What You Do Not Say to Coaches

In today’s situation with social media and other venues, anything and everything an umpire says may be heard, whether on the field or off the field. Never make any off-handed comments about a person that may be construed to affect an individual’s reputation.

This becomes even more important when umpires are on the field. Umpires may use many different words and phrases when having a conversation, discussion, debate or heated exchange with a coach. But there are some comments that should never come out an umpire’s mouth. Some of these words and/or phrases should never be part of an umpire’s lexicon, e.g., foul language. Here are some of the other things which should be off limits for professional umpires who successfully manage the interaction with coaches.

“One more word and you’re out of here!”

This is the classic overused phrase that needs to be “ejected” from an umpire’s conversation with a coach. Umpires should remove any other useless threats from their coach interaction vocabulary as well. What happens if the coach comes back with a compliment just to test you, or comes back with “word”? Are you prepared to eject the coach for that? Probably not. That is why “one more word” is worthless at best and adding fuel to the fire at worst. Do not commit yourself to an action. It is a no-win situation.

“Shut up.”

This is a good example of adding more gasoline to a fire, perhaps one which is just in its early stages but will explode into an all-out conflagration when used. It is antagonistic and unprofessional. Coaches should be allowed to have their say. If they cross the line and say something that warrants a reaction, use your tools within the rules — informal warning, formal warning, or ejection — to “shut up” the coach. That is the professional approach. That should be your approach.

“You’re wrong!”

If you refrain from telling a coach that he or she is wrong, that does not mean you do not think or know, in some cases, that the coach is wrong. It simply means you do not say it, because it would not lead to a positive result. Suggesting the coach is “right” all the time is not the answer either. Explaining what happened on a play or why you called what you called will let the coach know he or she is wrong (or right) without saying it. Sometimes telling the coach, “That is not what I saw,” or “I’ll check the play after the game” serves to mitigate the situation and allows both parties to move on.

“Are you serious?”

Sometimes what comes out of the mouths of coaches is so far-fetched and ridiculous that you want to question their mindset. But that is not the right approach. Coaches have a big stake in the outcome of the game, and as a result, rational thinking can be lost at times. Assume they are serious. Keep your sense of humor about you and do not take some statements too seriously; you will better survive and thrive on the field.

“That is not my call.”

Officiating is a team sport, just like any of the others. You and your partners are in it together, so you need to act like it. This statement can be taken to mean two things: “My partner is to blame,” or, “I saw what happened, but decided not to call it.” Both are bad. While it may not have been a call in your area, there are plenty of things you can say without shifting the negative spotlight on your partner. If you did see the play and could have helped your partner call something he or she missed, it is your fault for not doing it. Getting the play right is your number-one priority.

“It is just a game.”

You may argue this one by thinking: – it is just a game; coaches should not act as if it is a life-or-death situation. No one is suggesting that some coaches need to learn some perspective. The key is that it is not your job to teach it to them, and that phrase is not the way to teach that. You might as well be saying, “Who cares? I don’t,” because that is how it is going to be interpreted. Games are important to the coaches and participants, no matter the level or sport, and that is not going to change. Just as officiating is important to you. Respecting the game and the participants is important, whether or not it is reciprocated.

This list can go on and on. Maybe you have heard other no-no comments come out of your fellow umpires’ mouths or your own that should not have. What you say can make or break your career. So, remain calm and in control during talks with coaches, and think before you speak. That will help eliminate a good percentage of problems.