Coaches: The Game Needs Your Help
I came across this terrific three part news series on the state of hockey referees in Peterborough, Ontario. It’s a very discouraging piece on how the decline in numbers of referees is forcing games to be cancelled in nearby centers.
This is a call to all coaches to help protect our referees! Without them there will literally be no games. Coaches need to have positive relationships with officials rather than antagonistic ones. No referee goes out on the ice to do a bad job of officiating. Are there referees who are weaker than others? Of course. But, I would argue that yelling at a 14 year old teenager trying to do their best refereeing an Atom hockey game for $15 and hour is not benefiting anyone.
Coaches: You are solely responsible for your team community’s behavior around the treatment of referees. Coaches need to step up, be good role models, have tough conversations around the abuse of officials, and create an atmosphere where referees, young and old, are allowed to do their very best in an environment of support and understanding of their importance to the game.
As playoffs approach and games get more intense, I am reposting an article I wrote about referees three years ago. I have had quite a bit of response to it so I want to share it again:
How to Co-Exist with Hockey Referees (from March 8, 2015)
Why do we dislike referees so much in the hockey world? There seems to be this unwritten code among coaches, players, parents and fans that the referee is pretty much always wrong and it is fair game to question them all of the time and harass them whenever we feel it's warranted.
Personally, I find it hugely distasteful and I am always dismayed when my players feel it's OK to question a referee's call. Even little things like the shaking of a head, banging a stick, looking to the heavens in exasperation - these are all forms of questioning or disagreeing with a referee's call. (In fact, I am always very clear with my players that the only time they are to speak to a referee is when I ask them to politely go over and ask a question.)
One of the best quotes I have heard about referees is that "they are like your parents - you aren't going to agree with them all of the time but you have to do what they say."
I am going on record here: 2000+ games as a player and coach, one bench penalty and one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (I won't count the yellow card I received in soccer one evening as a player). I didn't deserve either. I didn't swear, I didn't show up the referee in front of a crowd, didn't really yell all that loud. But...both times I put myself above the team.
So here is my philosophy on referees.
To start, it's a really tough job at any level. I expect icings and offsides to be called properly but penalties are a whole other world of trouble - and that's where most, if not all, upset with referees lies. Imagine, you are the referee and let's say there are two of you on the ice making penalty calls. You see a player "kind of" pulled down in the offensive zone by a defenceman. Here is what you have to consider in the next half second before you put your hand up or not. What might be the call? Hold? Hook? What period is it? Is it close to the end of the game? What's the score? Did it take away a scoring chance? Have I called a similar penalty tonight or let it go? Has my referee partner called a similar penalty tonight or let it go? What team has received the last few penalties?
Whoops! Your half second is up. What's the call?
Here is what happens next. If you make a call, the coach is going to be yelling at you from the bench. If you don't make the call, the other coach is going to be yelling at you from the bench. Either way some parents in the stands will start yelling at you too. Once a coach starts yelling, players will undoubtedly start making comments towards you as well about your competence. It's about this point where you wonder if it's worth being part of the game or not.
So, in most leagues I have coached, there are a limited number of referees that we see during the season. I have coached in a small town for 22 years so I know our referees pretty well. I have no problem with them whatsoever! They are not all terrific referees, they have good and bad days, but I have a good relationship with all of them. If I say something to them I know it will be listened to because I don't say a whole lot.
I have said three things this year to referees. One night we had four penalties in a row called against us and I thought they were marginal calls. As the referee skated by the bench I commented just loud enough for him to hear, "Mr. Referee. That's four penalties to none now." I just gave him a little reminder, and I always call the referees "Mr. Referee" even when I know them. Last week at a break in the action I said, "Mr. Referee. They are taking too many liberties with our players in front of the net." Again, just a slight nudge so that it is in his mind. The third thing..and on a number of occasions, I have gone to the referee's room after a game when I felt they did a particularly good job, to tell them just that. I think it is hard to do a really good job as a referee and I think they should be told when they do.
I also know that I will see the same referees again around the league and they are like elephants when it comes to remembering. Treating referees with respect, to my mind, is just the right thing to do. AND...it is great role modelling for players so that they can respect those that contribute to the game as well.