How To -

Importance of a Positive Attitude for Referees

Improving our Attitude as Referees

By: Brandon Bourgeois

As referees I think we recognize that having a great game is not only based on our physical performance, but also on our mental performance. As referees we are tasked with recognizing the emotions involved with a game and seeing the game beyond the game. If we fail to properly think and react, we can lose control of a game, despite how good we perform physically. Much of our mental performance and awareness depends on having the proper attitude when we perform.

When it comes to having the right attitude, I know I have come to the rink with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes I won’t feel great because I had a bad day, or perhaps I knew that the upcoming game would be filled with confrontations. Sometimes negativity seeps in. In games we make mistakes and let that affect us. Lots of times we let coaches, players, and fans push our buttons and get us off our game.

We know that having this negative mindset can throw us off our games. Anger will come quickly in dealings with players and coaches, and we will adopt a confrontational attitude.

How do we go about improving our attitudes as referees?

I think the first step is becoming more aware of how we are feeling before, during, and after games. Do we as referees have a lingering anger or frustration? Are we on-edge? Do we want to be at the rink? Improving our awareness will allow us as referees to see what is bothering us and letting us solve the problems at hand. At the very least, we can take a few moments before each game to decompress and take a few deep breaths to focus on the task at hand. I always try and clear my head and make sure when I am on the ice that I leave all else away from the rink. That way I do my best to have good, positive energy before each game.

Starting our games with this positive mindset will enable us to work with players and coaches. This positive attitude allows us to build rapport and to address situations that arise in the game in the proper manner.

Because of our role as referees, a lot of our job depends on conflict. We make lots of decisions each game, and each of those decisions will impact one team or the other. There is no way to make everyone happy all the time. When we get onto the ice with a good attitude, it enables us as referees to build relationships with players and coaches, and to open a dialogue.

NHL referees used the term “rapport and trust” as a slogan this year. And building rapport depends on the ability to have open dialogues with a game’s participants. If you come into a game with a negative attitude – it makes your job of building rapport that much tougher. Just think of real-life examples, oftentimes if you meet someone and they are in a bad mood it can be difficult to communicate and build a relationship. The same goes for refereeing.

Have a positive attitude on the ice. Let the teams know you’re willing to work with them. Avoid complaining or griping. Be friendly on the ice and let players and coaches know that you’re approachable.

We need to recognize that players and coaches are not our enemies on the ice. They have a job to do just like us. Try to understand where they are coming from and communicate with them. Building rapport with these folks can help to create positive experiences for everyone involved. The best part is that building rapport often goes hand-in-hand with earning trust and respect. When you have the respect of coaches and players, it makes our jobs as referees that much better.

Even off the ice – be a positive presence. We work with assignors, supervisors, mentors, and so many more people in our roles as referees. Do your best to have a positive attitude in each interaction you have. I know in my time as a referee I have complained and griped – but generally you end up regretting it. On the other hand, I know referees that never complain and always come to the rink with a smile on their faces ready to work. Be the latter. Even small gestures such as cleaning the referee room after a game will do a great deal to build a positive relationship with those you work with.

Having a good sense of humour can even go a long way. In your pre-game chats with coaches and players, don’t be afraid to show a little humour and lighten the mood. Just be careful though – some coaches are more serious – and that’s fine. Just tread carefully and avoid saying a joke that might be in poor taste. For example, I’ve seen a referee trying to lighten the mood once by saying “let’s just get through this next 60 minutes” – and the coach said “that’s a great attitude to have” in a somewhat sarcastic tone. While it might not have been the referee’s intention, the joke backfired and annoyed the coach more than anything. Often times though coaches will be receptive of a little humour – just play your cards smartly!

And above all else – remember to treat disrespect with respect. This is why taking that extra deep breath before a game can be helpful. The last thing we want is to be set off by a disrespectful comment – relax and address it properly – with respect.

When we treat disrespect with respect – you’d be surprised how often the players will pay attention and reciprocate it the next chance they get. I’ve found that giving the benefit of the doubt and doing my best to be positive in my discussions with players and coaches has paid dividends in a big way and allowed me to build rapport with players and coaches.

These situations can arise often in games. The most common type of examples that I often see are when a referee makes a decision and the coach starts to chirp a bit from the bench. Some referees will yell back and give a warning to eject – or simply penalize the coach immediately.

Sometimes all these situations need is a bit of understanding and good communication. For example, when a coach starts chirping – maybe you can calmly say something like “Okay coach – I hear you but we need to move on” or “Coach – number 17 is playing over the edge right now can you have a word with him?”. Often these small comments or gestures will provide a good way of lowering the temperature and letting the coach have a chance to make adjustments.

What can really be destructive are referees who make no attempt to communicate or diffuse situations. This is why arrogant or cocky referees can have a tough time to build careers as professionals, because it can be very tough for coaches and players to build relationships with them.

The big takeaway here is to approach our jobs with a positive attitude – to be open to building relationships – and to meet disrespect with respect. And if you want to throw a little humour in there too there’s nothing wrong with that.