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The Whistle Blower: A Reminder to Coaches, From Your Friendly Neighbourhood Referee


With the season in full swing, let’s go over the basics, shall we? 

The relationship between any coach and referee is a delegate, and often times, less than friendly relationship. But it’s an essential one for any hockey game to occur. 

Coaches have the job of teaching their players the ins and outs of the game, while also promoting a fair and sportsmanlike attitude. Their job is to show their players the right habits to exhibit during the game. The job of the referee is to enforce the rules when said players aren’t playing by the groundwork that their coaches should have theoretically coached them on prior to the game. 

Coaches are the people that referees will often turn to when a message needs to be passed on, or a warning to a player needs to be given. 

With the middle of the season fast approaching, here are a few gentle reminders for all coaches from your friendly neighbourhood referee. 

Body language matters. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a coach raise his arm fully up in the air to signal an offside near their bench, or done one of the “Don Cherry’s”, waving their hands back and forth to show their displeasure at a call I’ve made. 

As a referee, I don’t want to talk to any coach that’s physically upset, throwing their hands in the air and standing over the bench. I would rather talk to a coach that’s calm, cool and collected, and that steps off the bench, onto the ground to talk to me. This not only shows a bit of respect and common courtesy, but also ensures that the referee and the coach are on the same physical level and the coach isn’t peering over the referee.

I know when it’s offside or an icing or a penalty, I don’t need you using referee signals from the bench to remind me. 

Be a coach or be a referee, not both.

This might come as a surprise to many, but I can’t count how many times a coach has told me, “I’m a referee, and here’s what you did wrong.” 

I have a number of issues with this situation, the first one being that as a referee, the first lesson you’re ever taught from day one is to support the profession. 

I understand as a coach you must advocate for your team, and I don’t mind having a constructive debate of the rule book, but you waving the magic fact that you’re also a referee doesn’t make me want to listen to you, all is does is make me lose respect for you. 

All you do is sellout your team of fellow referees. All you do is make yourself look like someone who must be a terrible teammate, because no true referee would embarrass a fellow referee, regardless if we know each other or not. 

Put simply coaches who are also referees, pick one or the other. 

Don’t play good cop, bad cop.

I can’t tell you how many times a coach has tried to be “extra nice” to me when they don’t like the way my partner is calling the game, whether it be giving me a nice comment about my calls, or shaking my hand after the game and not my partner’s. 

Coaches, referees can see right through that garbage. Sucking up to me is not going to help your team, all it’s going to do is get my to treat you like a fifth grader, because that’s the way you’re acting. 

Use your players.

At the beginning of the season, most teams will select a captain as well as a couple of assistant captains. As a referee, I’d much rather talk to your players who are given those leadership roles. 

I say that for two reasons. The first is because it’s much easier to chat with a player who can physically skate over to you, negating the need to waste time to have to go to the bench and have a conversation with the coach. The second is that players often times put up less of an argument that a coach will, and for good reason, the player knows my call is right. 

Many people don’t give players enough credit for being reasonable. Most times, a player will hear a referee’s perspective and say “ok, thanks,” as opposed to a coach who may be inclined to put up a fight. Whenever I talk to a player or a coach, I’m not debating my call. My call is the final decision and there’s no changing that, I’m simply explaining for the sake of clarity as to why I made the call I did, that’s it. Players are often more quick to understand that. 

Move on. 

Okay coach, I get it, you might not have agreed with my call, but please move on. I really don’t enjoy hearing your displeasure at a call I made five minutes ago while skating by your bench. Coaches are entitled to have an opinion and advocate for their players, but they are not entitled to drag the argument on throughout the game. As referees, we have to make decisions in a split second, most times we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, accept that and get over it. 

In addition, if I elect not to come to your bench and explain a call or a play, I didn’t do it because I hadn’t noticed you yelling and screaming. I simply chose not to come over and chat with you, whether it be to keep the flow of the game rolling, or simply I didn’t want to have to be forced to eject you – the last thing I need is you to yell to try get my attention three plays later. 

It’s a give and take.

Coaches play an important role in the game, but so do referees. I’m all for dialogue, but coaches need to remember that they aren’t running the game, referees are, and officials always need to be treated with that respect. We might not always agree, but to all the coaches out there, please remember that my call is final. We’re all out there for the same reason so let’s remember that and show these young players what the game is all about.

Tags: minor hockey

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