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Welcome to the Social Ref, a simple home for recreational officials. We hope you find the best ideas and techniques, that others have already learned.  

The 3 H's and Player Relations

The 3 H's and Player Relations

The 3 H’s and player relations

New refs and umps believe that they will win the crowd over if they can just make the correct call.

We know better. It’s not the calls you make, it’s your communication.

Beginners regularly make great rulings and calls and still lose players with some common techniques:

  • Making calls so quick and quiet that no one even hears them let alone understands them (Making a call to yourself)
  • Making calls flat footed with zero movement or engagement and little acknowledgment between an obvious play and a coin-flip play.  
  • Generating confusion by failing to add flavor to the correct ruling. (Flavor means you explain the core call: Safe is different than Safe at Third no Tag the force was off.)
  • Trying to win every argument and falling into the over-explanation trap.

Your call can be perfect, and you can still lose the teams and the coaches. Really what players want is not perfection, but the 3 H’s:

1)      Hear Me

2)      Help Me

3)      Have My Back

Hear Me Now:  Players are going to question your calls and rulings based on whether or not THEY like them or understand them, not based on whether you feel they were justified or correct. Ultimately, everyone wants to be heard. How many bad yelp reviews for a restaurant come from someone feeling like they weren’t being heard or listened to? Even if a player is 100% wrong on a rule or argument, you will end up being the loser if you send off cues that you aren’t listening.

Shaking your head while someone is talking to you is one of the worst things you can do when a player is talking. Crossing your arms, looking down, frowning, furrowing your eyebrows, and squinting your eyes while a player is begging for more info or explanation are all escalators that will result in players feeling like they are not being heard.

One of the worst “backwards diffusors” is to simply ignore a player all-together. Many new umps have this as a factory default when dealing with conflict: A player is pissed and wants to get into a war of words so I will just stay out of their way and not even engage. You can certainly reach a point where ignoring a player after the 4th  or 5th time makes sense. The first time, make sure you listen in a genuine way. Immediately ignoring or shutting players normally hurts, instead of helping.

Players aren’t stupid, they can feel when you are pretending to care, or going through the motions. You can try and diffuse conflict and arguments if you listen. Players know you aren’t going to change your call, but they at least want to know they are being heard.

Help Me, Obi Wann: It’s easy to make calls when people mess up, because in rec leagues, people will mess up a lot. They seldom have read the rulebook, and may not have participated in the sport in years.

Great proactive refs will help players in the right way: issuing warnings and becoming coaches and teachers for new players and teams who clearly need help.

Help can come in several forms:

Pro-active Warnings:  Blue you right up on that line when you threw that pass, be careful.

Safety:  Runner make sure you hit that orange safety base at 1st next time.

Strategy: You might not need to take a timeout here, the clock is stopped on the incomplete pass. Do you still want the timeout?

Basic Game Info:  Red after this technical shot you’ll still have 8 second on the clock.

In our Flag Football league, we signify ineligible receivers who run out of the endzone by throwing our ref hat, just like in the Pros. The pro’s know what that hat means. In rec flag football, the players need help.

You can have a new ref who follows the book and rules and throws their hat at the right time every play, and they can still miss an opportunity to be a coach by actually talking to the receiver, who didn’t see the hat, and has no idea that they were doing anything wrong.

 Calling things by the book, but missing a chance to help or teach, is a missed opportunity in building relations with players and teams.

Have My Back: A common theme we return to often: refs start out on a pedestal. Great Social Refs try their best to climb down off the pedestal wherever possible, with humor, empathy, and always downplaying the power and ego elements of the job. New, and uncertain refs always try and re-inforce the power dynamic by demanding respect and reminding players that they are the ones in charge.

If you’ve ever heard a cringe worthy comment like “I’m the ref and you’re the player” or “I’ve got the clicker, let me do my job” you have witnessed a ref reinforcing the power dynamic of “the pedestal.”

The quickest way to help with this dynamic is not to give up all your power, but instead to let players know that you have their back. This can take many forms, with a few of the most common being:

  • protecting bad teams that are getting destroyed
  • pointing out when teams are trying to bend the rules or wreck the fun (trash-talking and taunting)
  •  Explaining when you have made a call that a team didn’t expect or helped them, even if it wasn’t enforced.

Game control problems with arguments and fights between teams have a much higher chance of occurring when players feel like officials don’t have their back. 

Whether fair or unfair, players are constantly forming quick first impressions about you as their ref or ump ever day. This is why your BOOK COVER is so important. But also why the 3 H’s are vital. They will determine the respect and credibility that develops after these initial impressions, and may help when players have made an unfair first impressions based on one call.

Dr. Heidi Grant, a social psychologist and author, talks about the 3 most important “perception lenses” that people will see you through when making a first impression: 

1)      Trust Lens

2)      Ego Lens

3)      Power Lens


Perhaps not surprisingly, these three critical lenses line up with the 3 H’s.

According to grant, the trust lens deals with a person’s “warmth and expression of friendliness, respect, and empathy” and “competence (evidence that you are intelligent, skilled, and effective).

The trust lens matters when people feel like they need to be heard. Empathy shows up when you listen to a players confusion or complaint [even if they are wrong] and your competence shows up in your book cover, starting with the idea of if it even looks like you are listening and paying attention.

The Ego Lens deals with the feeling of who is in charge. Refs who don’t climb down off the pedestal play into the ego lens, and then miss chances to help with small warnings or info and education because they are so worried about looking like they are in the drivers seat.

The Power Lens comes into play “when there is a disparity of power,” which sounds just like when a team feels like you are letting an opponent run up the score on them, bend the rules, or taunt and heckle them. When you have a teams back, you are equalizing the power dynamic.

Both ego and power lenses could be seen as dealing with authority and control. Ego and helping out  often deal with the interaction between players and refs. Power lenses and having a teams back often deal with the relationship that players have between each other.

In both cases, are you listening, paying attention and do you hear what people are actually saying, or are you just rushing to give the right answer?

If you miss the 3 H’s, your correctness will often be overwhelmed by your lack of connections with players and teams.

Remember the 3 H’s, or you may just end up the most correct ref that no one wants to have working their game.

Go Fish ....

Go Fish ....

Backwards Context ...

Backwards Context ...