Mental skills (9): Communication for Officials and Instructors

I vår artikkelserie "Mental Skills for Mentors and Referee Instructors" fra den meritterte dommerinstruktøren Alan Richardson fra England, bringer vi en ny artikkel som tar for seg elementer knyttet til dommerpsykologi. Serien på 10 artikler fokuserer på hvordan en mentor eller dommerinstruktør bør jobbe med å utvikle dommere, og ikke minst litt om de mentale ferdighetene som da er aktuelle. De fleste bør kunne plukke opp noen gode råd fra Richardsons artikler, både dommere og instruktører, og her kommer den åttende i serien. Dagens fokusområde er et viktig tema for både dommere og instruktører: "Communication for Officials and Instructors".

Part 9: Communication for Officials and Instructors

Communication and the Official

Basketball is a game involving groups of people in a social setting. No one can remain isolated from the variety of external pressures, to communicate. As always with pressure, individuals have the choice of avoiding challenge, coping with it or thriving on it. It is a well-known fact that people who cannot communicate, seldom succeed.

As officials reach higher levels, the problems that can destroy progress – injury, loss of form, non-selection, personal/professional problems etc; become more significant. Communication is the only way to start solving such problems. Officials need to have courage and confidence to seek help; no one should feel isolated, without someone to turn to. An Instructor/Mentor should be able to fill this role and assist officials in:

  • Building a positive support group within the Officials community – people you can go to who will listen and help.
  • Listen and learn from criticism – accept it as part of the learning process and developing excellence.
  • Be open with colleagues and become part of a supportive network of communication.
  • Develop good listening powers – you can learn from everyone.
  • Learn to maintain communication in emotional situations:
  1. Cope with the give and take of the competition.
  2. Deal with different issues in an open, straightforward way.
  3. Share information, ideas and knowledge.
  4. Accept the bad news as readily as the good.


Communication and the Officials Group

When analysing problems within a group of officials, a sports psychologist will search for reasons through questioning and observation. In most cases the reasons are down to communication problems.
Typical problems include:

  • Conflict being managed poorly.
  • Cultural differences, especially with talented officials.
  • Intimidation by Instructor(s).
  • Instructor/Mentor not listening, so officials feel their problems are not being dealt with.
  • Channels of communication being mixed up.


Communication for Team Building

The Instructor Team Building Process The Official
Inspire Instructor sells the vision Listen
Listen Officials buy into the vision Commit
Discuss Group operating procedures and shared ownership agreed Discuss and question
Accept as a role model Group values and identity confirmed by consensus Accept as a role model
Clarify Review the process so far Understand
Challenge Set group goals Accept
Appreciate each individual Set Individual goals Be open and assertive
Be positive Har work, support, encourage Be positive
Be constructive, not personal Instruction, challenge, evaluation and feedback Listen attentively
Control emotion Mistake management and correction Understand and accept
Praise Reinforce and reward good behaviour Enjoy
Conduct meetings Maintain flow of information Maintain awareness
Seek referee enjoyment Humour eases, anxiety prolongs Contribute to enjoyment
Be open, fair but firm Apply dicipline when necessary Accept and move on
Offer empathy Deal with officials' lifestyle problems Seek help
Keep communicating Handle the bad times Keep communication
Increase communication Resolve communication Increase communication
Listen and respect Support officials individual needs at game times Be assertive to control situations

Tension and anxiety is inevitable within a group of officials, all striving to achieve, but the only way to relieve this is to increase communication and the feeling of shared ownership of problems affecting the group.

The team-building chart emphasizes each step of the process and identifies responsibilities for Instructors and Officials.


Communicatioin and the Instructor

Communication is the first step to success for every Instructor.  Coaching is an act of communication – of explaining what you want of people in a way that allows them to do it.

My observation of many Instructors, often ex-referees, working at the highest levels, identifies three major communication problems:

  1. Instructors allow their emotions to become involved when watching officials at games. They become spectators rather than analytical observers. They fail to note some of the important points that might help the specific official(s).
  2. Instructors, generally, have little formal training in communication. Most do not use the power of the flip chart or video for example. One of the ways to break the boredom of repeating messages is to vary the format of presentation. If the Instructor is talented technically but communicates poorly, it makes sense to use a skilled assistant or sports psychologist to occasionally lead in group or individual sessions.
  3. Instructors become so wrapped up in the rules and mechanics that they forget that officials are human beings.


Some useful guidelines for instructors/Mentors are

  • All communication from the Instructor is important, so be sure that the officials cannot misinterpret your messages.
  • Be proactive and communicate when you see a problem, do not wait and hope that it will go away.
  • Use positive language that creates positive expectancies of the officials. Challenge them to be better rather than criticise them for being poor.
  • Never assume anything.
  • Make communication seem important; show respect to all officials.
  • Allow time for every official. Research shows that too much time is devoted to ‘star’ officials.
  • Do not promise what you cannot deliver.
  • Do not threaten what you cannot enforce.
  • Be aware of your and others body language when communicating.
  • Reinforce officials’ self esteem, balance praise with criticism.
  • When communicating about mistakes, focus on the correction rather than the mistake.
  • Work on improving personal emotional control.
  • Learn to be a good listener.
  • Learn to be a good questioner. Encourage officials to self-evaluate and assess themselves.
  • Be aware of cultural differences and make allowances.
  • Use officials’ names and try to know something about their private lives so that you can express concern for them as people, not just officials.
  • Be prepared – know the outcome(s) you desire.
  • Criticise the performance, not the person.
  • Avoid communicating when out of emotional control – wait for perspective and objectivity.
  • Make maximal use of informal opportunities to communicate – a quiet word often helps.
  • Use humour – fun is a great stress reliever.
  • Always end communication by clarifying what you have agreed upon.


Criteria for Clinics and Meetings

Instructors should prepare for all Clinics and Meetings, but of special importance to all newly created groups, is the FIRST meeting when the Instructor must establish the ground rules, attitude and spirit for future developments.


Advice to Instructors

  • Keep sessions to about 45 minutes. (without activity).
  • At the first meeting set the tone for communication and relationships.
  • Offer a friendly welcome but move straight into an authorative, businesslike manner. You are ‘selling’ your confidence and expertise.
  • Insist from the start that the group concentrate, listen and show respect for whoever is speaking. No mobile phones please!
  • If possible arrange a comfortable room with no distractions where the group can sit in a circle and establish eye contact with everyone.
  • Get any initial concerns out into the open if it is a residential clinic or meeting. Deal with any basic household issues e.g. rooms, food etc.
  • Introduce any staff assisting in the programme of the clinic or meeting.
  • Whenever possible use people’s first names and tell them what you and your staff wish to be called.
  • Identify the tasks facing the group and define what you consider as success for everyone.
  • Share your vision of the way things should go and remind everyone that success comes through cooperation and communication.
  • Remind the officials why they have been selected for the group; indicate the standards expected on and off the court for everyone.
  • Review the obstacles that might prevent success.
  • Talk the officials through the preparation programme and the various stages of instruction.
  • Ask the officials if there are any questions so far. Listen carefully to any questions or comments.
  • Talk openly and honestly about things that can directly or indirectly affect group progress.
  • Always use the word ‘we’ to emphasize the shared responsibilities and goals of the group.
  • Remind everyone of past successes and the role that the more experienced officials can play in helping the ‘rookies’ to develop.
  • Show a motivational video.



Instructors and Officials need to be able to transmit and receive messages that improve the understanding of their roles and responsibilities in relation to individual and group goals.


Alan Richardson

By understanding barriers to communication, Officials and Instructors may be able to prevent some of them from developing. Examples of communication breakdowns are:

  • Assumption Instructors assume the Officials know what is required of them and Officials assume that Instructors know how they feel.
  • Difference of opinion although unavoidable, differences must lead to more communication, not less. Parties should always agree to disagree.
  • Personality clashes this too is inevitable, but with communication a common ground can be established so that personal issues can be put aside for game needs.
  • Role conflicts Officials will resent fulfilling roles that do not fit their perception of their best contribution. E.g. experienced referee nominated as Umpire. Instructors can ease matters by sharing their reasons.
  • Power struggles groups of Officials are always evolving and the ranking order will always be considered important. Unless the Instructor settles this by clear and shared communication, matters may deteriorate.
  • Cultural misunderstandings great care must be taken to recognise and understand culturally influenced communication (east v west, north v south).

Officials must consider the words they use and their body language when expressing their message. Check that what you have said is understood.

· Perceived injustices basketball often requires instant decision-making producing opportunities for conflict. Instructors must discipline Officials to respond positively to such conflict. Feedback on their responses enables tension to be released.

· Role changes events occur everyday in professional sport (injury, loss of form, non-selection for prestigious nominations) that force Officials into role changes and possible loss of status. It is essential that Instructors/Mentors are sensitive to this and prevent any decline in communication by being supportive.

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