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Cutting tea short: Having a chat with a coach

Raise your hands if you have ever had a coach disagree with an interpretation you made. Keep your arm up if you have been told that you are wrong even after giving an A+ explanation. Ok, keep your hand up if you have been in a conversation where you feel that the coach is making the same arguement over and over.

There are a bunch of rules that I have been told over the years. Some I follow all the time, some I do not.

  • State your opinion, listen to the coach, then leave.

  • Never talk to a coach at the end of the period (especially if there is a flood). This sets you up for a long conversation that may be related to his or her being upset.

  • If you must talk to a coach between periods, do so right before the start of the next period (if there is a flood). The bottom line is to make sure you have an excuse to leave (i.e. to drop the puck). If there is no flood, there is limited talking time because the coach must prepare his team in less than a minute.

  • If a coach is yelling at you, do not talk to him. Either penalize, ignore, or talk to the captain. Most coaches will understand what you mean if you make a circle around the position of an "A" or "C" on your chest and say "CAPTAIN, PLEASE".

  • Do not talk to coaches during the game. Just talk to the captains. This maintains the flow of the game.

  • If you penalize a coach who is yelling at you, do not go talk to them. They lost that privilege when they yelled at you.

  • Ask the coach to step off the bench to equalize the power difference between you.

  • Focus on what you can control: your hustle, your attitude. You may even say "Coach, I am going to miss some calls, but I can promise you I will work my butt off in this game." Make sure you work you butt off if you say this.

In the end, you need to make a decision about how and when you will talk or not talk to coaches. However, I want to focus on the time when the referee chooses to talk to the coach and how to phrase your sentence to maintain a short conversation.

For example, consider the following statements

  1. "Coach, he stuck his leg out and made contact ankle to ankle not knee to knee so it is a two minute minor for tripping..."

  2. "From my angle, Coach, I saw his leg come out then contact was made ankle to ankle so I felt a tripping penalty was more appropriate."

The first statement will get you stuck because you do not have any "wiggle-room" as you have effectively made a black-and-white statement. The second statement leaves room for differing opinions for two reasons:

  • "From my angle..." gives credit to the nature of refereeing hockey; the referee's perspective effects most calls on the ice. Nothing is black-and-white.

  • "I saw..." and "I felt..." both are "I" statements that allow you to take ownership of the call. Again, without saying outwardly, the "I" statement says that you have one angle or perspective and the coach has another.

After you have made a statement with "From my angle..." and an "I" statement the coach may still want to argue (or he may say "thank you"). In the event that he wants to argue, your response may be "Coach, I am sorry we saw this play from two different angles. However, we need to drop the puck so we can finish the game in the ice-time. Thanks." At this point, the coach may carry on or (in my experience) the conversation will end. In either case, you need to skate away.

If the coach does not stop arguing, consider four components of communication that may have effected your message:

  1. Volume of voice-were you yelling? Did you sound mad? If you had to yell due to a loud arena, did you tell the coach you were yelling due to the arena not due to the conversation?

  2. Tone of voice-were you assertive with an calm voice? Did you sound like you were lecturing the coach?

  3. Pace of voice-did you speak too fast so the coach could not understand or too slow so that the coach lost patience?

  4. What you said-did you use "from my angle" or an "I" statement? Did you focus on the problem (different angles, getting the game going again) or the person (telling the coach off).

While this entire blog contains a great communication device, sometimes the coach is going to be unprofessional and there is nothing you can do about. My hope is that the above information will give you one more tool in your tool belt to avoid most lengthy conversations.

Mitchell Jeffrey has officiated hockey since 1999, has been a level 3 official since 2005, and is currently Referee-In-Chief of SJAMHA.

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