Effective communication: A key to effective officiating

Two officials shaking hands
Author:  Darryl Durham, Coaching and Officiating Unit, Australian Sports Commission
Issue: Volume 6 Number 1

Effective communication is the key to managing the majority of people that we come in contact with in all aspects of life.

The management of people through effective communication is also the key to managing the competitive environment.

Do officials focus too much on administering the Laws of the game rather than managing the people within the game?

I recently observed one of the best officials that I had seen in many years.  It was not an international game nor was it a first grade match, it was not even a senior’s game.  It was an under-11 division 2 NSW rugby league game in Cooma, New South Wales.

I was the 'freezing' dad on the sideline watching my son play his third game of Rugby League.

As an observer, I saw a referee not only administer the laws of the game through effective interpersonal communication but also coached the kids as he went.  The manner in which he spoke to the players, the way in which his body language supported his verbal queues and his relaxed manner led to a positive experience for all concerned.

That day, my son’s team lost to Cooma.  As always I spoke to my son after the game, asked if he had fun and asked what he had learnt. He gave me his post-game analysis from an 11 year old's perspective and then said he thought the 'ref' was really good because he talked to them all game.  It was good to hear a positive remark about the referee  who had also impressed me. 

The key is developing officials with good interpersonal communication strategies and a good knowledge of the laws who can manage the competitive environment.

So, what do you, as an official, need to focus on when it comes to good interpersonal communication strategies within the competitive environment?

  • Set up a positive rapport with the team captains prior to the competition and during the season.
  • Always view effective communication as a two way process.  Sender/receiver strategies are very important within the competitive environment.  Do not just be a sender.
  • Use positive verbal reinforcement throughout the competition.
  • When dealing with 'boofheads' solicit support from the captains.  Always remember that the competitive environment is a highly emotional and passionate setting.  Sometimes you will need to invoke the laws of the game to their fullest because some people just do not listen.  They are not good 'receivers'.
  • Manage the participants by continually implementing communication strategies to get what you require.  Constant communication will allow for some 'passive manipulation' of the participants.  This is a key to managing the environment.
  • Do not create conflict through an officious manner and poor 'sender' communication strategies.
  • Non-verbal communication can be your greatest strength or your greatest weakness.  Use positive non-verbal cues to reinforce your messages. For example, a look, hand signals or a nod of the head will reinforce your verbal messages.
  • If your competition allows it, always officiate on the run.  It is better to allow the competition to flow than for you to be the centre of attention.
  • Always use your eyes to gain attention when communicating in one-on-one situations.
  • Questioning can be one of your greatest tools - use it when you can.

Officiating is one of the most challenging experiences that an individual can face within the sporting environment.  Officials play a key role in the essence of sport within Australia.  We must continually try to support and assist our officials in providing them with the survival skills to make it through the season and future seasons.  Effective communication strategies are survival skills that officials can take with them into the competitive environment.

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