A post that seems like it should come with a preface, something of the sort – if you are an official and you are reading this, disregard the hashtag, as coaches, we intend to ‘Work With Officials’.

Really, those in stripes have an incredibly challenging job and if you haven’t officiated before – youth levels or at a camp – I would highly encourage it. Another option to consider to gaining perspective is to take certifiable referee courses. Beyond refreshing up on the rules these courses can give more insight to the terminology, points of emphasis, and situational experiences officials are provided during training.

Being presumptuous – coaches appreciate clarity and officials strive for consistency. Somewhere in the middle is an ideal game of basketball with limited interruption to the flow of the game because coaches can easily identify calls without officials having to clarify many misinterpretations. Confrontation can come from the variance between the two expectations.

Mistakes will occur. Vantage points can be different. Interpretations even can vary.

Despite getting closer and closer to the digital regulation of sports; human officials are still the reality. And while implementing more replay in our games seems to be the means for chasing an unrealistic objective for perfect competition there will always be the feeling of inequity of calls in sports. And this post isn’t really about getting a call. It is about preventing a damaging one through our actions, or even inaction. Seriously, working with the official is how to #WorkTheOfficial. The most important thing I try to remember as a coach, ‘Working (With) The Officials’ comes from the human element that survives to exist in the game.

Humanize the Interaction

Recognize Officials by Name 

  • It is easier to get answers, attention, and sounds less abrasive than “Hey” or “Sir/Ma’am” (leave the rest of the options up to your imagination).
  • Get a cheat sheet – ask your athletic director or have operational staff create a print-out prior to game

Ask Questions / Don’t Demand Responses

  • It is the official’s call and the coach’s job to seek clarity. Without a conversation with officials, it does our athletes a disservice to help them understand how to avoid repeating a similar call.
  • We are all ego-driven to an extent on that floor; it is our competitive nature. Officials don’t like to be perceived as wrong any more than we do as coaches.
  • Coach’s approach – question vs critique. A question-and-answer can illuminate an interpretation of the call, while critique typically results with an insubstantial response or warnings. Pick your battles. Sometimes both are necessary to establish a sense of urgency with overlooked issues.

Earning Calls by Precedent & Practicality

  • Each conversation provides precedent (word to the wise – don’t incessantly remind them of this)
  • No data behind this, but experience says whistle tend even themselves out
  • Provide specifics relative to an intended style of play with how the game has been officiated

Take the example for defensive hand-checks or freedom of movement: are they reaching or slow to the spot?

Either response may give an idea of where the infraction takes place allowing the coach to create comparisons based on previous calls. If we have been driving consistently relative to the other team, yet seem to be accumulating more fouls – what is the difference? My approach to the referee would be to communicate our offensive intention to drive, yet questioning how there can be a drastic difference in physicality between our defenders and the opponent’s defense.

Call or not, they can understand the practicality that if we are attacking there will be inherent contact created between ballhandler and on-ball-defender. So either touch fouls will exist throughout the entire game or permitting play through contact has to change, whichever it is let’s find that consistency.

Teaching the Players

“Play ball. Calls do not determine the game. Our ability to adjust accordingly and stay focused on what we can control leads to our success.”

To the team we stick to the coach-speak – just play ball.

Our number one job is to be better than the other team. Officiating is another component of the sport where we have an opportunity to create an advantage or manufacture a disadvantage by allowing whistles to disrupt us from our objective. In large part, we don’t address the team collectively about the officiating – just play ball. However, it’s disingenuous to think that it doesn’t have an impact on the game and our players won’t react. Teaching our student-athletes tend to be on an individual basis, particularly for the captains that are designated the platform to interact with officials throughout the game. What we will remind our players:

  • Responses reflect the entire team – verbal & actionable
  • Captains are privileged to communicate – find dead-balls to discuss
  • Calls aren’t earned from disrespect – favorable impressions may lead to favorable calls
  • The inbounders have the best chance to develop relationships with officials

*Bonus Suggestion – If you have the personality, sense of humor can pay dividends.*

Tough Calls & Technicals

This is likely a coach-to-coach philosophy. Since becoming a head-coach I have only earned a technical once – earned is the operative word. It was in my second year and we had a post-player with considerably more size than our opponents on a weekly basis, thus we opted to play through him often. The size advantage could create disadvantages when it came to his strength to go through contact that likely would be whistled for comparable matchups. These interior battles also lead to numerous collisions erring on the side of the offensive player being the aggressor. My two least favorite calls that understandably the hardest to call:

  1. Charge / Blocks: Think a charge is over-whistled and ambiguous to interpret for officials
  2. Hook-and-Hold: Extremely difficult to identify the aggressor and the flopper.

As I am digressing, the technical came during a highly-competitive game where we came out sluggish and our big seemed to battle through a lot of physical defense without earning any fouls. After a few calls on our big that I may have disagreed with that were off-the-ball (arm-locking on rebounds and establishing positioning in the post) I decided to amplify my displeasure earning a technical.

Technicals I think are only justifiable for coaches earlier in a game to still provide our guys ample time to make up for the possible free-points that I may have handed to the other team. Also, I hope I can keep my composure to where my technicals earned are intentional, not emotional. As soon as I received the technical, I turned my attention toward our bench reminding them as we were losing by double-digits that I have their backs to simply just play ball. Their concerns should not be a team wearing stripes, as opposed to the group of 5 in green that is out-executing them out the moment. This is not a testament to the technical igniting some supernatural motivation, but I think our guys narrowed the scope where we came away with a road victory against a good team in a tough environment. That’s all we wanted to do in the first place – play ball and come out with a win!

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