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'Hey ref, you're blind!'

Times Staff Writer
Published March 14, 2004

So, you think you could do a better job? Officiating isn't just about blowing a whistle. Consider these tips from When They're in Your Face and how to deal with it, a brochure published by Referee magazine and the National Association of Sports Officials. It's dedicated to the tricky tasks of handling people, managing conversations and developing thick skin.

DEFUSE SITUATIONS. Don't add emotion to them. When an official barks at a player or coach, the coach's or player's first instinct is to snap back. This does nothing to help the situation.

AVOID THREATS. Ultimatums place officials in corners as much as coaches and players. Don't say, "Shut your mouth, or you're out of here!" Use phrases like, "I've heard enough." That's far less provocative, yet gets your message across.

ASK QUESTIONS. This is an effective conversation management technique. When a coach is harassing you, calmly ask the coach what he saw. Most likely, the coach will stop yelling and start explaining. Then, tell the coach what you saw. You're obviously going to disagree, but now it is a disagreement, not a venom-filled argument.

DISCREETLY PRAISE PLAYERS. Congratulate them on good plays and encourage sportsmanship. You can win over many players with a kind word; that can help you later in the game if problems arise.

IT'S OKAY, ADMIT A MISTAKE. Under no circumstances should you try to lie your way out of trouble. People can tell, and then they'll think you can't be trusted. An old school of thought in officiating was "never admit making a mistake." That theory is outdated. If you blow a call, it's okay to admit it quietly to the coach or player. Generally, they'll respect you more for that than if you tried to twist the truth and equivocate. But don't do it too often or your reputation will suffer.

IF A COACH BEGS, LISTEN. If a reply is necessary, use an even tone. Be brief. Do not use sarcasm or put-downs. Acknowledge that you've heard and understand the complaint.

SMILE OR USE HUMOR. In a potentially volatile situation, a smile and a deflective word may help. An official who can chuckle or smile is in control. You shouldn't, however, get into joke telling; it's simply too dangerous given people's widely varying senses of humor.

DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Keep telling yourself they're yelling at the uniform, not at you.

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