By Carl Normandin
A coach's behavior toward officials has a direct influence on players’ attitudes, spectators’ perception and, in some situations, a community's reputation. Following are some ways a coach can influence his or her players’ attitudes toward officials and help set the tone for a more positive Interaction:
- Listen and accept the officials’ calls – even in heated moments and even if a call is viewed as wrong.
- Bring in officials for discussion with your players about rules for fair-play and approachability.
- Have your players practice officiating themselves so they know the other side.
- Impress upon your athletes that officials are there to make the competition fair for everyone and more enjoyable in the contest.
- Inform your players that officials, like players and coaches, are human and can make mistakes.
- Explain your expectations and philosophy and stick to those principles.
- Demonstrate by example, even in a poorly officiated game, that respect and restraints are the ways to handle the situation. By being professional and not grandstanding, calls can be challenged by the officials in a controlled manner.
Good coaches make the best out of every opportunity to communicate, whether it is challenging a call, listening to a parental concern or mentoring an athlete on developing his or her potential. Athletes don't need just information; they need meaningful information. They don't need just knowledge; they need knowledge that helps them understand why learning and living are worthwhile.
Effective communication by coaches is the key to managing people. The management of players and officials is also vital to a positive competitive environment. The key to developing effective communication with officials is having good interpersonal strategies and a good knowledge of the rules that govern your sport, so that you can manage your competitive environment. Following are some helpful hints in this area:
- Develop a positive rapport and create expectations of your team captains prior to the contest and during the season.
- Always view effective communication as a two-way process. Try not to be just a sender and do not just gripe about the "officials" from the start of the contest.
- Use positive verbal reinforcement throughout the competitions. When you question, be professional, timely and specific.
- When dealing with an official who is having a "bad game," remember never make it personal. Don't be disrespectful or abusive; this will only make a bad situation worse.
- Keep in mind that non-verbal communication can be just as effective and be seen as strength when trying to get a message delivered.
- Use appropriate questioning as a tool to gain insight into the official's perspective.
Officiating is one of the most challenging experiences that an individual can face in sports. Coaches need to keep in mind the critical role that officials play in contests, and coaches should support the efforts of officials – even if the officials are not having a good game from the coaches’ perspective. Remember, how coaches communicate with officials has a direct impact on how the players and community will perceive them as well. Lead by positive example and appropriate communication.
About the Author: Carl Normandin, CAA, is director of interscholastic athletics and executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Section 10 office in Canton, New York. He previously was a teacher, coach and athletic director. Normandin is a member of the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee.