Good communication skills are important to everyone and in every context, which is why brushing up on how you talk to others is such a common piece of relationship advice. As a game official, you have relationships to manage as well, so learning to speak the language of your game is important. When you think of referee communication, you’re probably thinking about spoken instructions to your crew members, scorekeepers, players, coaches, or other people in and around the game who need to hear what you have to say.

What about those things that you don’t say out loud? Nonverbal communication is an important part of a referee’s job, and sometimes what you don’t say can be more telling than your words. Here’s some advice from the ArbiterSports team on the crucial art of silent communication.

Why Nonverbal Communication Matters

Speaking respectfully, competently, and confidently all matter. What you say shows that you’re a professional that knows the rules of your game and can convey them respectfully. Communication isn’t just about your words, though, and what you say isn’t the only factor that people are going to judge you on. How you’re perceived relates not only to your words, but your actions and how you officiate from the moment you show up to your assignment to the moment you leave. The way you carry yourself is just as if not even more important than your explanation of a call: most of your time isn’t going to be spent talking, and there are a lot of eyes on you.

So what does nonverbal communication look like?


You know the rules and make the calls, so it’s important that you look the part of a professional. Arrive on site already dressed in your uniform, and keep yourself looking neat, clean, and conservative. This means keeping your uniform cleaned and pressed, keeping your hair out of the way, keeping makeup and jewelry to a minimum, trimming facial hair, and saving strong fragrances for another time. These tips can help you look like the well-trained and professional referee you are, which improves how people perceive you.


You can tell a lot about someone from how they stand. Where you stand and what you’re doing with your body even before the game begins says a lot: pay attention to your posture and what you do with your arms. The difference between looking welcoming and looking like you’d rather be anywhere else can be as simple as unfolding your arms, making eye contact, and even giving your partner or other crew members a quick thumbs-up when something goes well. This is especially important in those times when there isn’t a lot of action, like during warmups, timeouts, or other periods of downtime: look engaged in the game no matter what’s going on, and everyone will be better for it.


How you interact with people like line judges, scorekeepers, players, coaches, and other personnel is just as important as the words that you say to them. Show respect for everyone by making eye contact and facing them when you communicate verbally. The same message can be communicated through yelling or with a calm, quiet authority, but the person who’s respectful is going to be the one that receives respect in return. Be firm, but approachable: people should be comfortable talking to you, but it’s important that boundaries are respected. Enforce rules and assert yourself, but do so calmly and respectfully.

ArbiterSports Game Official Tools and Training

How you communicate with players, fans, coaches, and your team on the field or court is a matter of practice and experience. For those communications that happen outside of the game, though, ArbiterSports can help you out. We have the organization and communication tools that can help you keep up with your schedule, contacts, and even money so that you can put your entire focus on the game. Call 800.576.2799 or email for a demo or more information on anything we offer.