Authority and Control: Three Keys

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One of the most important skills an official must master is the ability to take control of a game. Players and coaches alike must be made aware that an official is confident in his authority over a game and is not afraid to use the powers of judgment vested in him by the rulebook.

First and foremost, of course, proper positioning, skating and conditioning are an official’s greatest tools for demonstrating authority: never forget that positioning sells calls and there’s a good reason why officials wear skates and are on the ice.

Secondly, an official must always be authoritative on the rule book. There is never an excuse for an improperly cited rule. The rulebook citation should always be on the official’s side, even if the final judgment call involved (goal/no goal, penalty/no penalty, etc.) is disputed. It must also be said that officials should confer with their partners when it is appropriate, and even if they are confident they “have this one.”

When officials have these traits and do these things, they avoid a host of problems in dealing with players and coaches on a game-in and game-out basis. Last but not least, there is psychology involved in staying one step ahead of the players and coaches.

It boils down to this: When they realize that YOU know all the shenanigans and gamesmanship that take place, you have a real good chance at nipping problems in the bud before the game gets out of control.

My old friend John Doolan recently sent me an email that ties into this point. John reminded me about a game I refereed in the early 1990s between the Islanders and Bruins. The game was held the day after Christmas. There were no supervisors in attendance. It was just our crew.

Before the opening faceoff, I spoke briefly with Ray Bourque and Steve Thomas. John, who served as the Islanders’ equipment manager for six seasons, recalls what happened next:

Stumpy skated over to Al Arbour and informed the coach, “Stewy just said ‘It’s old-time hockey tonight, boys!’

Al looked at me and I looked back and we both began to smile. …As I remember, the boys played a fast-paced game with no incidents and very few needed calls.

Why did this work? It worked because “let ’em go” are often the three scariest words players who stir up trouble can hear from an official. By telling the Bruins and Islanders players ahead of time that they better not expect to be able to hide out after those extra little gratuitous things players do after the whistles or behind the play, there was a little bit of healthy fear of accountability established before the opening faceoff.

Another example: When players would dive or embellish, I’d tell the coach they had better start coaching the offending player to knock it off or they’d be playing the rest of the game on their knees.

Savvy coaches like Pat Burns or Roger Neilson knew when it was time to deliver the message to their players that the officials were on to them. Lesser coaches who didn’t understand the intent of the message would get defensive and say, “Hey! Don’t tell me how to coach!”

“I’m not telling you HOW to coach,” I would retort. “Do whatever you want. I’m just telling you if this garbage keeps going on, you won’t be too happy with the results. It’s up to you.”

At this point, all but the most dim-witted folks got with the program.

****** Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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