Look, first of all most everyone knows that at the highest level fixing exists in the NBA, NFL, FIFA and even Wrestling; if there is money and fame on the line people will try to secure the win before the action happens. For the sake of this article, we’re talking about things outside of ‘the fix’.
Above all, aim to maintain great relationships. Don’t go after the ref post-match. I’ve done a lot of coaching in my life and I try to ignore bad reffing now more than ever. My general approach to life is that most people are incompetent – get used to it. In the past I’ve turned in video of really bad calls to supervisors. In almost all cases the supervisors agreed with my opinion and the tape evidence. Then my problems really started because most ref organizations wouldn’t keep that ref away from my team and I’d end up suffering even more from retribution.
This strategy has always helped me: be as good a person as possible and have the best relationships you can.
1. Treat them with respect prior to competition. Shake hands, look them in the eyes and muster a smile. If at home make sure that they know your facilities. If you’ve seen the ref over the years ask about him, how his season is going and trends that he is seeing. Always use their names. I write names down on my game day notes page. If I start to question a call I don’t yell “hey ref what about…” I say “Bob wasn’t that …”. I also try to complement them early on in every competition. “Nice job” can be heard from a long distance. The last thing that I like to talk with them about prior to competition is our team values. Respect is always one of my team values. I ask them to let me know if they see issues with my team and application of our sportsmanship values. This has become a notable strategy over the last 5 years. Refs will now come up to me after a match or game and comment, usually in a positive way, about our team.
2. If I see a trend early in a competition that I don’t like I try to talk to a ref in between the action without drawing outside attention. I don’t want to convey disrespect or show them up, even if there was a major problem. This will burn the bridge with many refs. They are human and attention getting attacks usually end up meaning you’ll have a long day of calls going against you with the ref having a short fuse with you in emotional situations. Being a jerk is a great way to lose calls and develop the wrong reputation.
3. All Refs make calls slightly differently. If something is noticeable I’ll ask if it’s going to be called that way all day. If yes I’ll adjust and let my team know that it’s going to be a bit different today.
Close the day with some observations and comments, share thoughts on the action and calls. I don’t pile a negative shit sandwich up, no one likes to eat that. I just try to mix some things that I liked and if there were things that I didn’t understand or agree with I ask about the thought process. I’ll spend as much time as they’d like talking about it. In many cases when I approach a ref with this conversational manner about “a call” after a few minutes we’ll get to the “I didn’t see it right” or they’ll come around. I’ve had more than a dozen refs tell me they “just missed it” or made a “bad call” over just the last 5-years. I try to never make it personal. Everyone makes mistakes. A long time ago in a galaxy far away an obvious ref mistake cost my team a match that decided the dual. That tie caused my team to share a league title rather than be the sole champ. Lets just say I ran much hotter as a coach back then. Time and/or experience have led me to more successful relationships & reputation. The last few years with the easy access to technology I’ve broken out the video camera on the spot as a learning tool for both of us. I’ll have people check the video for me if possible before bringing it to a ref’s attention. I’ve been wrong more times than I can remember after re-watching the action on video. I always remind myself of that possibility.
So there you have it, try to be objective and respectful with the refs and instill respect and personal responsibility with your teams. That means apologizing when you’re wrong. This is a big one for the emotional back account and it costs you nothing.
Make sure to close the day and thank them for their time. I know at the youth level there are a lot of refs just doing time and trying to get out of the event as early as possible. You might not be able to reach them. That said many refs at the youth level are interested in their role and the educational process of kids learning and I always try to recognize that with them.
You might say that a good ref will ignore all the things that I mentioned above and just do his job. I can only hope that is the case but refs are human and have feelings. Feelings influence thoughts, actions and behaviors. Your behavior and reputation can be an asset or an anchor. It’s up to you. Good luck.