said Hahn. “I answer any questions they might have, even if I think the questions are foolish. I always let them think that their questions are reasonable.”

“Being polite and treating others with respect usually is returned by the involved parties,” added Michael Rolfes, a four-sport official from Cincinnati.

The issues of courtesy and respect were mentioned frequently by those whose opinions are included in this story: “Yes sir,” “No sir,” “Yes, young man,” etc.

“Let (the players) know that as long as they are civil, they can come to you,” suggested Jim Lapetina, from Bloomingdale, Ill. “Give respect and you’ll get respect. It goes both ways.” Retired official Jerry Grunska said officials should “avoid patronizing” coaches and players. “Never talk down to (them) and at the same time show (them) the utmost respect.” He added, “If a coach is pleading and cajoling, he should be listened to and a reply should be even-toned, logical and brief; no sarcasm, no put-downs.” Noted Richard Stein, a four-sport official from Fairport, N.Y.: “Explaining to a player why I called a foul makes him understand what he did wrong.” But Stein draws a distinct line between players and coaches. “The less I talk to (coaches) the better. A coach is one animal before the game and another animal during a game.”

NFL line judge Bruce Maurer lives in Dublin, Ohio. Maurer shared his personal six-step program for enhancing relationships with players and coaches. Here are the six techniques that Maurer said he “thinks, practices and applies.”

  1. You are there to defuse rather than incite
  2. Address team members and coaches as ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir’
  3. Talk low and slow
  4. Let your mind digest what your ears have heard
  5. Be a good listener
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Enjoy the experience, look interested and work hard

Former Illinois High School Association leader Don Robinson is convinced that officials, particularly those at the high school level, need to lighten up a shade or two. “They have to stop taking themselves all that seriously,” said Robinson. “I think we have to take the activity we’re doing seriously because it’s important to the coaches and the kids. But some officials need to back off a little bit and realize that it can be lots of fun. We’re not talking about life or death. For crying out loud, just relax and enjoy the experience. … I think that the official who takes the game seriously, but not himself seriously, will be more likely to survive.”

Players and coaches tend to respond favorably to officials who appear to be enjoying the experience, who show by their words and deeds that they are genuinely glad to be there and who do not try to steal the spotlight from the athletes. “I do the best job I can to show a sense of an ‘I’m here for them, they are not here for me’ attitude,” related Gary Frieders, an official from Santa Rosa, Calif.

Looking as if you belong in athletics also helps you sell yourself to players and coaches. It makes them feel as if they have more in common with you. “I made sure that I developed a strong (physical) appearance,” said Crystal Nichols, a basketball referee from Los Angeles. “I look healthy and have a strong, athletic build.”

Honesty is the only policy

Under no circumstances should you try to fib your way out of a dilemma. “Be totally honest in everything you do on and off the field,” implored Jim Gilbert, an official from Lindon, Utah. Others generally will appreciate your honesty — and go easier on you — if you willingly admit when you commit an error.

Use captains to help solve problems

Most team captains are chosen for that honor because of their leadership skills and because they are admired or respected by their teammates. Often, captains realize their leadership role includes a degree of responsibility for controlling, even disciplining their teammates. A savvy official understands those dynamics and can take advantage of them if need be. Basketball referee Ron Martel, from Bellingham, Mass., works hard to get the captains’ help, asking them to step in early if a confrontational situation seems to be developing. Players will often listen to their captains when officials’ comments are falling on deaf ears, he noted.

One key to getting along with players and coaches is breaking down any perception of an adversarial relationship with officials. Like it or not, advised Grunska, the people in the dugout or on the bench often believe they must compete against the officials as well as the other team. “We can’t dismiss that from our minds,” he warned. Combating that perception is no easy task. But if you carefully follow the suggestions offered in this article, you will be taking several giant steps in the right direction. Experience shows that if players and coaches believe you are at least an “OK” person, they are also more likely to see you as an acceptable official. It’s simply human nature. Think of your officiating career as a bank account. Every time you work, you make various “deposits” and “withdrawals.” Your goal should be to have a lucrative account. That will help give you added security (acceptance) and provide opportunities for new investments (advancement up the officiating ladder). The more goodwill you create and foster by getting along with players and coaches, the “wealthier” you become. You can take that advice to the bank. Guaranteed.

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