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I recently wrote an article about respecting the referee which included the thoughts of England women’s rugby league head coach Chris Chapman.
I’d be interested to know how you make sure your players/athletes/teams respect the officials in the sport(s) you coach.
Have you seen any instances where the opposition team and coach showed blatant disrespect? How did you react?
I really enjoyed this blog Blake as it's something I'm very passionate about.
As a younger player I remember being told if you complain/moan/call every decision, you'll get 1 in 10/15 that will go your way and can be the difference. I carried this though process into coaching in my early 20s. Hindsight shows it's such a woeful outlook to have and how poorly it impacts on young athletes.
It came to a head in my mid 20s when coaching a high school game in USA. The ref called me onto the pitch and gave me a roasting for my continual arguing with him. He had a bad reputation, but I was out of order and was setting a bad example. In my head I was protecting my players against his performance, in reality I was doing the opposite. I apologized at the time and went to shake his hand which he refused. This more disappointed me than maddened me and I was determined to resolve it after the game. The other staff and players told me to drop it but I knew I had sort it out for myself and waited for the ref at his car. Despite his initial refusal to discuss our issue he eventually renaged and we talked for almost an hour while I kept a full bus of players waiting!
My main problem was never a poor decision, it was his refusal to explain decisions to players or coaches and his aloof nature. I told him he was like a circus-master, that it appeared he believed everyone was there to see him rather than the game. We each said our piece, agreed that we were both in the wrong and shook hands. It was a real turning point for me. From then on I made an attempt to be on much better terms with refs and it paid off.
I met with the players of the various teams I was working with an explained the sitaution and how I was going to alter my behaviour and I hoped I could get their buy in as well. It links well to the phrase used in the blog 'control the controlables' - never a truer word!
In the years that have passed I have vastly altered my approach. My current team have heard that phrase many times and I see the impact on their mental stability in games. Stay calm, walk away, focus on you, control you, be in charge of youself, only you. etc
I however don't think that players and teams HAVE to respect officials, I believe that must be earned by the officials. Often in football we see this as a one way street, that the refs are saints and the players sinners. Rugby refs do set a great example here and being mic'd up shows them explaining decisions and calls. Even if players disagree, at least they know why a call has been made. Refs in grass roots sport often don't help the sitaution with their attitude. I recently approached a ref at half time to expain why a call was made so I could understand and pass the info to the players - he was shocked I was just asking rather than having a go. This goes to highlight the other side, that more often than not the behaviour of adults especially towards officials is appalling.
So how do we fix that? I believe there needs to be a top down and bottom up approach. Professional football are icons (not role models!!) and kids watch & copy as kids do. I and many others would happily have one season of matches in the professional game ending up as 7-a-side if it meant pro players' bratty behaviour stopped. Mic the refs up like in rugby and red card those who curse, rant or show ill-discipline towards an offical . Young players will see this and quickly soak it up.
From a grass roots level at the youngest ages apply a similar approach. Coaches cannot speak to a ref during the game unless a ref initiates it. If a coach argues etc with a ref he's yellow/red carded, reported etc. With younger players I take a 'soft-red' approach, where the coach must sub the player and he cannot be brough back on if he/she is penalized for dissent, bad language etc. Often refs don't want to report incidents as they have to write it up, a conversation I had recently with a ref when an opposition player swore 2 yards from the ref and he told me he didnt hear it. How are our young players meant to learn unless the adults, both coaches and officials, back it up?
A few years ago I shocked my parents by asking a referee to book one of my players for mouthing off, but it made a point to the rest of the team. That is part of my responsibility as a coach. My players know they get subbed (soft red) if they show dissent and I'm proud to say I can't remember the last time I had to do this.
An approach I take with much younger kids in my multi skills and multi sports role is to have no refs or let them self ref games or activities. It can be messy in the beginning as they look to me to help make a decision but my response is "it's your game, you guys sort it out". It might mean a few minutes of arguing but as the weeks go by, resolutions are quickly made, and they play on without wasting time. We often finish sessions by asking them whey I have them take this responsibility. We discuss the poor behaviour of professional footballers and how this approach can help them behave in their chosen game or sport as they grow up respecting officials having done some of that job themselves. The teachers are really appreciate of this idea. We must remember that with less street or outdoor games of any kind and more structured sports, kids are not exposed to self-resolution as much as say 10/20/30 years ago so it is part of our responsibility as coaches to re-create this environment.
Respect can be gained and built from this approach via officials, players and coaches. Trying to force and tell people to respect an official is not a long term approach or solution.
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