Stop and Listen and Other Referee Conversation Tips

As a referee, your job isn’t just limited to judging contests between players. At some point, you’re going to have to talk to coaches, event managers, parents, or fans. With so many other things going on around you and emotions running high on game day, it can be hard to keep your communication skills in shape, but your reputation depends on respecting others. Here are some ways that you can improve your relationships on and off the field.

Pause Before Responding

There might be a clock on the field, but rushing through communication means that you could forget things or make the wrong call. Slow down when you talk to others and use whatever small breaks you can to think through what you’re going to do. This gives the others a chance to get their own words in as well, making sure that you’re really communicating and not just talking.

Demonstrate Trustworthiness and Honesty

Communication is less complicated when everyone is honest. Remaining honest when you make a mistake instead of lying to get out of trouble means that people will respect you more. This helps open you up to further communication. Referee training will cut down on your mistakes, but admitting the occasional error can sometimes end a heated discussion.

Listen and Pay Attention

If someone is talking to you, strive to listen and understand—don’t just wait for an opportunity to state your opinion. Be patient and open-minded when someone is talking to you so you can respond appropriately. Sometimes, all a coach or player wants is to be heard: demonstrate that you’re listening by briefly and frankly acknowledging that you heard and understood them.

Adapt and Respond to Feedback

Your perspective as a referee might be different from a coach’s or player’s perspective, and although you might have an idea set in your mind when you’re making a call, this image isn’t guaranteed to come across to others, however. Know who you’re communicating with as you’re talking to them, find a way to speak with them clearly, and try to follow up to make sure that the message was heard and understood. Communication as a referee takes time, patience, and training to get right, but there will always be a way to do it. If you’re struggling, talk to your partners, mentors, and others you trust to look for feedback and take their suggestions.

Never Say “It’s Just a Game”

While it’s good to keep things in perspective during and after referee training, avoid this phrase when talking to anyone participating in the game. They’ve worked hard for this moment, and no matter what level of competition they’re playing at, it’s important. There’s no way to say that a contest is “just a game” without sounding demeaning or like you don’t care. Everyone on the field cares, including you, so show it by treating the game and its participants with respect.

Be Positive

Apply the golden rule while you’re on the field or court. Praise players for good plays or sportsmanship if you like what you see. Use tasteful humor to defuse tension if the moment calls for it (but keep it light). Being able to smile means that you project confidence, control, and approachability—all valuable traits in a great referee.

Referee Training Made Easy with ArbiterSports

Being able to talk to people means knowing what you’re talking about, and ArbiterSports can help with that. We’re a leader in technology for referees and game managers, and our tools can give you the edge you need. Whether it’s managing your schedule, accessing referee training resources, taking eligibility tests, or anything else you might need, we have something in our product suite that can help. For more information or a demo of any of the tools we can arm you with, contact us at 800.576.2799 or