Making the Basketball Coach – Referee Relationship More Positive
By Madi Crowley, Basketball Queensland Referee Development Manager
Coaches and referees have a funny relationship. Sometimes it’s a positive one, sometimes not so much, and this can come down to a whole host of variables. But it’s a relationship, nonetheless, and the more positive it is, the more both parties and the game itself will benefit. So, what helps make this relationship positive, even in those tense moments in games?
The #1 thing is that, regardless of one party being the referee and one being the coach, this is still two people talking. I think both parties can lose sight of that at times and forget to listen as well as talk.
“Right Time, Right Place, Right Manner”. This is a pretty common phrase that referees use when addressing coach communication and what is acceptable, whether within the referee group or to coaches themselves. Broadly speaking, it encompasses what we want to happen when coaches seek to communicate with us. But what does that actually mean? Sometimes we as referees forget to explain this, and sometimes we ourselves forget to follow it too!
We’re an active part of the game. Whilst it may seem like sometimes we’re just running up and down the sideline and off with the fairies, we’re really thinking about where we should be moving to, what is coming next in the play, and constantly making judgments on contact and violation situations. So, chances are, if you try to talk to us while we’re running down the floor, we’re going to struggle to come back to you, and even if we do, we’ll have half a mind on the game and probably won’t be able to give you a very satisfying answer.
Get us when the game is stopped. If there’s an out-of-bounds near your bench, or a set of free throws, or at the end of a break when we come to get your team in. We’ll be able to give you much more attention, and you’ll get much more from it.
This ties in pretty closely with ‘right time’, and really just is a reflection of remembering it should be a (brief) discussion between two people. Trying to have a conversation yelling across at someone from 10 metres away is going to be hard no matter what setting you’re in, let alone on a basketball court full of external noise. Catch the referee’s attention when they’re nearby. Again, free throws, out-of-bounds whilst waiting for subs to come in, end of time-outs, these are great opportunities. And if you’ve got a point to make with a referee but they’re not the one standing near you? Tell the one standing near you anyway and ask if they can talk to their partner about it next break. Guaranteed to have better results than trying to call out across the width or length of the floor to a different member of the crew.
This is, of course, the key point. Basketball is an emotional sport. Players are invested, coaches are invested, spectators are invested and of course, the referees are invested too. In high-pressure situations, these emotional investments can end up being expressed quite abruptly. If you were discussing a point in a workplace and someone started the discussion by yelling at you, or using aggressive body language, or declaring that your most recent judgment was terrible, you’d probably instantly be closed off listening to the rest of what they said. If you were a confrontational person, you might even go back at them. But if they brought their point to you in a conversational manner with factual evidence, you’d be much more inclined to listen.
We as referees can do a better job of this too – listening. Sometimes we don’t like to hear that we might be doing things wrong or missing things and we close off to listening. The respect and the listening have to be a two-way street, and that’s our responsibility as much as a coach’s. But as a coach, you give yourself a much better chance of being heard and having a referee take your point on board if you approach it as if you’re having a genuine two-way discussion and not just trying to drive your point at someone.
Right Time, Right Place, Right Manner
It’s not rocket science or a big secret. Referees are people and so are coaches. When we have discussions with coaches, we’re hoping for a positive outcome. If we’re in the right mindset, we’re happy to listen. We might not agree! But when it becomes a communication between two people, rather than one person (be it a referee or coach) getting stubborn and forcing their opinion, the outcome becomes much more positive.