Sunday, January 14, 2007

Coaches and Referees

I'm looking for some Scripture feedback here. It relates to coaching, an office not found in the NT. Specifically I'm asking about the relations of a coach to an official during a game, that is, speaking to a referee so that he can hear you, which in that setting can be yelling and at least talking very loudly. I know that unclean, immoral speech is always wrong. A coach should not use foul language toward, mock or ridicule, or personally verbally attack the referee. What I am talking about is: "He took steps! He's over his back! That's three seconds in the lane! Please call those fouls both ways! My player was set!"

Let me tell you my policy. First, I believe the rule book is the authority for basketball. Second, I believe an official is the judge on the floor, making the application of that rule book. The authority of the referee cannot be questioned but his errors in properly applying the rule book are subject to question. Third, I believe that the referee will make errors, sometimes because of incompetence, other times based upon human frailty, and at times based upon total subjectivity. I personally want a strict construction of the rule book the least affected by emotions. I desire a cerebral referee that applies the rules according to original intent. According to basketball tradition, the coach comments to an official within reason with the purpose of helping him make the correct call as the rules apply to his team. Most games I ask the referees how much he will allow me to talk to him. Every official is different. Some have a zero tolerance policy. Others permit latitude. Some say that they will let me know if I go over the line and they will expect me to behave accordingly. My belief about this is that since the referee is officiating the game, then I will follow whatever guidelines he provides with the understanding that he will tell me if I am violating his authority and that he will tell me, even call a technical foul. I end every game making sure that I have a good relationship with the officials. I don't know of any of them that did not like me before they left the court.

This is exactly the policy expressed separately to me by the commissioner of our little Christian sports league, Mr. Dalton Abshire. He says that he wants the boys to play hard and develop toughness. He wants spirit and enthusiasm out of them. He understands that the coaches will display this too, but should keep their spirit under the restraint of the officials on the court. He thinks that coaches can yell at the referees in the context of the game as long and as loud as the referee permits. I agree with him.

Some coaches have their own way of pestering officials. They complain in a different way that is permissible to them. They do talk to the refs and even pressure them to alter their calls. However, they will rarely raise their voices during a game. These same coaches often do not yell at their players. They believe that players should be spoken to privately about violations, not publically. I am fine with that kind of dealing with a player, although I do not think that this kind of coaching will help players as much as some yelling and a strong, verbal push on them. One coach complained at half time to a referee privately that he was allowing me to get away with the way I was speaking to him. After half time, that official came to me to tell me (laughing) what that coach had told him about me. That official knew what I was doing and he was fine with it. Some people believe it is always wrong to publically disagree with an official. They think it should always be private.

I believe that a basketball game is like war to some degree. It is a battle. Emotion is involved. Often the games are loud. People are shouting. The court is relatively large so it can be difficult to hear. I think officials should be reminded when they are making the wrong call. I like to let them know immediately, right when I see it. I don't think this means I have to challenge every single call. However, I do think it is within my rights to do this and to do it with good conscience. I have good conscience most of the time about what I do. The few times I haven't, I apologized to the referee. I don't believe there is a verse in Scripture that says it is wrong to do this.

My own opinion is that the judgments made against this by others fit within a realm of some kind of political correctness and even feminizing of men in America. People want almost all men to become soft spoken. There are those that have introduced some kind of pseudo-sportsmanship that takes the intensity and enthusiasm out of the sport. I don't want to be emasculated by critics. I don't want to cow-tow to someone's preferences. Sometimes I really do believe that it is nothing more than sour grapes about losing. I would be a much better sport if we had a little more pansy or dainty quality and that transferred to the players. The losing coach is usually very popular with the winning one.

I believe that as long as the referee will permit it, that I am not abusing his authority. I don't believe that I am setting a wrong example to my players about respect of authority. I tell my players that is not in their right to question the officials. I train them to stay quiet and they are especially fine with that, knowing that I will question the calls against us that I do not think are correct. I have had a few games in which I have said very little during a game. Those were good officials. I respect them highly. My degree of respect relates to their competency and objectivity.

I personally believe that this is an application of Biblical principles in which two brethren should be able to differ. I think I should be able to question an officials calls without this being called unChristian. Nothing in the Bible makes an explicit statement with this regards. I don't even think it should be considered a bad testimony. That is something often thrown out to a Christian coach, that his challenge of a bad call was a bad testimony. I don't believe so. I think there is a place in the game for a coaches challenge of an official's call and that nearly every referee expects it. When a referee tells me I am getting too vociferous, I always respect him and ratchet back my commentary. Someone may not believe that this is the right thing for him, and I am fine if he doesn't want to do it. I, however, plan on continuing.

Let me know what you think! RIGHT NOW!!!


Anonymous said...

WOW!! Way to go Pastor B.And all this time I thought you were the docile, behind the book guy! Well, let me apologize right now for that...he who walks with BIg Stick speaks loudly. And rightfully so. I love that "to be in charge is not to be the Absolute ruler".
Hang tough KB.


Lance said...

My problem with referees is that they too often won't look at the situation in light of the knowledge they've just been given, and just go with the "I'm the ref, so I'm always right" attitude. Just like us Christians have to listen to all input and evaluate our positions Biblically and critically at all times, a ref should be able to take criticism and input and evaluate his decision.

Jeff Voegtlin said...


Daniel Kelso said...

Wow Pastor, I wonder if the refs read your blog Monday before the game?

Kent Brandenburg said...

The referees we had yesterday were a first in many ways. I will comment later in this space on them. I would say the one who made most of the calls, even when totally out of position, did not leave with a good relationship with me. I think that was far more about him than about me.

Derek Makri said...

Sports teach kids much about life. In real life if an authority makes a "bad call" we are not to quietly watch it happen. We are to see to it that even the "refs" in real life apply the "rule book" properly. There is a time to speak up and let them know when they are not correctly applying the rules or neglecting to apply some. The main thing is how you do the speaking up. It can be done in a rebellious tone or tastefully.

Cathy said...

Pastor B,

I am really disappointed in you, being from Indiana you should have had a pic of Bobby Knight posted.

Anonymous said...

"The psychology instructor had just finished a lecture on mental health and was giving an oral test. Speaking specifically about manic depression, she asked, "How would you diagnose a patient who walks back and forth screaming at the top of his lungs one minute, then sits in a chair weeping uncontrollable the next?" A young man in the rear raised his hand and answered, "A basketball coach?"

Dave Mallinak said...

OK! OK! I'm responding already! Wow! Are you a little impatient there? I mean, I'm feeling some pressure to do it RIGHT NOW!!! Next thing, you'll be throwing chairs or something.

I want to know about the game on Monday. Tell me, please. I want to know if I can call you a striker now.
I told my soccer team that I can't play striker, now that I'm a pastor.

Anonymous said...

I agree that refs should be in controll of all aspects of the game. So if other schools should not imply that your coaching is "unChristian," you won't imply that opposing fans, players and coaches are "unChristian" as long as the refs don't think they're out of line, right? Oh, wait...too late.