As a coach you have to deal with a lot of different people. I have touched about how to deal with referees in one of my previous articles, so now I’d like to highlight some of the common methods used by coaches to influence the decision-making of refs.

A couple of referees I conduct games with have opened a Facebook group to exchange information, as well as tips for gameday from the ref’s side of the fence. Being a coach myself I have used a few methods to try and influence a call. Let’s be honest, which coach hasn’t in one way or the other?
So, in this Facebook group I asked a rather provocative question:

How do coaches manipulate referees during games?

There was quite a discussion about my question, and one or the other coach really felt offended, telling me that I was biased. This particular coach said, that bringing up a question like this is impertinent and only refs which can’t take criticism professionally use the excuse of “manipulation” to justify their average performance during games.

In my opinion the correct use of verbal language can be a valuable and powerful tool, if you know how to use it in a good and rhetorical way. Combined with a self-reliant body language or gestures for example, the coach can send a clear message, positively or negatively.

In my career as a referee I had different situations, when I knew, that I made a correct call (or no-call), but still had a discussion with the coach afterwards. Basically this is where the manipulation starts and I have used it in my coaching profession a few times successfully when referees wouldn’t make calls, although they had to (in my opinion). After getting a technical I realized, that the ref now made a lot better calls than before. My influence, or manipulation, had a positive effect on our game.

Now, let’s have a look at a couple of techniques, on how coaches try to influence referees:

1. Bootlicking
Remember back in your school time, when you had this kid, that would always walk up to the teacher’s desk after class? There are similarities, which you encounter before or during games. For example there are a lot of coaches which complement the referees on almost every call they make, even against their own team (outballs, travelling, fouls, etc.), in hopes to get an advantage.

Prior to games you can also watch coaches smalltalking to the refs and being courteous. Now don’t misunderstand me, I think there’s nothing wrong in being nice to all people involved in the game. It’s a nice gesture and a sign of respect, if you greet opponents coach, players and refs. It’s just that some people try to gain an advantage by being over courteous.

2. Distraction
This is something you can watch very often, especially in professional leagues, that coaches are permanently talking to the refs close to them, while their team is working in the set play.

3. Play off Refs against each other
Some coaches will try to influence by saying something like “You are doing a great job, but what’s wrong with your partner? He doesn’t see at all!? You should tell him to make the calls!”. Clever coaches will say this to both refs at different times in a game to gain the most advantage.

4. Whining
A lot of coaches will try to urge the refs to look at special matchups, like in the low post area. They’ll say something like “Ref, please watch my center, as he constantly gets fouled. His opponent can’t defend properly!”. By doing this coaches can gain a good advantage, as the ref will look closer, when this particular matchup will occur.

5. Referencing to decisions of other referees
When there are mostly young and inexperienced refs, some coaches will argue, that other referees in prior games did not make calls which they are calling tonight. If you are just starting your coaching profession, this will make refs think and feel insecure, if you don’t know all rules properly.

6. Statistics
Very common: “Ref, you’ve called 15 fouls against in the first quarter. Our opponents only have 8 fouls!? Aren’t you treating them with favor?” Usually coaches will use this to hide lack of offensive or defensive skills, when they are behind in the game. An experienced ref won’t be impressed by this because he knows, that there is no allotment of fouls for this or that team. If there’s a foul, he calls it, so at the end of the game there are x number of fouls for Team A and Team B!

7. Pressure to perform
As in professional sports, referees can take courses to qualify for conducting games at higher levels. And this is what some coaches use to influence. They’ll say “If you’d like to conduct games at higher levels, you have to make call.” This also works vice versa: “We’re not in the NBA, so there is no need to call THAT a foul!”

From my perspective, the higher the level of the league the insusceptible the refs get for influencing. Here in Germany there is a rule, that during game breaks coaches and players are not allowed to talk to the referees, so basically it gets much harder for coaches the better the league.
In my opinion it is the job as a coach to get as most out of the game as possible. This in turn means, that he must try to influence the refs slightly, and it is the job of the refs to not let this happen. As referee you must be able to distinguish between criticism (“That was a foul!”) and influencing. As a coach you should stick to your code of conduct. Don’t file a complaint, unless it is really necessary.

I’d like to hear from you in the comment section, eiterh if you have influenced refs as a coach or if coaches have tried to influence you as a ref.