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Couples Therapy: Counseling for Coaches and Officials

June 11, 2014    1537 Views

By Clare Lochary | @clochary

Couples Therapy: Counseling for Coaches and Officials

Kevin P. Tucker

Coaches and officials.

They’re kind of like that one awful couple in every circle of friends—constantly bickering, making everyone around them uncomfortable and generally ruining the party. And you feel terrible for any children caught in the middle.

Can this marriage be saved? Yes!

There are plenty of things you can do to make the coach-official relationship less fractious, which is turn makes game day more fun for everyone.

What coaches want from officials is straightforward:

  • Call games professionally, impartially and consistently
  • Give the coaches as little cause for legitimate complaint as possible.

Clear and frequent hand signals help, as do fast, clear answers to questions.

What officials want from coaches is a conversation, not a confrontation. This advice applies to players and parents too.

It sounds corny, and ripped from the pages of a couples therapy manual, but use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. “I was confused by that call—can you please explain it to me?” will go over a lot better than “You missed that call,” or “You are a moron.”

Coaches can use halftime and timeouts to speak with the umpiring crew, too. You might prefer to use that time to go over Xs and Os, but sometimes you have to make a calculated decision about what’s best for the team.

If I can’t appeal to your better angels regarding sportsmanship and good manners, let me put it to you this way: time an official spends dealing with a fussy coach is time she is not watching the game. If she misses a foul that would have benefitted your team, you have no one but yourself to blame.

On a more philosophical level, hating on the ref gives her too much power. If you blame the official for every loss or every turnover, the flip side of that is that she is also responsible for every win and every good play. That’s credit that should go to the players.

“As a coach, I don’t ever want my players to feel like they’re not in control of the game, said New Trier (Ill.) coach and US Lacrosse CEP trainer Kristen Murray. “If I’m making the ref out to have the power over the outcome of the game, what message am I sending my players?”

Murray was one of a select few who got high praise from my “official sources” when I asked for positive examples of coaches who communicated with officials well. Princeton coach Chris Sailer, a three-time NCAA champion, Hall of Famer and coach of more than 40 All-Americans, also got good marks. Sailer is not Zen all the time—she’s yelled at an official or two—but she treats them as follow professionals.

“I get upset about calls, as all coaches do at times, and I certainly express my displeasure,” Sailer said. “But you don’t get too crazy, and you treat officials with respect. I don’t think [yelling] is a productive thing for your team. It would be really distracting for the players, and it would take my mind off what’s happening on the field.”

Sandy Bridgeman also got a thumbs-up from the zebras. Bridgeman is a rarity—a former Division I coach at the University of New Hampshire who relocated to Florida three years ago and spent a season as an official, an experience she calls “humbling and eye-opening.” Now back on the sidelines as a youth and prep coach, she keeps an even keel.

“The ref is not someone who’s out to get you,” Bridgeman said. “When I approach the official, I always ask, ‘What are you seeing? Because I’m seeing something a little different. Help me see what you’re seeing.’”

Bridgeman wrestled with the idea that she was doing her teams a disservice by not “working the refs,” but ultimately came out on the side of civility.

“I wanted to be a coach who was steady, who my players could count on,” she said. “They knew I was passionate about them and about what they could achieve, but I’m not going to throw a nutty over something. I can’t control the official’s call, but I can control my reaction to it.”

A version of this article originally appeared Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

Officials Education Program

The US Lacrosse Officials Education Program offers numerous training opportunities, programs and tools to help develop officials across the country. From the men's and women's officials observation program grants, to the men's and women's LAREDO and LEAD/Developmental clinics, US Lacrosse aims to serve every official across the country.

Officials Education Program



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