C’mon Ref!

The refs sucked.  We got “homered”. Call it both ways, ref! How could the ref not see that?  Or as Coach Boone says in Remember The Titans, “Are you trying to cheat my boys out of the game?…Cheater! Cheater!“

To some coaches, officials are just a necessary evil.  As a whole, they are lazy, arrogant, incompetent, and power hungry.  In fact, if you listen to some coaches, they never lost…they just got cheated.  Now, as I write these words, I can anticipate some coaches who read this thinking, “That’s easy for you to say.  The refs always favored White Oak!” I’ve heard it from opposing fans and coaches plenty of times in various forms or fashions.  Consequently, I know our fans and parents always thought the officials gave us the shaft. White Oak’s E.B. Carrington Gymnasium was always a tough place for officials because of the close proximity to the court, a rowdy student section, and a crowd that expected every call to go our way.  And on the road, of course the refs hated us!

If it were possible, I believe it would be a good requirement that all coaches spend time officiating before they are allowed to coach. Personally, I know time I spent officiating basketball and softball games while in college gave me a better perspective on what it was like to wear a striped shirt and be public enemy #1!  Consequently, it would also be good for officials to experience what it is like to coach and try to stay in that dang coaching box! Now, I know this is not feasible for this role reversal to take place and I believe the UIL has made valiant attempts to improve the relationship between officials and coaches.

Dealing with officials can be one of the most frustrating parts of coaching and, as coaches, if we don’t learn to deal with officials in a respectful and humane way, we only make it harder on ourselves.  In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will share my thoughts on how to deal with the men/women in striped shirts.

1) Have An Officials Perspective

As I mentioned earlier, officiating in college gave me a new found respect for the job of being an official as well as a better perspective on how difficult this job can be.  The amount of concentration that is required, the speed of the game, the various skill levels of the teams, the split second judgments, the challenge of dealing with hostile crowds, and having a constant barrage of questioning/complaining from coaches makes officiating a very challenging job.  As coaches, if we remind ourselves of this before our games, I believe it forces us to be more understanding of the difficulty of officiating and leads to more constructive interaction with officials during competition. Along these same lines, hopefully, before officials take the court, they discuss between themselves how difficult it is to coach and what is at stake for the players/coaches.  Like many things in life, being able to see things from someone else’s perspective is a very valuable trait to acquire.

2) Players Will Mimic The Coach

Coaches who complain about every call that goes against them, act as if the officials are out to get them, and spend more time complaining than coaching, send the wrong message to their team and fans.  Personally, I always preferred to have these types of coaches in the other coaching box because I knew it would eventually be to their detriment. When opposing coaches, players, and fans complained about having to play in White Oak, I knew we already had an advantage because they had convinced themselves they would be cheated when they came to White Oak.  The first call that went against them, I could always see it in the body language of the players and coaches along with the reaction of the fans, “Here we go again, getting cheated in White Oak.” The coach would start complaining, the players would do the same, and usually at some point, the coach or players would earn a technical. Often times, I can recall telling my assistants prior to the game, “So and So will get a technical tonight.”  It was an easy prediction because I knew their mindset when they came to White Oak.

As a coach, I always tried to pick my spots of when to complain to officials.  Sometimes, it was if I believed the official could be influenced or if I felt like I needed to stand up for one of my players.  The most common time for this was on block/charge calls. Most years at White Oak, we didn’t have shot blockers so we had to defend the paint with body position.  If I had a player attempt to take a charge and it was called a block, I would often praise the player any way, especially if the player was not naturally a contact player.  If this was the case, it wasn’t going to matter if the official was right or wrong.

Most of the time, I tried not to complain because I knew it would have a negative effect on my players.  If I constantly complained, they would be more likely to take on the mindset that we were getting cheated instead of bearing down to fight through the adversity.  This was the mindset I wanted us to have and it started with me. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, there were times I was better at this than others and with having a demonstrative coaching style, it wasn’t hard to tell when I wasn’t pleased.  However, particularly if I knew it would be a very competitive game, I always tried to control my emotions toward the officials and let them do their job. Fortunately, we usually had a strong fan base, especially at home, so the student section and crowd were very capable of voicing our collective displeasure with what didn’t go our way!

3) Give & Take

I think most officials (not all) will work with coaches as long as the coach is willing to work with them.  For example, I never liked to sit down during games. My coaching style was very demonstrative at times and I often paced the sidelines.  Honestly, when I coached, I just need some space (maybe I’m just claustrophobic) so I tend to roam up/down the sidelines and even venture out onto the court slightly at times. Over the years, most officials have worked with me on this as long as I worked with them, which means not griping/complaining at every call. For the most part, I will usually tend to make my way back to the coaching box if I have a complaint out of respect for the official and for this give and take.  Obviously, being at the same school and using the same officiating chapters for 25 years helped develop this relationship.

4) Scratching Officials

Coaches have varying philosophies on scratching officials.  Some coaches will scratch any official they do not think will give them an advantage and some will even scratch an entire chapter when playing on the road.  During my initial season as the Head Coach at White Oak, we played a road game during the first round of district in which I accepted the 2 assigned officials only to have the opposing coach scratch our entire home chapter when it was time to come to White Oak in the second round!  The art of agreeing upon officials was one of the many lessons I had to learn along the way. Other coaches will not scratch any officials because they feel like the will be “blackballed” by the officials association if they do.

I always felt it was necessary to use the scratch if needed but to be selective and respect the difficulty of assigning officials to district games. I also felt if I was going to scratch an official then I needed to be willing to explain why and to have, in my opinion, a good reason for doing so. My first criteria was to consider our style of play and my personality.  If I felt there was a direct problem with either of these, then I would scratch an official at the beginning of the year and it was usually no more than 3.

Secondly, if I felt like the opposing coach was trying to hand pick the officials for our game, then I would scratch officials if necessary.  Again, this was an advantage I had at being at the same school for 25 years. I knew if coaches were trying to manipulate the process and I owed it to our team to do all I could to intervene if I felt this was the case.  I never felt it was appropriate to contact the assigning secretary to request specific officials and I wasn’t going to allow it to be done to us either.

Thirdly, in my opinion, if I was given an unwarranted technical foul I was going to scratch that official for 2 years.  Early in my career, it took me awhile to figure out all of the things that I am explaining now, so I received my fair share of technical fouls.  Looking back on it, most of that was my fault and justified. However, as I gained a greater understanding for the job of officiating, I made a concerted effort not to cross the line.  Consequently, I wasn’t very understanding about what I believed were unwarranted technical fouls. Like I said, I would scratch that official for 2 years minimum and make sure coaches from other areas knew the situation when they called for advice on officials for playoff games.  I was never a believer in getting a technical to “fire up” the team or any other reason so I took technical fouls very seriously.

5) It’s Never Personal

Of all that I have mentioned, this is the most important concept for coaches and officials to understand…it should never be personal.  Like I stated at the beginning, I have great respect for people who choose to officiate because I know how hard it can be and I know how important their role is.  For this reason, if you don’t see any relevance up until this point, please, as a coach, strongly consider the next few points.

First of all, as a coach, greet the officials in a respectful manner before the game and respect their space.  Some small talk is fine, but respect the fact that they have a job to do. Because of our lack of dressing facilities at White Oak, the officials had to dress in our coaches office.  I always tried to make sure my stuff was done before they arrived so they could have some privacy.

Secondly, acknowledge the officials after the game out of respect for their work and their role in the game.  For me, this meant saying “thanks” to the officials after as many games as I could….win or lose. Obviously, after a tough loss, particularly a loss as a result of  a call not going your way at the end, this was very tough to do. However, I felt it was necessary for me to briefly go into my office where the officials dressed, say “thanks”, and shake their hand.  I needed to do it out of respect, I needed to model for my players the correct way to handle disappointment, and I needed to do it to remind myself that it was never personal. Very hard at times, but never personal.  Now, if I felt the officials were lazy, disrespectful, or trying to make it all about them, then I would just avoid them after the game, but this was very rare.

Thirdly, outside of the lines, work to let officials know that it’s never personal.  If I see an official that I have scratched at a summer league game or out in public, I’m going to be just as nice, courteous, and respectful to them as I would any other officials.  Why? Because it’s never personal on my end. It may be on their end of things, but I can only control how I conduct myself so that’s what I’m concerned about.

During my tenure at White Oak, I was very proud of the relationships that I had with the officials who called the majority of our games, mainly the Longview and Tyler Chapters.  For the most part, I believe they knew I respected the way in which they did their job and they respected the job I had to do. I feel that the points I have made in this entry of Coach With A Purpose have a lot to do with this mutual respect.

So, in summary, as a coach, try to see things from an officials perspective and respect the fact that officiating is a difficult job.  Secondly, don’t be a whiner and a complainer. It reflects bad on you, your team, and it sends the wrong message to your players. Finally, leave it between the lines.  Don’t let it get to the point of being personal and know that most the time our point of view of how well the officials did has mostly to do with whether or not our team won or lost.

In conclusion, the years that we had good teams, it seemed like the officiating was ok.  The years that our teams struggled it seemed like I did a lot more whining and complaining to the officials.  I feel certain it had a lot more to do with our team than it did the officials.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!