Dealing with Conflicts

At all levels, conflicts arise between the officials and coaches. Both new and veteran officials can benefit from working to resolve conflict.

Conflict can be defined as when two or more people disagree over values, motivations, perceptions or desires. Conflict may be real or perceived by the individuals involved. It can also be legitimate or petty.

Coaches desire to win, sometimes at any cost. For coaches, it's always about the"Ws" whether a CYO game or the Finals. As officials, our major concern is to create a balance of play and to provide a level playing field. We do not care who wins or loses. Because of these divergent perspectives, conflict is an integral part of our game.

Game management. 

When "game management" is used, by definition we are also saying we are in a conflict-management situation. Conflicts are never resolved completely; they are just managed well.


Officials, should have a professional attitude that creates believability in what an official does. When coaches believe in what we are doing, it minimises conflict. 

Being professional includes arriving at the game site early. Looking the part when arriving. The official should be neat and clean. Not arriving early or dressing appropriately creates a negative impression. The old adage,"You, only get One chance to make a good first impression" is true. 


A professional has to be a rules expert. Missing a ruling can, under certain circumstances, be accepted by a coach, However, "kicking a ruling" because of a misinterpretation is inexcusable.


Hustle is another integral component. Coaches can give the benefit of the doubt to an official if they perceive that the official is hustling and working hard.

Conflicts between coaches and officials usually trigger strong emotional responses by all who are involved in the situation. If we examine most rules interpretations or judgements, the majority of them involve an emotional reaction. We have to be able to resolve differences between the coaches and ourselves in a manner that works at building trust and confidence in our decisions on the court. We. cannot directly manage the emotions of a coach, but we can control our own emotions. We should work at becoming "the calm in the eye of the storm" during any confrontation.

The expression "patience is a virtue" is never so true as for an official. One of the definitions that is found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines patience as, "The ability to remain calm and not become annoyed when dealing with problems or difficult people."  When dealing with conflict resolution, be patient and hear the coach's complaint, find a solution, if possible, and then get the coach to "buy in" to what is proposed. The willingness to just listen helps to resolve the conflict.

Emotional awareness.

Emotional management will aid in effectively settling situations that may occur when the emotional climate becomes heated.

Certain phrases show an official is not managing his or her emotions. The following phrases will not resolve a coach/official conflict and could exacerbate it :"Sit down coach","You coach and I'll ref," or "It wasn't my call". Listen to the message that you are both giving and receiving. One point that cannot be emphasized enough : Think before you speak.

You may have heard an expression from another industry :"feel, felt, found." It works this way : Once the problem is stated by the coach (hopefully in an emotional but respectful manner), your response could be, "I know how you feel coach and if I were in your position, I might have felt the same way. However, I have found that... (fill in with a proposed solution)." Utilizing that technique creates empathy between the coach(es) and the official(s) to resolve the conflict.

We need to sharpen up our nonverbal and verbal-communication skills. Approximately 7 percent of information is received from the spoken word, 38 percent from the tone of a person's voice and 55 percent through non-verbal communication. That includes eye contact, facial expressions, postures and gestures. An awareness of the non-verbal communication from a coach(es) helps with the ability to respond to what the coach is really trying to communicate.

Be aware of the "personal space" that surrounds each of us. Most value their personal space and feel uncomfortable when that space is invaded. In the U. S., that space is about two feet face to face. When trying to resolve a situation, have an awareness not to encroach on the "coach's personal space."

Do not answer a statement or a rhetorical question made by a coach. The coach is not listening to your response when they make rhetorical comments. They are making a point. We should answer fair questions when asked in a professional manner.

In a conflict situation

If we understand the coach's concerns, we are better able to respond in resolving the conflict. Both parties have to acknowledge a conflict exists. They have to determine what the problem is. In order to resolve, there, has to be honesty and clear communication. The goal is not to decide who is right and who is wrong; the goal is to reach a solution that everyone live with. Many times, conflict resolution is not a black or white matter, There may be many shades of gray. 

Try to find common areas of agreement, no matter how small. Try to obtain agreement. With agreement, it is possible to determine actions to take. Work toward agreement in small changes to give a perception of success. If coaches "buy" into the actions taken, we can resolve or minimize the conflict. If the coach "buys into the perception of resolution," the conflict can be diffused. Remember, "perception, most often, can be reality."

Practice your listening skills. 

Listen with empathy and try to see the conflict from thc coach's perspective. Often the coach just wants to be heard. Bill Russell, the former Celtic great, states in his book, Russell Rules, "Someone who listens obviously has many advantages that others do not have, among them : being able to discriminate between what someone says and what he or the really means.... When listening is most productive, it is always about communication. It is two-sided even when one person is left to make a decision. It takes into account the words, the viewpoints, of others and then respects them." If the coach is respectful in both tone and manner, you can also respond respectfully in both tone and manner and then it may be possible to move on.

Make sure that any issues are identified clearly and concisely. Always remain flexible. Positions in any conflict should not be "set in stone."

Humor and approachability.

Humor can allow a person to say thin that might otherwise be difficult to express without escalating a conflict. Be careful that the humour is not miscommunication by either of the coaches. Remember to laugh with the coaches' and not at them.

We are authority figures, but we should not carry ourselves in an authoritative manner. Doing so makes us unapproachable.

Coaches are going to approach an official. If a coach is not commenting on every play, be approachable. When a coach cannot approach an official that only leads to increased conflict.