Promoting Positive Communication Between Coaches and Officials

By Patty Daley, National Rated Official and Chris Sailer, Head Coach, Princeton University

Let’s examine the communication that should not be employed between coaches and officials as they interact before, during, or after a game:

Chris Sailer and Patty Daley
Chris Sailer and Patty Daley. Photo provided by the authors.

Coach says to the official, “I hope you are ready for this one. They are really rough and swing like crazy. I’ve watched a lot of game tape on them and know you have seen them.” Hence, the coach plants a seed by making pre-game comments to the official.

Official says to the coach, “I hope your team has gotten their horizontal sticks under control and will get out of the 8-meter fan so we don’t have to call 3 seconds all day.” Hence, the ref shares her pre-conceived notions of what type of fouls will be committed that day.

Coach says to the official, “I hope you help that ref today. She needs all the help she can get.”  Hence, the coach determines there is weakness on a crew and tries to lean on one official.

Official says to the coach, “Listen, I hope you have a good game and look forward to grabbing dinner after so we can discuss the game.”  Hence, the official provides personal messages about getting together after the game.

REWIND THE TAPE! We are a National Official and Collegiate Coach who happen to be friends, very good friends, who don’t share the sidelines as a ref and coach any more. And, when we did, the conversations did not sound like the aforementioned dialogue! We hope to share some of our thoughts about building positive channels of communication and positive coach-official relations.

Let’s begin by asking the question, “What do we wish the culture of coach-official relations and communications to be?”

Culture; the way we do things around here; a complex pattern of norms, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, values, ceremonies, and the attitudes, behaviors and characteristics of a group; Leadership Culture is sometimes thought of in terms of unspoken or spoken norms and assumptions that guide’s one’s thinking and actions.

Why ask the question about culture? Because, we ultimately control the culture of coach-official communications and relations. We control it, no one else does.

Patty Daley: As an official I am well aware that my attitudes, assumptions, verbal and non-verbal behaviors have a lot to do with how well I communicate with a coach, and my officiating crew on any given day. Do I listen with care when they have a question, or to their many questions? Do I respectfully respond with clear, concise information using the language of the rules, and in turn expect respect? Do I take proactive actions and deliver clear information during times of conflict or disagreement? Do I ensure there is an understanding of what is being called and what is illegal as per the rules?

Chris Sailer:  As a coach who is friends with an official, I have had an inside look at how passionate officials are about what they do and how much time and energy they invest in their craft. Most work full-time jobs in addition to traveling near and far for night and weekend games so that our college teams can compete. Yes, there’s a lot riding on every game that we coach. I get as wrapped up as any other coach in each individual call or no call, and at times I make my opinions known – loudly, and not always in the most positive ways. However, my friendship with Patty has helped me keep myself in check, because I’ve learned to trust that officials truly care about getting it right. They’re not perfect, but I’ve watched enough film to know that my opinion of a play as it happens may not always be the right one. It’s impossible for us to agree with every call, but it is possible for us to communicate in respectful ways, to get our point across without berating or belittling an official, and to be a good example to the young women we coach.

Here’s the thing, there is no book or procedural manual to follow that will guide us into building a more positive culture between coaches and officials. Culture begins with beliefs and finds expression in behaviors (Culture Builder). What guides us has to be our beliefs and behaviors, and the commitment of each coach and each official to communicate well, to be pro-active whenever possible, and to accept that there will be times we will have to agree to disagree. What guides us has to be the unspoken drive to remain professional in our interactions with one another, respecting that each of us is bringing our best self to each game. If we commit to that, we will begin to move toward a more positive culture where we approach one another with positive presuppositions and respectful communication. Our roles are distinctly different, but our drive for excellence is exactly the same.

Let’s agree that we must commit to bringing our best selves to each game to build the culture we believe should exist between coaches and officials.

If you have any questions or reflections you can find Patty D. and Chris at Rehoboth Beach, DE, enjoying the sun, sand and ocean!

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