Earlier this month, I was privileged enough to be asked to supervise the BC PeeWee Tier 4 Championship in Richmond that took place between 16-20 March. This was my second provincial championship in a supervisory role, so while I’m no veteran, I do have some experience in this area. However, I was confronted with a dilemma that I had not satisfactorily resolved the first time around: what is my feedback balance for these officials during this championship? (For those of you who don’t know what I mean by “feedback balance”, check out my previous article “Supervisors as Coaches” for a detailed explanation.) Do I supervise them as I would normally supervise officials of their skill and experience, or do I withhold feedback and objectively evaluate their skills? I watch every minute of every game over the course of the week, and I am required to submit formal evaluations of each official to BC Hockey at the conclusion of the tournament. So I am in a position to provide every official with a comprehensive supervision for every game, but is that the correct way to do it? In order to further explain this dilemma, allow me to lay out the two competing arguments:
The White Argument #1
The White Argument says that championships are not the time to be giving officials feedback. Whatever their flaws, these officials have been selected from a regional pool as the best, qualified candidates to officiate this tournament. This means that they have been supervised over the course of the season, they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and they don’t need you to tell them what they already know. Furthermore, this is presumably the best hockey for this age group in the province and the level of hockey in this tournament is not something they officiate on a weekly basis all season. The implication being that they need to focus all their energy on delivering their best performance, and you don’t want them to be distracted while trying to implement a piece of feedback that you’ve given them. Additionally, as the supervisor, you have to select the best officials to work the semifinal and final games and therefore you need to be focused on objective evaluation of their skills.
The Krause Argument #2
The Krause Argument says that even if you can’t effect any major changes (nor should you attempt to) over the course of a championship, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share feedback with these officials. These officials are coming from different development programs, run by persons of varying knowledge and experience, so there is the potential for a vast disparity in what they’ve been taught to do. As a supervisor at a provincial championship, you have been appointed to convey the standard of officiating that the branch wishes to implement. Therefore, if some aspect of an official’s game is out of step with the provincial standard, it is your duty to correct them. Furthermore, these officials are clearly both promising and motivated (otherwise, they would not have been nominated and selected) so you would be doing them a disservice by withholding feedback.
So… what to do?
While I agree with parts of both of the arguments, the solution that I implemented for this most recent championship was somewhere in the middle. Attempting to make major changes to an official’s game during a championship would be both counterproductive and inappropriate. Having said that, I can’t imagine a situation where I watch 60 minutes of hockey and don’t make a single comment or suggestion to any of the officials. Not only will watching an official make the same mistake every game for five games drive me crazy, but it’s wildly unfair to that official. While this is a championship, and should be treated as such, it isn’t the Memorial Cup – its an early step on a road that will (hopefully) lead to officiating success and these officials will certainly benefit from feedback during this tournament.
The key to my solution is dividing the feedback into phases: Phase 1 is the immediate, post-game, verbal feedback, and Phase 2 is the delayed, post-tournament, written feedback. In normal, everyday supervisions there are no phases; all feedback is delivered post-game. But when it comes to championships, the two phases are key to balancing the merits of the White and Krause arguments, respectively. Phase 1 is highly informal; rather than taking my notes into the room post-game and reviewing the entire game, I selected one or two correctable points for each official and delivered them conversationally in the form of suggestions. Presenting my feedback in the form of a suggestion achieved the desired result: the stronger, more confident officials took the feedback and incorporated it into their game immediately; the less confident officials continued to do what they had been doing, shelving the feedback as merely a suggestion they could consider at a later time. This provided me with the added bonus of making it much easier to identify the strong and weak officials out of the group – they did the heavy lifting for me.
Phase 2 is where the real feedback is delivered. On the same day, following the game, I filled out complete supervision forms that I am required to submit to BC Hockey, and this time nothing is off-limits. Whether its procedural, positioning, fitness, or effort-based, everything is included in the written feedback and it is a combination of teachable aspects and objective evaluation. At the conclusion of the tournament, I emailed each official their supervision forms for the entire tournament, along with additional comments based on their performance over the entire tournament. This gives the official the opportunity to receive more complete feedback, without it affecting their performance during the tournament, and to have a record of the feedback they received over the course of the week.*
Aggregating the best points of the two competing arguments proved to be the best solution, not only for the officials involved but for myself. While assignment to a provincial championship is a reward in and of itself, the officials are still competing with one another over the course of the tournament. Certainly, the last thing I wanted to do was damage a teenaged official’s confidence and adversely affect his performance for the remainder of the week. Having said that, these officials are still very raw and as expected, the high stakes environment provided teachable moments that almost certainly wouldn’t occur outside the environment of a provincial championship. In addition to learning from their experiences (the essence of officiating development) the officials gave their best effort to end the season with success. Success is a word that means different things for different people; for some officials, just being there was success while for others, nothing short of refereeing the gold medal game would have been satisfactory. But at the conclusion of the tournament I felt that I had fulfilled my obligation to the officials as well as to myself; I had successfully served as a platform for these officials to be successful.
* I feel obligated to mention an overwhelming personal bias towards written feedback. I rarely remember anything accurately the first time around, and thus find it essential to have written records of everything. Furthermore, skill development is an ongoing, multi-year process and written records are essential to any long-term process.
Dan is a Level IV Hockey Canada referee, officiating in the PJHL, BCIHL, and BCMML. Since 2011, he has been serving as the Director of Officials Development and as the Assistant Referee-in-Chief at the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association. In this time, he’s had the privilege of supervising 2 BC Hockey Championships, instructing at 2 BC Hockey Summer Schools and has been a HCOP Course Conductor since 2013.