Blog Post – Umps and Refs

Last night in New York, the manager of the Yankees was ejected and later suspended for one game after a tirade directed at the home plate umpire.  While YouTube is full of manager ejections that are often entertaining and sometimes downright hilarious (case in point:, this one struck a chord with me and generally just didn’t give me the warm and fuzzies, as they say.  I will try to explain here why.

The Sportsnet article here sums up the incident and includes some video.


As the article states, the umpire himself was a rookie.  The video shows that, yes, he blew some calls.  Yes, I realize that this happened in the pros.  When you get to the NHL as a referee or the majors as an umpire, you are expected to get it right.  (** Although in the NHL playoffs this year we did see some pretty serious errors that changed the course of the playoffs in some cases … another blog post to come on those).  People’s livelihoods (both players, managers, and officials) are on the line every day.  The expectations are high.

So why am I writing about this?  After almost 30 years officiating our great game of hockey, I’ve seen a lot.  I’ve had tirades directed at myself or my partners during a game, and I’ve witnessed outbursts towards my officials while supervising games.  This outburst in the Yankees game reminds me of something I see from time to time.

Especially at the lower levels, where both the players on the ice are learning to play, and the officials on the ice are learning to officiate, the coaches sometimes take on the responsibility not only to coach the players, but to coach the officials.  Coaches … please tread carefully here.  While you may feel like you are helping the official get better, it can often do the opposite.

Imagine yourself as a 13 year old kid who has just been hired into our (or any) association as a new official.  They have beaten out many other great candidates to get the job, based on their hockey experience, skating, rule knowledge, and other experiences that pertain to the role.  They have been through their clinic, passed their Hockey Canada Officiating Program exam, have done multiple on ice training sessions with supervisors, and now they are out there, refereeing a real hockey game.  In their first few months they are just starting to figure out positioning, their signals, how to follow the play, how to stay out of the way but be in position to see, and so much more.  It is a lot to take in, not to mention dealing one of the largest and most complex rule books in sports.  There are approximately a million things running through their heads as they try to figure this out, and call the best game that they can, so the players can play.

Now take all that, and add into the equation an adult person, many years older than them, larger than them, and louder than them.  Then add another 2 feet to their height because they are standing on top of the players bench and looking down at them.  Now this person is yelling for an offside at the moment it happens, without the official even having a millisecond to make the decision themselves.  I say yelling because most coaches are yelling, not because they want to yell at the referee, but because they end up developing loud voices whether they like it or not, from trying for the 1000th time to get little Johnny or little Jane to come to the bench for a line change.  Then they are telling the referee that they missed a penalty in the corner, “That was a body check, that’s a penalty”.  Again, maybe not “yelling”, but to the official, it often seems like it.  To the coach, they’re trying to help.  To the official, it’s intimidating.

When I watch the video of the Yankees manager, I feel like in his head, he actually thinks he is helping that umpire get better.  The fact is, the umpire is in the major leagues, and he will be reviewing the video from his entire game.  He will know that he blew those calls, and he will not be happy with himself.  The league supervisors will work with him on positioning or sight lines or whatever it is that umpires do to get better.  It’s not the tirade directed at him that makes him better, it’s the process that he was going to go through anyway, because he’s a professional.

Now back to our 13 year old.  Instead of this “coaching” from the bench helping them, it hurts their confidence.  They start second guessing themselves and going in the wrong direction.  Instead of going on instinct and their training, they are waiting for the reaction of the coach.  Eventually they tend to not want to blow the whistle at all, and quit.  (** The number of officials who officiate for 1 year and don’t return, are huge).

We conducted somewhere around a thousand supervisions in District B last year.  We don’t have a supervisor at every game, but odds are that if your team is playing, there’s a reasonable chance that there is a supervisor in the stands, with goal of helping make the officials better.  Let them make mistakes.  Let them learn from them.  Coach your players, and please let us coach the refs.

Craig MacKay, DBOA Director of Supervisions (& Web Stuff)

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