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Respect for Rules and Officials

This is an excerpt from Hockey Coaching Bible by Joseph Bertagna.

Respect for Rules and Officials

Another area that tests the integrity of coaches, players, and fans is the relationship we have with the rules of the game and those who are there to enforce the rules. As a coach, it is my responsibility to make sure the players know the rules and the consequences for breaking them. At the college level, we have NCAA-established on-ice and off-ice rules, conference rules, and team rules. Respecting rules is a priority that needs to be established early.

One area in which our culture has slipped a little is in respect for officials. How we approach officials and how we react when certain circumstances come up are things I have to anticipate and teach as part of our own team culture.

We have had on-ice situations in which officials have made egregious errors. My players will be affected by how I react in these situations. Having served as a conference commissioner, I am able to understand both sides in these situations. Sure, it's frustrating. I know that the players will take a cue from how I respond. So I want to set an example as to how we - all of us - will react when, quite clearly, we have been victimized by an incorrect call or a rule interpretation.

One approach I've taken is to emphasize that we, as a team, have to get good enough to play through bad breaks or calls that might be incorrect. We take responsibility for how things go. The focus stays on our team and those things we can control. Educated people will know when we have been the victims of something that might not have gone right. You don't need a public show to make you look better.

At the same time, there needs to be a balance. Players want to know that you will stand up for them. You can take steps privately to support your team when you feel victimized. But it does no good to make a public scene with the official in front of the team or, as sometimes happens, with the media in a postgame press conference.

Former University of Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan earned the respect of his peers when, during an NCAA Frozen Four semifinal, his fast-skating team was victimized first by sloppy ice conditions due to a broken pipe below the ice surface and second by a goal in overtime that was due, in part, to an illegal hand pass that was missed by the officials. When asked about the ice, Gilligan noted that both teams had to play under the same conditions, offered up no excuses, and gave praise to the winning team. He made no comments about the factors that led to the winning goal.

I've had some experience with poor ice conditions, once when I was a commissioner and our conference hosted an indoor Frozen Four at Detroit's Ford Field, and once when our team played outside at Comerica Park. In both instances, the ice was not up to normal expectations. I found that all the coaches did a good job acknowledging the conditions but refused to use it as an excuse.

In these instances, when players are asked, I tell them that I don't expect them to lie or make up a story. They can tell the truth about the conditions but should always acknowledge the basic point that those conditions were the same for all participants and not to use them as an excuse.

One additional angle to the participant - official relationship is that I've had officials come to me some time after an incident and acknowledge that they had reviewed a tape and seen they made a mistake. Likewise, I have gone into the locker room between periods, looked at video, and realized what I thought I saw in real time was not the case. In that instance, I made a point to come out at the start of the next period and admit I was wrong to the officials.

Isn't this the way we want people to live their lives? Taking responsibility for their actions? These are teaching moments that coaches need to capitalize on.

More Excerpts From Hockey Coaching Bible