Words from Behind the Whistle [Part 2]

As you may remember, we recently took teams from Texas and Georgia to Coach T’s Camp at Lee University. While there we heard from Phil Cudd, one of Coach T’s former players and a current official for Tennessee public high schools and one NCAA conference.

Cudd presented us with a list of things that officials wish they could tell Christian school coaches. This goes hand in hand with our last blog post dealing with the relationships between Christian school athletic directors and referees or official assignors. All coaches and athletic directors at Christian schools will benefit from reviewing these thoughts, along with our added notes.


1) First impressions are a big deal.

Both Cudd and the assignors that we spoke with talked about the importance of having someone meet the officials upon their arrival.

A positive and proactive beginning will make up for shortcomings in other areas.

This greeter should be the game administrator. A third party, like a game administrator, gives the officials assurance that no matter what happens in the gym that night, someone has their back.


2) The more you talk, the less credible you become … even if you are always right.

As coach, if you’re constantly complaining, your complaints will become nothing but background noise in the gym.

Common sense dictates that if you want to be heard as a credible source, you can’t always be talking.

If you develop the skill of not constantly yapping from the sidelines, then officials will listen up when you finally do speak.


3) Don’t make statements, ask [intelligent] questions.

We added the intelligent part. Too many times we’ve seen coaches try the “ask questions” strategy as a ploy to get calls.

If you’re going to ask the official about certain plays, ask in a way that will help you better coach that team.

Consider the following statements in the context of a coach confronting an official regarding an attempted charge that was called for a blocking foul:

“That’s a charge! His feet were set!” (Bad. This is a statement. You won’t get anywhere.)

“Was that not a charge? Weren’t his feet set?” (Still bad. You’re making declarative statements with question marks tacked on the end.)

“What can my player do to get that charge called next time?” (Good. You are showing the official that you want to coach your kid to play by the rules and get the call.)


4) Don’t try to work the officials. Good officials can’t be worked.

You may be thinking: “The officials that we get aren’t any good.”

While that may be true, working a poor official during the regular season doesn’t really get you anything.

When you try to work an official in a state tournament you’ll end up looking foolish when they immediately shut you down.

Bottom line: coach your team. Working the refs isn’t part of your job description, and it likely won’t get you very far.


5) Don’t talk to officials during live play.

Getting in the ref’s ear as he runs by your bench after a “missed call” usually does nothing but distract him from the game.

If the refs are distracted, they won’t be able to make the best calls possible.

As mentioned earlier, you’re probably just part of the background noise at that point anyway.


6) Adjust to the calls of each game, sometimes each half.

This is an important point to remember when you’re playing away from home.

Different associations and officials focus on different things. Every officiating crew has a crew leader that sets the tone for each game.

While consistency is ideal from game to game, the truth is every crew is different.

As coach, you need to help your kids adjust. That’s what great teams do.


7) So many teachable moments are lost while talking to or bench-bashing an official.

This one is pretty simple. Instead of griping at the ref, talk to your bench during dead balls about what just happened.

For better or worse, coaches are always teaching. Our reactions teach our players how to respond to conflict in a game.

Even if we’re just confiding in an assistant coach about a bad call, our players see this. Don’t give them a reason to bad-mouth an official. They need to be focused on the game.


8) Speaking with officials privately during dead balls is the best way to get results.

This one goes right along with number five. If you see something that’s not being called, then you’re better off speaking privately with officials.

Yelling things from the sidelines puts them on the defensive and tempts them to respond publicly.

Most confrontations between coaches and officials happen when the two engage in arguments at a distance.

If you want to remind officials of calls being missed, say things to your kids like, “Play through that hand check” or “go into the contact.” Statements like this are directed at your players but can still alert refs to problems if overheard.


9) Don’t ask for calls that aren’t there.

This one speaks for itself. We’ll move on.


10) Don’t say the following phrases during the game.

“And one!” — If there was a foul, they would have called it.

“Blow your whistle!” — That’s the fastest way to a technical foul.

“Call it both ways!” — Let the fans handle this call. The ref didn’t wake up that morning with the intention of cheating your junior high girls out of win.


11) Fight the natural tendency to fault officials when kids aren’t playing well.

Everyone looks for an excuse when things aren’t going their way; it’s human nature. However, as a coach you can’t blame the official because our kids can’t shoot, serve, or catch.

Sometimes, you get beat because the other team was better than you.


12) Blaming officials for poor outcome teaches our kids to make excuses.

Whether the refs were poor or not, is this what we want our kids to get from sports?

“If you don’t take care of your job in the first 30 minutes of the game, don’t expect the officials to get everything right in the last two minutes.” — Coach T

Refs miss calls, but we can’t highlight their errors when we coaches and our players also make errors that cost us the game.

Now we’ve seen it from the official’s point of view and from the assigner’s point of view.

Determine today that you will create a hospitable and responsible culture towards officials in your athletic department.

Quotes from the Lecture

“Be better than they are bad.” — Coach T, regarding officials

“If an official doesn’t know he’s bad, then telling him certainly won’t help.” — Phil Cudd

“The guy with the whistle always gets the last word” — Coach T

What points would you add to this list? Any other thoughts?


Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of TheAthleticDirectors.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Words from Behind the Whistle [Part 2]

  1. #4 is so true! On several occasions, I have witnessed this work against a coach who is trying to work the officials! Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Thanks for the comments, Matt. All the content this week has been collected independent of each other, but they all pretty much have the same resounding theme. We need to remember that our job is to coach the team and be mindful of how are decisions can impact the atmosphere of a game.