We’re back with Licensed Psychotherapist and member of the Florida State Athletic Behavioral Health Team, Paul Peavy, to talk about interactions with referees.

(Photo: Paul Peavy)

(Photo: Paul Peavy)

As a coach, interacting with officials is part of the job, and it can actually make or break games. Paul brings his expertise to us as we discuss the challenges that may arise, and how to diffuse them.

Purpose2Play: Are there certain things that coaches can say to referees prior to a game/match to help ensure fair judgment?

Paul Peavy: I think the first thing to understand is referees are people. I would say there are two generalizations about why referees become referees. The first is that they really enjoy sports and like to be part of the action. The second is that they believe in a sense of fairness and justice, and want to be the enforcers of those rules and structures that help keep the world a fair and balanced place to play. (If you think that’s just a fancy way to say “control freak,” that’s okay, too.)

The second thing I tell athletes is there are two things we cannot have competition without: 1. An opponent, and 2. Officials to enforce the rules. The sooner the athlete learns to respect both, the better the game is going to be.

I would approach referees before games like any other human being. Laughing, joking, and small talk will tend to break tension the easiest. You don’t want to come off as a jerk right away. The second thing is to take advantage of this time to point out concerns such as, “Hey, last time we played this team that big ol’ number 23 seemed to come over our guys’ back a lot of time for rebounds. Can you keep an eye out for that, please?” Or, “In watching the tape, it sure looked like that formation where they left the tackle uncovered and the tight end was off the line didn’t quite add up.”

The other thing would be to point out any tricky but legal plays or formations that you are going to use so that the referee is not caught off guard.

Purpose2Play: What should a coach do if a blatantly obvious call is made incorrectly (or not made at all) in the middle of a game? What’s the best way for a coach to approach the referee during a game?

Paul Peavy: Well, you could absolutely lose your mind, lose focus, and not pay attention to the game for the next minute as you completely tear down everything you’ve tried to teach your players like, “Focus on the now, don’t let anyone get in your head, control your own destiny!” Or you could make one comment if you want to, make a note and move on.

I’ll also play therapist here for a second because well… I am one. You are also teaching impressionable young people how to deal with conflict and how to respect or not respect authority here. A forming, impressionable brain cannot always differentiate how you are throwing a tantrum with an official and why they can’t argue with their teacher tomorrow.

An interesting example of how and when to talk to a ref during a game happened this past college football season when Notre Dame played Florida State Univerity. Notre Dame scored a touchdown on a pass in the first half. At the half, FSU head coach went to the referee and told them he thought Notre Dame scored on an illegal pick play, and he wanted the referees to look out for that again. (Two receivers running routes can run their routes so close that they run their cover guys into each other as long as they are in continuous pass routes. One cannot simply just stop and set a basketball type pick on a defensive guy to free the other receiver). With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Notre Dame scored the go-ahead touchdown…until the ref reached into his pocket and threw the yellow hanky. Yep, illegal pick. Replays showed the player simply stopped square in setting a pick and didn’t even act like he was running a pass pattern. The touchdown was taken off the board and Notre Dame did not score again. FSU kept its march toward the first ever college football playoffs perhaps because head coach Jimbo Fisher had a rational conversation with a referee.

Purpose2Play: If a coach notices parents jumping down a referee’s throat in the middle of a game, how should a coach handle that situation?

Paul Peavy: I’d start with “The Look,” then go to “The Glare,” then go to the palms down hand gesture (no other hand gestures please). When it comes to having a conversation, approach the parent with dignity, and calmly explain how it is not helping the team and probably embarrasses and puts stress on his or her own child.

Purpose2Play: Even worse, what should a coach do if his/her players encounter trouble with an official?

Paul Peavy: I would pull the player if it is not a substitution sensitive sport like softball, baseball, or soccer.  I would then have myself, a parent, or an assistant coach talk with the player to get he or she to calm down and focus on the team’s need for the player to settle down. If I could not get the player out, I would go to the palms down gesture or point to my head as in “Use your head.” I would definitely be in the “I’ve got to be way calmer than my kid” mode to help de-escalate him or her.

Purpose2Play: Officials are people, too. How might a coach constructively critique an official’s game after it’s said and done?

Paul Peavy: Again, I think you have to go the friendly handshake and pat on the back routine, and stay factual and speak from your own perspective of things.

“From my perspective I didn’t see that reach in,” instead of “You’re an idiot if you think that was a reach!” Remember, you are probably going to be involved with this official again, so no point in starting the next game with him or her having bad memories of you. If things are really bad, I think you can certainly write a letter to league headquarters documenting things as factually as possible.

The bottom line is that officials are human and treating them with dignity and respect is probably the best way to get the same treatment back.