Communicating with participants and coaches
An important part of officiating is good communication. The official’s communication with participants and others is undertaken in a range of ways which include:
- Voice - communicating decisions/rulings
- Whistle - communicating to participants to do something
- Indications - communicating a decision non verbally
- Body language - communicating a feeling/emotion
There are times when the official needs to take an assertive approach to a situation eg. when the game is getting ‘hot’, or when a participant is questioning a decision in a demonstrative manner. At other times, the official will use a less assertive and calm approach eg. when the competition is being conducted in a good spirit.
Voice is used by the official in a range of settings:
- Introductions to participants, coaches and others prior to the competition
- Explaining a breach of the rules/laws to participants during the competition
- Announcing the score in tennis, squash, beach volleyball, badminton during the competition
- Relating an account of an incident to a judiciary/tribunal after a competition
Often the whistle is used to intervene within the competition:
- In team sports, to award a penalty or penalise an infringement
- To end a period of play
- To indicate the number of laps left in a distance race
- Calling athletes up to the starting blocks
Indications/signals are used to convey a message to participants, coaches and spectators at sporting competitions:
- A flag/indication is used when the ball goes out of the field of play
- A flag is displayed as a safety measure at motor sports
- Indications are used to indicate the status of the batter in baseball/softball
- A flag is used in athletics to indicate a foul in long jumping competition
As a general rule, communication will be most effective for everyone when the official uses more than one method of communication to convey a message eg. verbal and a visual signal (flag)
It is often said that how an official ‘sells’ their decision is the most important thing. Participants and coaches are looking for an official that communicates in a confident and decisive manner. This shows a person in control of themselves and the competition. The contrary style conveys uncertainty. A confident and decisive verbal communication style includes the official using:
- A clear voice
- Appropriately chosen words
- A firm manner
- Looking at the person
- Sufficient strength of voice to convey the message so that participants are able to hear the decision.
There are times on competition day when the participant or coach has a request of the official. This might be prior to a competition, for example, seeking some information regarding the rules/laws, or a participant not happy with a decision during the competition. When participants or coaches approach an official with a problem or query, it provides an opportunity to engage in discussion and seek a greater understanding of each others position, views and understandings.
The strongest influence on the outcome of all communications is the ability to listen effectively. When the official listens effectively, they can respond appropriately. Listening enables the official to put meaning to the sounds they hear. Listening is the ability to receive, attend to, interpret and respond to verbal messages and other cues, like body language, in ways that are appropriate to the purpose.
An important task of many officials is to complete a report after the competition. Written and oral communications provide messages, instructions, information and feedback to a wide range of people in the sporting environment.
Each sport usually has their own paperwork which is distributed to the officials prior to the competition for completion. The accuracy, timeliness and legibility of completed reports are paramount if receivers of the report are to make any sense of it. From time to time officials will be required to present verbal reports. This could be to:
- Competition managers
- Officiating personnel
- Judiciary/tribunal members
It is essential that the official ensures that what is reported is honest, respectful, trustworthy and that the report is delivered with integrity.