Hey Ref! Officiating from a Coach’s Perspective

We like to say that our interactions with officials never get personal, but in what professional setting is it commonplace to berate the support staff? Coaches have a responsibility to maintain a professional rapport with the officiating crew.

Grissom High (Ala.) coach Chip English admits he occasionally screams at game officials. Why does he do it? Well, for a variety of reasons, actually.

“You want them to know when they mess up,” English said. “You want guys to feel like their coach is fighting for them. I’m competitive too. I want the best opportunity to win football games.”

That being said, English doesn’t expect his yelling will result in the referee changing a call.

“No, very rarely do calls get changed,” English said. “We’re not even looking for them to make it right by making a phantom call. If someone is holding my defensive end, and they score around that end, I’m going to be yelling, ‘This is what’s happening, this is why they scored. Don’t miss it again.’”

Sierra Canyon School (Calif.) coach Jonathan Ellinghouse struggled with maintaining his composure on the sideline in his early years as a coach. After 20 years, he has learned to put himself in the official’s cleats.

“The biggest thing for me was I decided to be a softball umpire,” Ellinghouse said. “That was a turning point for how I act and how I treat people. I learned how to get what you want without embarrassing anyone.”

English and Ellinghouse offered the following tips for coaches when dealing with officials.

Find your preferred crew.

In English’s state of Alabama, coaches can request their preferred officiating crew. In Ellinghouse’s state of California, the officiating crew can request a particular game. In both cases, maintaining a positive rapport with the officials can lead to coaches getting their preferred crews.

“The best officials pick the games they want, so if they don’t pick your games, you’re getting the worst officials,” Ellinghouse said.

Use one voice to complain.

Set the expectations for your assistants and players that all complaints about officiating will come from the head coach.

“I always say if someone is going to argue a call, it’s going to be me,” English said.

Communicate before the game.

Have a trick play that might confuse an official and prompt an inadvertent whistle? Share that before the game.

“I always share any unusual plays or formations,” English said. “I try to have a great relationship going into the game.”

Don’t show them up.

Keep your back to the bleachers when challenging officials so that parents can’t see the confrontation.  Don’t wave your arms or stomp your feet.

“They don’t want to be made to look like fools,” English said.

Try it yourself.

Ellinghouse said his experience as an official served as a turning point in his relationship.

“I think putting officials in coaches’ shoes would be good too,” Ellinghouse said. “It’s a two-way street.”

Get Parents on the Same Page

Bruce Howard of the National Federation of State High School Associations believes that a coach or athletic director should be responsible for setting the expectations for parents about the proper treatment of officials.

“The perfect scenario is that the athletic director lays it all out at a preseason meeting,” Howard said.

English said the biggest problems in his region take place at the youth level, where there is a mix of inexperienced officials and parents standing right on top of the field.

“The quality of officials at the lower levels can be a problem,” English said. “In high school, we have a track around the field, so they’re not on top of us.”

Howard believes coaches can still diffuse tense situations at that level by modeling good behavior.

“If a coach does it the right way, there’s a better chance the parents and fans will follow,” Howard said.