Are you on their list?
What does it take improve our relationships with coaches? Are you on the list when the coaches tell the assigner which umpires they would like to see umpiring their games? Let us admit it – there are some officials who gel with some coaches and, statistically, the ones who get along get further ahead. What’s their secret?
When coaches are asked why these names are on the list, two frequent replies are: it comes down to general personality — a sense for the coaches and officials being in it together, AND consistency of calls. We all strive for consistency, but the esprit de corps thing may surprise you. How can we be” in it together” when our job is to do what is best for the game and the coaches’ job is to do what is best for the team?
It is all about relationships, and how you get along with coaches is a big part of that. You do not have to go to umpire Charm School as a prerequisite for success – officials who overtly pander to coaches seldom go far. But learning how to empathize is important. When you understand how coaches think, it is easier to know what annoys them or makes them comfortable with you. That is all well and good; but it may contrast with your style as officials. We call games a certain way and have standards, which mesh well with some coaches’ outlooks, but not others. With all that, there is still a great middle ground, where accepting that there are some forces at work and then working proactively in response makes for more success as an official.
We need to understand some basic things about coaches at the college level. Community college coaches may be getting their first college coaching job and may consider the job to be fulfillment of a significant ambition and a step toward their ultimate goal of a D1 coaching contract. But even at this level there is the demand for winners. Theirs is probably not a full-time position and they are under demand to put time into their efforts to produce a competitive product against the resistance of family, profession, the limitations of players and their own stamina.
At the higher levels, the pressure and expectations also are at a higher level. This may be their full-time job; it is for most of the D1 coaches. This is not a game to them; it is now their livelihood and their continuing employment is contingent on their success.
Many good relationships with coaches might be accidental. If a coach and official see the game-related things the same way, few bad things happen. If the coach is a win-at-all person who looks for loops in the rules or uses umpires to incite their players or fans, we may have a problem. One of us has to give in if the relationship is to be smoother. Accept that it helps to give a little when the conflict is insignificant – sense when coaches are trying to be sensible about a bad situation and you need to be a facilitator not an impediment – team A has committed multiple errors and appears unable to help it. Think about relaxing your standard a little and serving the teams. Work with the coaches to become part of a solution. It may see like heresy, but many coaches respect that over rigid consistency; in that regard, you can all be in it together.
Accept that your style needs to be flexible: Some crews develop reputations for being the threesome-of-choice for certain games – if the last meeting was contentious, send this crew because they will clean it up. For the rest of us, the game is what it is: it is played by two teams with strengths and weaknesses and, if it makes for a fair game, let them set their tone. Take charge to avert conflict, not create it.
The best officials advance not by being the best rules people, the best athletes or the most committed, although those are important. They get there by being the most successful. They take each game as it comes and respond to what they see.