BY Ray Lutz

Having short fruitful conversations with coaches who may be confused or frustrated by a call you made may be the most difficult soft skill to master. There are many reasons for this. The nature of the game itself is one of the major ones. If you did not fill the whistle up when a coach thought you should have, the game continues at its torrid pace, and may continue for some time before any break in the action occurs. This leaves the coach little recourse except to yell at you as you go the other way up the court. When there is a break in the action you may still not be in a location that allows you to discuss anything with the coach.

If you did fill the whistle up but you are resuming play with a throw-in, again you may not be in a location where you can say anything to the coach. Those of us in Colorado who are required to go “opposite” after reporting the foul are put in a difficult communication position by our mechanics. Those of you in Federation states where you stay table side have a big advantage when dealing with coaches.

Years ago, when I asked an experienced official for tips on how to handle upset coaches, he told me that he could give me some ideas, but in the end I had to come up with my own strategy that meshed with my personality and I could only do that through experience. Reflecting back on that advice I think he hit the nail right on the head, I learned from experience. Some of those experiences were not too good, but others were more successful. If you are just beginning on your journey with upset coaches, you too will learn from your experiences, and every time it does not go well you are just that much closer to mastering this tough skill.

IAABO officials need to realize that they do have the option to stay table side if they think that it is important to talk to the coach.


When you move to report a foul that your gut tells you that the coach will react to, take a quick glance at the coach to confirm. Usually they will be moving up toward the 28” line to where they can talk to you better. Sometimes just a little more information will defuse them. That additional information should be short, concise and must communicate information.
“White 25, Push.” “Belly Bump”
“Blue 15” Block” “late”
“Blue 23, Illegal Screen” “Moving”
“White 22”, Push” “Reroute with forearm”
“22 Blue” “Not vertical”


You also don’t have to run over there all the time like you are at their beck and call. You pick and chose. Most coaches don’t want you to talk to them any way, they want you to listen to them. You can do that listening from 15 or 20 feet away. You don’t have to always stand right next to them like they have you in their pocket or like you are their puppy dog. They can talk to you and you can acknowledge them with a slight head nod and you can respond with a “I hear you.” If the upset coach is behind you while you are bringing in subs or shooting the first free throw you can back up a little bit toward the division line to let him know you are listening. Finish it off by giving him/her a quick look and say “got it,”


One of the tips that the experience official gave me years ago was to “tell the truth.” If you had a great look and got the call straight on, then that’s what you say. If you kicked it, tell them that. If it surprised you and you are not sure you got it right, tell them that. If you anticipated it and screwed it up, tell that as well. Hopefully, most of the time you can say you got the call dead on.

Dave Hall says that you have to be able to say three things with conviction.
I got it absolutely right!
I am not sure. It was a tough call.
Not one of my best calls, coach.


When you get an opportunity for a quick little conference with a disgruntled coach you might want to use the “RASAL”technique.

RECEIVE…Listen to what the coach is saying. His/her concern may not be what you think it is.

AFFIRM…Nod your head once or twice while she is talking, say, “ I see.” Let her know you are indeed listening.

SUMMARIZE…”So you think she had legal guarding position.”

ASK….a question before you leave. He who asks is in control. “Do you realize that time and distance apply when guarding a player without the ball?”

LAST word always belongs to the coach, always.


Some coaches will abuse the privilege. They will bitch and moan on every call and every non-call. They will stomp their feet and they will wail their arms and they will be unreasonable when you try to talk to them. Finally, you just have to put them on ignore and on report. Communicate that fact with your partners and no one talks to him/her and the first official who gets a legitimate opportunity “whacks him.” That is just the way it has to be sometimes, but make sure you have gone through all the good faith efforts to communicate first.

Tell the truth
If you kicked it, say so
If you anticipated the foul, say so
If you saw it and just didn’t pull the trigger, say so.
If you had a great look, say so.

Three things you have to be able to say to coaches
I screwed that call up
I am not sure if I got it right. It was a tough call, not sure.
I got it dead right

Affirm ..ok, I see it
Summarize….So you think your guy got LGP.
Ask…a question, he who asks the question is in control of the conservation
Last word goes to the coach

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