BUILDING BETTER BASKETBALL Referees: HOW TO HANDLE CONFLICT IN A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT: This referees series has been written by Bill Mildenhall, when he was Manager, National Referees Development of Basketball Australia. What Is Conflict ?: Conflicts for all sports officials is usually a difference of opinions between the officials the coach, the player, the spectators and even the administrators. As an official, you must understand that conflicts are inevitable. If you understand why conflicts occur you have a better chance of learning to deal and cope with conflict. Why Does Conflict Occur ?: • The current cultural climate sees conflict prevalent in all facets of life. • We live in a society that has a general lack of respect for authority. • Athletes are always looking to blame others for their own lack of success. Society encourages everyone to question, and to challenge the norm, to be different. • There is a cultural tradition that it is acceptable to “bag” the official. • The values of sportsmanship are rapidly diminishing, being replaced by a total desire to win at all costs. • Sport is becoming a major business with large amounts of revenue at stake. • Anger is increasingly becoming a common denominator to express feelings of dissent or frustration. • The increase in societies stress levels. • Lack of information and or a misunderstanding of information. • An inability to communicate effectively. Learning to recognise signs of conflict can help you deal with it and avoid its escalation. Recognising Conflict: • Look for player’s facial expressions and body language for clues about their feelings. • Frustrated players tend to complain or demonstrate non verbal signs of disgust. • Players who start to become more aggressive to their opponents are often showing a sign of conflict. • Coaches who tend to be very repetitive in their comments to officials is usually a sign of either frustration or an attempt to manipulate the officials. • Look for how coaches talk to their own players and assistant coaches. • The volume of the coaches comments both to their own players and to the officials is often a sign of rising antagonism. • Body language and facial expressions are a crucial sign of potential conflict.
BUILDING BETTER BASKETBALL • Referees who are prepared and have a plan for dealing with the inevitable conflict will usually be better equipped to cope with all the stresses associated with conflict. Planning For Conflict: • The official should be mentally prepared for the game, paying particular attention to having a clear head, temporarily forgetting other stresses in their life. • A good official will have a strategy in preparation for the onset of conflict. • The pre game conference should include a brief discussion of potential conflict situations and a basic management plan. • Preventative officiating should be a critical component of the plan. • Knowledge of the participants, making sure any prior information is dealt with totally objectively, without prejudice. • Do not take things personally – “coaches and players see the game with their hearts, referees see the game with their eyes.” • Understand the context of the game, the closeness, the time, and the state of play. Referees have various tools in which to manage conflict situations. Conflict Management Tools: Court presence is an effective selling tool for officials. Officials should look good and come across as someone with authority and in control of the situation. The voice: the tone and the way the official talks to the participants has a tremendous impact on the response received. (90% of success lies in delivery). Firm, loud enough but not challenging. (Sometimes deciding not to say something is the best way to use the voice) Body language expresses how an official is feeling. Eye contact, a comfortable stance, hands behind the back, a nod of acceptance all give the impression of being approachable, and when even under pressure always looking to be in control. The whistle: its tone, volume and length of sound is an often under utilised but effective conflict management tool. Referees must approach any contest with the notion that a central part of their job is to handle conflict successfully. They must recognise the signs of conflict, try to prevent it from escalating and finally deal with it (penalising when necessary). How To Handle Conflict: • When resolving a conflict the best outcome is when everyone “wins”. • Officials should aim to solve the conflict not to win or lose. • Officials may always have the last say, however they may not always have the last word.
BUILDING BETTER BASKETBALL • Officials must learn how to subdue natural impulses in dealing with antagonists, as it is human nature to fight back verbally when challenged or insulted. (try not to dig the heels in and fight fire with fire). • Officials must develop a perspective that allows them to be at ease during a confrontation, deflecting criticism and let tormenting words pass without reaction. • Officials need to take care of the situation without escalating stress and frustration in the antagonist and in themselves. • Effective communication is the key to handling conflict. Officials must understand that effective communication for dealing with conflict is an acquired skill, it does not come naturally. Officials have to train themselves to say the opposite of what they feel. Learn How To Communicate: • Communication involves both active listening and the use of words to redirect the negative force of others. • Permit the player or coach to talk without interrupting. Practice being a good listener. Train in a mirror observing your listening skills; - Active and direct eye contact, erect posture and a slight lean toward the speaker. Arms at ease and no hand gestures. The face should be bland and not contorted in a frown. A nod of the head to show agreement and acceptance. • Having listened without flinching, then learn to start your response (showing empathy) by, “you make a good point, but...” “I agree with what you say, but...,” “I appreciate that, but......,” I see your point, but...,” “that may well be, but...,” “you’re entitled to that opinion, but......” • Limit discussion only to the immediate issue that is adversely affecting the relationship. “you are making a good point, but is that the real problem?”; “Let’s try to deal with what is bothering you.” • In a discussion remain focused on the subject that was the original point of discussion. Do not allow it to be changed, by saying “I am willing to discuss the one major problem you had” or “We have not got time to discuss every issue, lets get on with the game and we can discuss any further problems later.” • Try to keep the communication short and sharp during the game. Practice the key words, like “I hear what you say, “I will have a look at it” Turn a complaint into a question, “how did you see that play?” • Know what you are talking about. Learn the rules and the spirit of the rules, as this will help your explanations and creditability. “I think you will find that the rule actually is ......” “Did you realize by rule you ......” Try to use game language and condense the concept in one or two sentences. When approached by someone aggressively, refrain from asking them to “calm down” (this actually makes them more aggressive) Rather use “let’s talk”, “tell me what is your problem”, “what’s the trouble” “hold on, wait on,” “wait a sec.” Page 3
BUILDING BETTER BASKETBALL • Act reasonably, as this may stimulate rationality in the other person. Show some respect and you will also gain respect. “I realize you probably know more then me” “I acknowledge all the experience you have”. • The real key to communicating effectively is the ability to “paraphrase”. “To paraphrase, is to put another person’s meanings into words and deliver it back to him. If you’re taking abuse you want to somehow intrude so you can make the attack a conversation. Then you can cast what you think lies behind his aggressive words in your own words (which will be calmer because you are not the emotionally charged one here) and be sure that you have heard it correctly.”
“When done correctly you can reap the following benefits; 1. The other person is obliged to listen. 2. You’ve taken control. 3. You’re verifying your own perceptions. 4. Thus, you can be corrected. 5. You make the other person a better listener. 6. You’ve created empathy yourself. 7. You’ve gained attention. 8. You’ve identified “sonic intention” (a person thought he said something he really did not say) 9. You’ve clarified for bystanders (assistants, players, spectators) 10. It prevents putting words in other’s mouths. 11. It promotes reverse paraphrasing (whereby the other person paraphrases you) 12.It allows for re-paraphrasing (a beneficial problem solving dialogue) 13.It generates a fair play response. 14. It etches facts in your own mind.” (George Thompson – Verbal Judo – The Gentle Art of Persuasion) ␣Avoid killer language like, “No” “How dare you,” “It’s not....” “Stop...” “Don’t ...” “You’re wrong....”, “Don’t say any more ….”, “Any more comments and I’ll call a tech !” Avoid the other person vulnerabilities or emotional sensitivities. Practice communicating from the positive. The cup is half full, rather than half empty. “Thank you...” “Please...” “Excuse me...” “Would you....” “Could I ...” “May I ...” Dealing with conflict takes training and plenty of practice. Work on various ways of handling difficult situations. Remember players and coaches know that if they can get under your skin they’re going to own you.