Monday, July 25, 2011

Effective communication with the referees

I specify referees in this blog because in the course of a game, Non-Skating Officials and Bench Staff should not be talking with each other. NSOs should only be communicating with themselves (if necessary) the Skating Officials (referees) or perhaps the skaters in specific instances (Penalty Box to Skater: Number of seconds left, Stand and Time).

Neither NSO nor Bench Staff should initiate conversations with the other.

Many times the Bench Staff shouldn't be communicating with the referees unless it's an official review or a quick discussion about points or penalties in the time allowed (30 seconds between jams to a possible Team Timeout).

A Coach or other personnel yelling and screaming at the sidelines sends a definite message to the Head Referee and the other officials: This guy is a douchebag. They won't say it. They may not even talk about it in the ref room. But they're thinking it. Think about the message your sending when you're jumping up and down and screaming at the referees: It's aggressive and demeaning. No one wants to deal with that. By prescribing to the above actions, you're building a wall instantly between the head referee and yourself.

A step down from that is the Coach who occasionally gripes about calls (made or missed). While this person is a pleasant respite from the above, it can still send the same signal if it's excessive.

I generally float between this and the next example, depending on the level of officiating and how my team seems to be performing.

Coaches who utilize their moments to have a quick discussion about points/penalties or use their timeouts effectively to address certain situations are beneficial to their team. A Head Referee is more likely to actively listen to a Coach who calmly steps out the middle says something brief and exits, or one who effectively communicates something that happened to gameplay no matter how complex the events.

The last example, nearly as extreme as the first (and I've NEVER seen these before) was a Coach who simply stands on the sidelines and never communicates to the officials. But this can happen. Perhaps your Coach only runs the lineups, while you have a skating Captain and Co-Captain, but often the Coach watching some of the game and may react accordingly.

Here are a few tips I recommend for communicating with referees:

Utilize your time
The time breaks that occur before a bout generally include (but not limited to) the 30 seconds between jams, a Team Timeout (1 minute), an Official Timeout (30 seconds to 2 minutes), an Official Review/Challenge (30 seconds to 2 minutes or more, Halftime Intermission (15 minutes or so).

Recognizing how much time you have available is crucial with any conversation including an official. Thirty seconds only affords you the opportunity for a quick question-answer: Hey how many points did White Jammer score that last pass? Or Why didn't she earn all four points on that last complete pass? I never saw a hand signal. And can easily be a quick request: "Hey , can you make your hand signals big?" or "Can you please hold up the points for the jammers' entire pass?" Thirty seconds doesn't allow for a lot of time. It's enough to do a quick count of how many Team Timeouts and Official Reviews are available to each team (Don't just keep track of yours, as you want to know if the other team has a timeout available or not.

A Team Timeout gives you a full minute before gameplay resumes. Any Team Timeout does this. So if your opponent calls a Team Timeout and you have a quick question about a call or points awarded, this is the perfect opportunity to ask the Head Referee about it. It won't cause you to lose a timeout, but you are effectively awarded the same benefit. "I get one free minute with the Head Ref, and they lose a timeout? Bonus!"

The main thing to keep in mind here is that the Head Ref may not want you to talk to them unless there is an Official Review/Challenge, but generally this is not the case. If they have the time and you haven't been a belligerent douchebag, they're usually more than accommodating.

If there is an Official Timeout called, it's your right as a Team Captain or Alternate to request to know what the OTO was about. Allow the referees to meet before asking what the OTO is about. Don't jump into the herd immediately as they will likely ask you to return to the bench.

Official Reveiws/Challenges are effective ways to discuss gameplay aspects and why something was called something one way or why points were scored in the manner they were. As a general rule (and I'll cover this in the Pick your moments subsection) I don't use an Official Review if I know the outcome won't drastically change the landscape of the game, which usually involves points or a jammer penalty. In an Official Timeout, the time is usually determined by the Officials, if they're ready to return to gameplay then you may not get much of a break.

Halftime Intermission becomes an effective time to talk with the Head Ref at the beginning. Generally, the Referees return to their room and discuss certain aspects of Officiating and other nuances about the game as it relates to them. If you've been a douchebag, I guarantee, every referee now knows you're a douchebag and your ability to effectively communicate with the referees is drastically devalued.

It's also important to note that you want to inform the Head Referee that you'd like a quick word at Halftime before teams report to the locker room. If you wait until after the locker room it's less likely that message will be relayed to the rest of the Ref Crew.

This could be to address your concern about illegal blocks, asking for bigger hand signals or other things that will help the flow of gameplay. Safety and gameplay are a Head Referees (and by default his/her crew) biggest responsibilities, so if you need to hit those points, now is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Pick your moments
The original examples of Bench Personnel highlights some of the wrong and right Coaching personalities and these can often affect when you can and can't communicate with the Referees and how effective those communications will be effective.

Knowing how much time you need to convey your point is crucial. Is it quick and to the point or at best a short Q&A, then 30 seconds – I don't need a timeout. Is it a complex series of actions and penalties that prevented your jammer from scoring points, then maybe an Official Review is necessary.

There's no real tried and true system that will work for everyone, just getting the experience in those situations. If you're the aggressive jumper/screamer dude, you'll want to be extremely frugal with your moments and know that they count (not be dismissed and forgotten in the next jam).

If you're the quiet coach, you'll likely have more opportunity to talk with the refs in short quick bursts but if you begin to affect the Head Referee's ability to do his/her job, then you're going to be sent back to your bench.

Sometimes, you're team just needs a break and you don't want to burn a timeout at the end of the first half. Feel free to use your Official Review on a play that happened in the last jam.

You do not want to discuss a play that happened three jams ago, and you certainly don't want to address made or missed calls at this point. But it can be something about a review of points or something. The end of the first half is the perfect time for a quick Official Review if you need it before the second half, but you don't want to make something up on the fly because you could accidently burn a timeout if the Head Ref deems your call unreviewable.

Adjust your attitude
If you feel like you're in one of the above groups of Coaches/Bench Personnel and you often find that you're not able to effectively communicate with the referees, it might be a perfect opportunity to move down a step and see if that fixes the problem. Analyze your actions and word choices during a game. Does it merit being called (borderline) abusive? Let's tone down some of that behavior. No one wants a lobotomized Coach, but stepping back from that personality will do wonders for your team.

Are you screaming at the referees? Bring it down a notch and just use your outside voice. Make yourself be heard, but not spitting in a referees face. If your upset at a call when you call a Timeout/Official Review, as the Head Ref if you can collect yourself before jumping into the details. We're all passionate about the sport, but we don't want to turn that passion into a weapon against ourselves. A Head Ref will generally understand if you need a quick moment to breathe and calm down.

Changing your body language can have a distinct impact on whether the Head Referee is actively listening. Arms crossed and bending forward in their face is not how anyone likes to be addressed. Allow the head referee to come to you, stopping where they are most comfortable. Put your arms behind your back, unless you're reading off notes. If the venue is loud, you may have to use your outside voice, but use a prompt like "Okay" or "So" to judge quickly whether you may have to adjust your speaking volume. If you are softspoken and it's a loud venue, when you say "So" and the referee moves forward to hear better that is not your cue to start yelling, but maybe to speak up a little bit or move forward yourself. Finding a comfortable middle ground is important for both of you because you want to be heard and you want to hear also.

Be clear, distinct and to the point
Remember what I said about Referees wanting to keep a flow to gameplay? Yeah, well they don't want to hear long essays about what you did over your summer vacation, so get to the point. If it's incredibly complicated have something that you can jot notes down about key events so that you can reference them, but keep the bar graphs and the pie charts at home.

Learning to boil down your language to be understandable and clear is important. If the Head Referee is relaying information back to the crew, you want to make it easy to remember lest it gets lost in translation. Remember playing the game of Telephone when you were a kid: I tell you something, you tell someone else, they tell someone until it gets to the end and the message is completely different than when it started? You want to prevent that as much as possible.

It's really nice when the entire herd comes over to listen to you, but if you have some criticism about a particular referee's call, it may not be prudent to include everyone on that conversation. As a whole Zebras don't like if you criticize someone else in the Herd, but if it's having a drastic effect on gameplay maybe it should be addressed … to the Head Referee only.

Understand the rules
When you call for an official review, you want to make sure something happened that contradicts something in the rules. You don't' want to say "She passed all those players and was awarded points, but she shouldn't have earned them." Nothing about that statement says anyone did anything wrong, unless "she" is referring to a blocker. Instead say "White Jammer passed two players while she was Out of Bounds, re-entered the track in front of those players, exited the pack and was awarded four points in error." You need to learn the rules and be able to articulate those words in a manner a Referee will understand your complaint. You don't have to know the rules word for word, but you should have an understanding of them enough to convey your case.

I will say however it is quite impressive when a Coach or Captain knows the rules front and backwards and can say "Section 6.11 of the rules specifically defines cutting as …. And Section says the Jammer is ineligible for points by committing penalties on opposing players and not repassing them legally. defines the new scoring pass, thus she's ineligible to repass those players. By cutting the two players she should have been assessed a major track cut, not awarded those points, and directed off the track. Instead she was allowed to continue the jam and was awarded those points and any subsequent points in error."

It sounds like a lot, but it's imperative that if you're going to be a Coach or Captain (or Alternate Captain), you'd better know the rules.

Learn officiating key words
I learned a lot at a recent WFTDA referee clinic in Lincoln, Nebraska, but the biggest gleam of knowledge came through the course of the entire bout. While it was geared toward referee language, and boiling down terms and descriptions into a standardized language, I learned that to talk with referees as a Coach, utilizing that language can greatly enhance the effectiveness of my communication with refs.

Learning the standardized language improves clarification of what we're saying to each other.

Gameplay, Impact Spectrum, Inititator/Inititate and Counterblock are all terms that referees use. Did I see a non-call and think it might have warranted a minor or a major? "Hey I saw White Blocker #32 Back Block Black Blocker #12, but there wasn't a call? Was it deemed as No Impact?"

A ref who responds "Yes, I saw it -- It had No Impact on the opposing skater or Gameplay, so I did not call it," will generally get a thumbs up in my book. A ref who says "I did not see it" probably won't win my favor the next time he/she misses a call.

Understanding the Impact Spectrum can help you communicate to a Head Referee, and it goes something like: No Impact (incidental, didn't affect opposing player), Minor (affected opposing skater, but she didn't not lose relative position), Major (affected Gameplay/Player lost relative position), Expulsion (Egregious, reckless, negligent.ect.).

By that same token, learning the referee hand signals is important. As you're discussing a complex action in an Official Review using Hand Signals to convey penalties or other actions will accentuate your point, plus demonstrate the level of knowledge you have about the rules to the offiicials..