Handling Criticism

The best way to answer criticism may be not to answer at all. Ignoring the remark denies it credence. No one of an astute head is going to indulge in such accusations anyway. Don’t go there.

But an issue every official must face is: Where do I draw the line? What is my breaking point? Going into a game with a pretty good notion of how you’ll respond (and playing several scenarios in your head as a form of “dress rehearsal”) is a sensible way to arm yourself for combat.

Decide for yourself whether or not you’re going to allow a coach to slip into an adversarial mode. Be resolute. Then make a conscious choice of how adversarial you want to be. It’s possible to cajole a coach, to parry his or her chagrin and deal with anger by refusing to fall into anger yourself. That’s not to suggest words will always mollify a person bent on aiming a tirade at you. But a steadfast refusal to erupt can help you employ charm instead of retaliation.

Adopt a conversational tone

Here is a hint: Try addressing upset individuals as though they were real persons. That is, adopt a conversational tone and deliver your response in soft, measured cadences.

Let’s say you’ve pulled the trigger and attempts to reduce or eliminate verbal daggers haven’t worked. What should you do when a person losing control has to have the last word and won’t submit to your authority peaceably?

First of all, think of the constituents. If your preferred mantra is counting to 10 before releasing your frustration, check the players. Are they being stirred to animosity by the coach’s antics? There is intrinsic value in letting the antagonist have the final say. It affords a measure of “saving face.”

How is the other coach dealing with the opponent’s rancor? Are home fans in an uproar? Do circumstances warrant an ejection? One philosophical stance is that coaches and players, behaving irrationally, basically eject themselves.

In your own case, mull over the kind of language you’ll tolerate, and decide for yourself in advance where you’ll draw the line and how you’ll announce it. “Coach, that’s enough. You’ve made your point. I’m going to end the discussion right now.” And then move away as far as possible to prevent any further dialogue. If the enraged person must shout the vituperation, the oration is not likely to last long.

Two things you can say to yourself are helpful.

One is that you don’t want to build a reputation as being belligerent, intolerant or quick-tempered. It’s not a way to gain respect.

The second thing is to tack on the second penalty (ejection) without a display of emotion. Try to curtail any flamboyant demonstration. If you can do it with a touch of understatement, that in itself will demonstrate your poise and underscore your dignity.

It’s not easy to do, but such behavior is worth striving for.

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