Respecting the Ref

In the face of increasing amounts of abuse from players, coaches, and fans, many officials are leaving the profession. But there are steps you can take to help keep them around.

By Keith Manos

Keith Manos is a Wrestling Coach and former Athletic Director at Richmond Heights (Ohio) High School. His books include Wrestling Coach’s Survival Guide and Coach’s and Athletic Director’s Complete Book of Forms and Letters, both published by Prentice Hall (800-947-7700).

Athletic Management, 14.5, August/September 2002,

At major league baseball games, it is not uncommon to see a manager confront an umpire, criticize his call of a play, and leave cursing. On national television, college football coaches pace the sidelines, ready after any whistle to challenge the referees and demand an explanation of a ruling they should already know. And parents at high school basketball games seldom feel uncomfortable berating an official they deem incompetent.

So we should not be surprised that fewer men and women are choosing to enter the officiating profession. But how do we change this trend? It’s vital that more young people are attracted to officiating, so it’s critical that we start, right now, working hard to give the profession the respect it deserves.

When coaches and officials are in sync, they have the same goal: a safe, well-played game where the winner is determined fairly and honestly on the field, court, or mat. The coach and the official should never see each other as adversaries. Instead, they must view each other as colleagues in support of the endeavors of young people.

That said, if coaches can adopt the following guidelines for dealing with officials, they will be more attentive to the performance of their players rather than the rulings of the referees:

1. When you are the host school, greet the officials personally and acquaint them with your facility. Consider the officials’ needs, such as locker space, privacy, refreshments at halftime, and so forth. This can do much to establish a positive rapport with the officials before the game even begins.

2. Introduce the officials to your staff, players, opposing coaching staff, and, through the public address system, to the spectators so people can see them more as individuals rather than striped shirts. You could even provide some background details over the public address system, such as, “John Smith is a veteran official of 16 years and was our 2001 county official of the year.”

3. Cooperate with the officials in the management of the contest. If they need towels for drying wet footballs, provide them. If a stopwatch is damaged, have another one ready. If the gym floor becomes wet, a mop should be readily accessible.

4. Avoid confrontations. In fact, if you feel uncertain about a rule or the application of a rule, especially a new one, discuss it with the official before the competition. During the game, you should only request information, not argue. Remove all emotion from any dialogue with the official before, during, and after the competition.

5. Never let your athletes witness you blaming the official(s) for a loss. That can set a precedent players will learn to follow and could affect their play in later competitions. As a coach, you want to model ethical behavior for your players, and this extends to your relationship with officials. If your players see you handle disagreement in a mature and positive manner, they will grow to understand how they should behave in similar circumstances.

6. Never complain about a call that does not go your way because this can ruin both your athletes’ concentration and your own. Instead of criticizing the referee, call your next play.

7. If possible, attend your local or state officials’ meetings. There, they discuss the rules and how they interpret them. This will help you become familiar with the officiating style of the referees in your area and help you to prepare both your staff and your players for possible game situations.

8. Know the rules as well as the official does. Read the rule book, ask questions, and contact your state or national athletic association if you need any clarifications.

9. Show appreciation and courtesy. After the contest, be sure the officials have easy access to their lockers, thank them for their efforts, and, if necessary, provide a safe journey to their cars.

10. If you are dissatisfied with an official, your league or state athletic association probably has an evaluation form you can complete and submit to the proper authority. It would be wise to wait at least two days before doing this. This will give you the time to be more objective and to gather information from other members of your staff and even the opposing coach.

In any contest, you and the official want violations to be identified and, in turn, penalized. You both want teams to be treated fairly and honestly. And you both want the athletes to enjoy competition where cheating is unacceptable and integrity is honored.

As the coach, you must set the example. You must show your players that you, too, respect the official’s authority and see him or her as a colleague, not an adversary.