The Wisdom of Dan Louie...


This is one of our primary tools in exhibiting our professionalism and overall approach to officiating.  It is important that we realize that often how we say something can out weight what we say.  By the same token, we are often scrutinized and evaluated by the messages we emit and transmit.  I define emit as those intangibles such as tone, body language, and word choice.  Transmit is the message which is actually sent and can be garbled by how/what we emit.  Think of your message as one being sent into space and how it can become interrupted and even bent by the effects of solar energy, physical obstructions, and weather. 

Classic example: The message we often “think” we are sending is, “Coach, please help me out and keep the players in the team box.”  The words “please help” appear to be very courteous and in the spirit of good will.  However, often there is “static” and the receiver hears,  “Get these players back!”  Then we get the automatic,  “Just worry about the field and not the sidelines!”  Or my other favorite is, “Great, you miss the clip and the PI but you see ONE of my kids two inches over the line.”  To maintain our goal of perceived professionalism we must rely on good COMMUNICATION skills. These skills are vital to our image as officials. 

I am fairly accurate in my assessment of officials by several observations which involve COMMUNICATION.  How are fouls reported?  This is one little detail which tells me volumes about an official.  If the official tends not to go in and get the information it signals me that he is not confident or he is lazy...he wants to take short cuts and once we learn to take a short cut in one area we begin to take them in more and more until we are at a point where we are merely going through the motions and not dedicating ourselves to do the best job possible.  How can he relay good and accurate information if he does not know what happened?  An official who gets within five yards and then merely yells the information is setting up a wall between him and the coach.  He is also indicating that he is not confident and/or is intimidated.  Coaches are like piranha...they smell blood, they swarm, and then they go into a feeding frenzy.  How and what is reported- Choice of words is important.  Don’t merely tell the coach that 77 committed a personal or un-sportsmanlike foul...get specifics and report them. “77 spit in 22’s face.” “33 is reaching around the waist and not letting 65 through.” I know it is easier to say holding but the extra time it takes reaps tremendous rewards. 

Speak in very clear tone with no hint of emotion. No need to yell if you are right in front of the coach.  Slow pattern down so as not to create a sense of panic or uncertainty.  No need to debate.  Coaches disagree, hear them out, acknowledge that you have heard them and then move away.  Often we attempt to buy our way into the good graces of coaches by trying to prove we are right by citing book and chapter when the end result is that we bury ourselves by citing misinformation.  If the coach has more questions I offer, “Sir, I don’t have time now to discuss this but if you want to take a time out I can certainly take more time with you. ” Also, if I don’t know something I will tell the coach, “Let me ask and I’ll get back to you at the next natural break in the game.”  

Another key ingredient is how we talk to the players.  Remember that at every level which we officiate these young men are just than...YOUNG.  We need to set the tone and serve as examples.  If we yell at players is it any surprise when they then yell at us?  I address all players as, “Sir”, “captain”, or by number.  I never call them son, or boy.   Show respect and you increase your odds of getting the same in return. Speak to them in a calm tone which indicates that you are not emotionally involved in the events.  Repeat information if you read that they do not understand what you are saying.  I will add that there are times when we need to be a little authoritarian in tone but I try to utilize that component after exhausting all exception is when there is a situation which requires more severe action; such as a fight or “dissing” going on. 

Look directly at the person whom you are speaking to and also listen to them.  Don’t start looking for the ball or the umpire after giving captain his gives the appearance that what the captain has to say is unimportant.  We have lots of time and lots of ways to make up for lost time.  If a player comes to me and complains about something I never tell him to have a captain take care of it. Each player should be made to feel that he will be heard.  I always ask players for specifics like number etc and then tell him that I will watch for it.  If I warn a player about something or have called a foul on him I make an effort to commend him for a good legal play.  This signals to that player, and to the team, that I am paying attention.  It also helps our COMMUNICATION lines to deal with positives as well as negatives. 

In short, it puts the fun back into the ball game. 

 SIDEBAR  a good umpire and referee can work wonders for the climate of a game as they have the opportunity to talk with players between each snap. Don’t hesitate to do preventative officiating during dead ball periods. It is amazing how the rapport an ump/ref can build by utilizing these periods to dialogue with players. By the same token, the side officials can work the same magic by their interactions with sidelines during these same periods.  There is a major difference between having “rabbit ears” and showing teams that we are open to positive COMMUNICATION.

As a referee I always look up to the Press Box when giving signals.  I do this as I feel it is professional and that eye contact with the Box shows that I have command and presence.  COMMUNICATION with my fellow officials is also imperative.  When I need to ask another official for information I do not want to give any keys that I disagree with the call or the action.....the post game is the time for that.  Do not destroy your “team” by indicating dissatisfaction. I have had occasions where I have had to enforce a judgment call which I knew to be bad but to do so creates more harm than good. If I use the immediate time to “teach” the official I know that he will spend the rest of the game thinking about my action and thus he is no longer focused on the game at hand.  

In NCAA games, if I feel the pass may have been uncatchable I never ask the covering official, “Do you think the pass was catchable?”  This sends many messages which are not helpful.  One, he may be intimidated by my presence and feel that he now needs to say it was uncatchable merely because I planted the seed. It can also send the signal that I disagree with the call and am challenging his ability. Instead I ask, “Did you see the pass?” Open question which plants no seeds and yet still gives the official an opportunity to rethink his position.

In Fed games, the same is true when situations apply. I have also learned that to ask a question more than once is not helpful. It only prolongs the agony and increases the chances of COMMUNICATION lines being disrupted

COMMUNICATE as a team.  It is never “he” had PI; it is 77 committed PI.  Or “we” have PI on 77.  Better yet, “there was PI on 77”.   Signals are a very important part of our communication.  Make them brisk and professional.  Look at your self in the mirror as you practice signals.  Crisp signals send a clear message of our attitude towards the game and ourselves as officials.  Enough pontificating. Here are my objectives for COMMUNICATION: 

1.     Pre-game  Be a listener: no dressing, no side chatter, look at the person doing the talking.

2.     Pre Kick off  Introduce self to my sideline and shake coach’s hand. Look him in the eye and explain I will be reporting all fouls to him or his appointed agent. I offer that it may take me a minute depending on game situation but that I will always get to him. Introduce self to chain crew and go over my check list. Smile, be courteous and professional. Learn their names so I can talk to them on a personal basis if need be.

3.     Game  Address players as people...sir, captain, number use calm tone-do not yell, go slow, shorten up personal comfort zone.  Use the right words...think before I speak get proper data from other officials before talking with captains or coach.  Do not get caught up in the tempo of the game...relax and work the game same tempo from kick off to final whistle.  Step in if I feel a mistake is being made and offer my view... then withdraw without allowing my ego to get in the way of possibility that I may be wrong.  Look everyone with whom I speak in the eye record all pertinent data on my game card so that I can decipher it if needed.  Very important that all officials document game situation at the end of quarters 1/3. Verbalize information before proceeding with duties. work on signals...30 minutes per week all year long.  Pay attention to timing devise...we should all be aware of the status of clock and time. HL may be the only one exempt as he does have other tasks to attend.