Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
In an ideal sports event, the referees go unnoticed and do not play a role in the outcome of the game. Sadly, not many ideal events exist in the world of youth sports. Officiating youth sports has become increasingly complex due to several factors.
Knowing the challenges that the referees face and understanding the impact that they can have on a game, I have adopted a style of engaging the referee, treating them as a colleague instead of as an adversary. This is important for two reasons: 1) Establishing a relationship with the referee can aid with future discussions that will inevitably arise and most importantly 2) your kids are watching.
The relationship begins when you focus on coaching your kids and not complaining to the refs. Officials will quickly make a decision on the type of coach you are based upon how you interact with your kids and what you say to the referees. There are certain coaches that complain about every call, scream 3 seconds, do the 5 count, or call out every travel. I choose to limit how much of this I do and instead focus on my team: “you have to play through it”, “push them out of the lane”, “great job pressuring the ball handler”, “way to make him pick up the ball.” I’m focusing on what my players can control (their actions) and not what they can’t control (the calls of the referee.)
When there is a questionable call that I feel is an area that could be a problem for us throughout the game, I approach the referees looking for a teaching moment for our players, and possibly for the refs as well. I use a 3-step process:
Respond with Respect Not Emotions
Approach the referee with respect and engage them in a discussion. It is important that the players see you talk with them and not at them. By avoiding an emotional response, you help the players keep their composure as well as serve as an example of showing respect to officials. This will serve them well in life. Later, I can explain to the players why I responded that way and how it kept me focused on the game instead of focusing on the referee or the specific call.
Ask for clarification on what they saw and why they made the call. Engage the referee earnestly, with a clear purpose of being able to share the explanation with your players. It’s important that your questions do not come across as pandering or belittling. Chances are they had a different position on the court with a different angle and line of site. It may be that they were blocked from view, or you were. Despite the repeated accusations by those certain parents, the referees really don’t have it in for you!
Educate Your Team
Upon engaging in a dialogue with the referee, where they explain their perspective, I can then translate to the players why they called a foul or violation. I then provide specific instruction on what the player should do differently to avoid the same call in the future. Even if you disagree with the call, you have an opportunity to teach your team and reinforce the behavior you are seeking in the kids. And possibly, by having the referees hear your explanation, you might provide some insight to the referee on how that call should be made in the future.
Typically, at this point, the referee either gives me a nod in agreement and appreciation or they might actually engage the player directly to help further explain. Gaining influence through intimidation and bullying has no place in sports, the workplace or life. A Coach demonstrating this behavior in front of young players isn’t leading and it is not developing the type of people that will be successful and impactful in life. It is transferring blame and seeking excuses.
As a coach and leader, it’s important to model the behavior you want to instill in your players. Taking the opportunity to show respect, understand another perspective and then learn from that perspective is a model that will benefit them long after their playing days are over. Developing impactful adults is the legacy every coach should strive for now and Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.