6 Tips for Communicating with Officials

By Dan Guttenplan

It’s easy to show respect for an official during the pre-game when coaches typically exchange pleasantries with the men in stripes. It’s a far different thing to maintain that level of respect when a coach feels his team has been wronged.

Most coaches have experienced the feeling of having to digest a blown call that may swing the outcome of the game in the opposition’s favor. Blood pressure starts rising, it feels like steam is coming out of our ears, and we find the nearest official to scream at, don’t we?

Well, that’s not what we should be doing, according to sports performance psychologist Bill Cole, MS, MA, founder of Mental Game Coaching.

“A coach is a role model and a leader in the community,” Cole said. “Leaders don’t act like jerks.”

Cole believes that a coach’s treatment of officials is shaped well in advance of a game or even a season. He offered some tips for coaches when communicating with officials.

Make a pledge to respect officials.

“It’s all about attitude and being strategic,” Cole said. “Sit down with your coaches in the beginning of the season and say, ‘We’re not going to act like jerks this season. We’re going to be beyond reproach.’ Set the standard for the entire team.”

Consider the trickle-down effect.

“Coaches aren’t aware of the effects they’re having on a 360-degree radius,” Cole said. “They see a bad play, they get upset, they’re raging, and then they tell their players to settle down and play with self-control. It’s a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do dichotomy.”

Don’t get personal.

“Be professional. Have self-control,” Cole said. “A coach wants to show he’s not going to take any guff, but you can still be respectful without taking any guff.”

Consider the end game.

“Be mindful of your influencing skills. When a ref makes a bad call, consider two things. Can I get the ref to change the call? If that’s possible, consider the best way to go about that. Second, moving forward, can you make an impact on the ref that he’ll think twice about making a bad call again? Fear is generally not a good motivator.”

Model behavior for the players.

Do you want your players to scream at officials when they get upset? No. Then practice what you preach.

“A lot of coaches totally miss the boat and go off the deep end,” Cole said. “They’re doing it wrong. In an executive position, you take charge. Leaders have a responsibility to set the standard.”


“The preparation of how to handle stress in the moment is forged weeks ahead,” Cole said. “Practice deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation. These are pregame decisions. You don’t start doing those things when emotions get hot. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to follow through. If you’re trying to implement stress management techniques in the middle of an altercation, it’s too late.”

Ask the Right Question

More than anything, when an official gets a call wrong, we as coaches want an explanation. We don’t need a make-up call or reversal. We just want to know why it happened.

Bob Arnone was a football official before founding Get It Right Enterprises, an online teaching tool for officials.  He’s been on the receiving end of many rants from coaches, and he has one piece of advice for coaches in avoiding these meltdowns.

“Ask the official what he saw,” Arnone said. “So many times, that simple question can diffuse a confrontation because it gives the official an opportunity to explain how difficult the job can be. Maybe the back judge had to run across the field with his back to the quarterback. By the time he got in position to make a pass interference call, he had a fraction of a second to process the play.”