Talk as little as possible

The coach should introduce themselves at the start of the game, wish them all the best and then say thank you at the end of the game. Particularly when coaching juniors, this may be the extent of communication with officials.

Yelling is a Distraction

There may be times when the coach wishes to clarify a decision that the referee has made or seek other information. Yelling at the official while the game is going on is not an appropriate way to raise the matter and is likely to distract them from their job of officiating the play that is going on at that moment.

Instead, the coach should wait for a break in play and to then speak with the official in a conversational tone. If the coach’s concern is in regards to the score or a timing issue, this should first be raised with the scoretable and they will notify the referees if necessary.

Ask a Question

Once the coach has the official’s attention they should ask the question which they want answered. Simply saying “that was a foul” or “didn’t you see that the screener moved” is unlikely to be helpful.

Instead the coach should speak to the official to:

  • Seek clarification of a ruling that has been made (which may include both calls that were made and calls that were not made) (e.g. “my player was standing still well before the shooter started their lay-up so why was a block foul called?”);
  • Bring something to the attention of the referee and ask them to look at it (e.g. they are moving when setting their ball screens);
  • Raise a concern with regard to the score or timing (although this should first be raised with the score table).

Question Asked, Question Answered

Once the coach has asked a question they should accept the answer. They may disagree with it (particularly if it was about a matter of interpretation – was it a “block” or “charge”), but simply repeating the same question several times is not productive.

There is little point in engaging in an argument with the official. For example, the coach may believe there was contact and a foul should have been called. The official may explain that they did not see any unlawful contact. The coach re-iterating that they believe there was a foul is unlikely to change the official’s belief that there wasn’t a foul.

The coach should turn their attention to the efforts of their players and the team. Like the fable of the “boy who cried wolf”, the more often a coach questions or complains to the officials, the less likely it is that they will consider that the coach is saying anything of merit and the less likely it is that the officials will take what the coach is saying into account.

Respectful communication is the key

The key to having a good relationship with officials is the same as any inter- personal relationship and coaches should look to build relationships over the course of a season or a tournament. Being respectful toward the official and the role that they have is key. The coach should have conversations with the official, not attempt to dictate to them or berate them.

Before the game is an excellent opportunity to start to build a rapport with the official and to raise with the official anything of concern to the coach. For example:

  • “Last time we played this team, there was a lot of contact in the post and we felt that their players were pushing us out of position”
  • “I’ve noticed during the season that a lot of latitude has been given to the defenders in the post and allowing them to push the offensive player off the post. Has there been any direction in this regard?”
  • Asking the official “how have you found the season? Are there any particular trends you’ve seen?”

Work with the officials

A coach is responsible for the conduct of team staff and players and a coach’s behaviour can have a significant impact upon the behaviour of the fans and spectators.

For example, if a player is distracted by the officials, and particularly if they are starting to complain to referees, the coach should take action. That action could be:

  • Presenting the player’s concern to the referees – for example, “my point guard feels that he is getting pushed a lot by #5 who hand checks every time. Could you have a look at it please?”
  • Take the player from the game to “cool down” – it is certainly better that the coach takes this action rather than the official calling a technical foul
  • Changing tactics to relieve the player from a particular situation – e.g. moving to “5 Out” if the player is concerned at contact in the post.

The coach can also influence the behaviour of spectators and the most obvious example of this is that the more the coach complains to the officials, the more spectators will see that as an acceptable action and join in.

Instead, the coach should set an expectation for the team’s spectators to focus their energy on positively supporting the team, rather than commenting upon the referees.

Expect Mistakes

Officials will make mistakes in every game – just as players and coaches do. Officials work together as a team to “cover” the whole court. Basketball is a very fast-moving game and sometimes players may move quicker than the officials can, however most times officials will be in a better position than the coach is to see what happened.

Officials make hundreds of decisions every game, mostly in a split second and the official barely has time to think about the last decision before needing to make their next decision.

If they do make a mistake, the official (like a player) should then be focussing on the “next play”. Coaches should assist this by making their communication at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way and making sure their players communicate similarly appropriately (if at all) with officials.