Most governing bodies in sports share the admonishment to officials to neither seek out or avoid coaches after a game. Their thinking is that approaching one may be interpreted as confrontation, which never helps anyone. Avoiding, meanwhile, is interpreted more and more as aloofness; if you simply “stand your ground,” it works best from the officials’ standpoint. If he or she wants to offer congratulations on a game well done – great! If there’s a fair question to be asked, it should be no different than during the game and handled just as appropriately. Anything else would show the coach to be casting the first stone – and at that point the official should get away from the nut.
Today’s question, by corollary, is whether interactions between coaches and officials away form the heat of competition – perhaps months before or after the first game – should be treated any differently. First, I must admit that I’m a little aloof by most standards, compared to others. I once heard a person described as so outgoing that he refused to let you not be his friend… I’m not him and, as an officiating leader, that might be OK if my reputation is for keeping a respectful distance from people; as a mater of fact, that’s helped me a few times in my career, where a suggestion of collusion could be quickly disregarded. So, where i’m coming from is that while it’s good to keep a respectful distance in relations with coaches, leaders should never turn down an ‘avocational’ opportunity to interact with them; To my mind, any opportunity you can seize to find commonality will be good for everyone too.
My biggest advice is that it makes sense to give coaches, or the coaching community, the opportunity to interact with you, your board or the membership at large as often as they desire. Having been a coach at one time, I’m well aware there’s often a big difference between how the coach acts when he or she is down four with eight seconds left and how the coach behaves as an invited speaker at your banquet or meeting. So many coaches will spill the missile codes over what they want, don’t want or hate about officials when the Booster Club isn’t watching. After all, they’re often teachers or some other professional too and see the mutual value of helping officials understand their expectations and attitudes. Note that I said mutual; often, your best officials played at fairly high levels of the sport, themselves, so they’re aware of what successful coaches are thinking and what drives them; that helps them be good officials. the rest of your group can stand to learn what coaches are thinking and how it meshes with other advice they’re receiving. Hence, one of the best places to be with them would be in a room with a well-stocked bar. Don’t worry about some coach showing up and disgorging on the first three rows of attendees; once an invitation is accepted, a coach can be counted on to behave, but not necessarily say things everyone will agree with. That’s fine, but the bottom line is that the coaches are there for the same reason your are.
OK, we got it: Help the coaches help us. But, what about another aspect? Should we be reaching out to coaches or conferences when a coach out there is causing trouble for you or looks really bad in that striped tie and needs to hear? Many coaches don’t fully understand the rules, but admit to it being one of the best reason for continuing to hire officials. Others have the outlook of an executioner and the ambition of a tyrant, leaving us wishing there was some way of getting through to this person when the lights are down. I’m sure you can offer other examples of these love / hate scenarios. Overtures to these kinds of personalities are out of bounds. If heir principal, spouse or the AD can’t get through to them, why can you? Even if you can get through to them, you’re still impinging on that respectful distance and asking for trouble even if it doesn’t always materialize.
Finally, what should our attitude be about coaches approaching us? What if they want a noble steed to speak to their parents’ night about helmet rules or some other aspect of the game? Maybe they want your or someone to come in after practice and watch the video of that controversial play from last Tuesday night. Perhaps they just want to ask an opinion of find a reference about a rule interpretation. Some just want to bleat about something that happened tonight and don’t want too much time to pass before they stop being mad. What should your policy be? In my book, policies are mostly to prevent the next lawsuit for the same thing. Ergo, you shouldn’t have a policy about how coaches can (be allowed to) approach you; there are just to many nuances to be prescriptive. Take each situation and each individual as a unique situation and treat it as an opportunity for improvement, at least initially. That’s another way of saying that one of the things which got you elected was your ability to do what’s best for your people. If the right thing is to be proactive, defensive of dismissive, that’s why you were elected to the position you have. If your feel for the situation ends up being wrong too often, you can only hope the person they vote in to replace you does better. The point is not to stop trying to keep communication lines – whether you like what your’re hearing or not – open until discretion dictates otherwise.
I can’t think of a great official who hasn’t developed effective communication skills. I don’t think there are many such association leaders either. Even when it’s a challenge to put up with all the different personalities, your first job is to do it anyway.
Work on behalf of your people and make the most of your available relationships with coaches.