Measuring Success in Officiating Development

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VTMHA Officiating Coordinator Timothy Dodds presents commemorative “first game” pucks to two Level I officials.

Over the last five years, there has been a massive increase in the amount of resources available for officiating development in British Columbia. This process has ebbed and flowed over time but recently, there has been marked improvement. Not only have associations begun to recognize that officiating is integral to the game but they understand their own roles in improving the quality of their officials. While investment at the association level is limited by the means of their membership, the improvement has been noticeable across the board.

This new reality has led to a need to measure and quantify the success of officiating development programs. An association’s board is accountable to its members for all expenditures. As a result, Referee-in-Chiefs (RICs) across the province are required to justify their inclusion in next season’s budget; hopefully, with more resources to improve their programs. This means that RICs must be able to demonstrate successful, or at least progress.

Apart from the pragmatic, there is a philosophical need for RICs to measure success. The success of the program is also a personal success for its leaders. Although the amount of money available for development is increasing, the work remains purely a labour of love for virtually everyone involved. RICs and supervisors might receive seasonal or per-game honoraria as compensation for their time. However, most are unpaid volunteers. Therefore, if the hours that RICs and supervisors are spending at the rink aren’t yielding success, then a change in approach is best for everyone involved. Which prompts the question, how exactly do we measure success in this new age of officiating development?

These same discussions have been ongoing for years across all youth sports. For coaches and coach-educators, the debate has largely revolved around the relevance of trophies. Do trophies won at eight, eleven, or fourteen years of age represent the long-term success of an individual athlete, coach, or program? There are no such trophies for officials. The nearest comparison is an official being selected for a local, provincial, or national championship event. Should that be the primary benchmark for a program’s success? Or should our RICs and supervisors follow the lead of coaches and attempt to identify alternate criteria for measuring the success of our programs?

Success is progress; it cannot be measured without starting points and goals to guide the program. Moreover, each official and program will be progressing from different positions. Setting out goals when preparing to implement a new development plan is the simplest way to ensure that your success will be measurable. Although your plans and goals will require annual review and revision, all minor officiating development programs are founded on similar principles. In 2011, my colleague Timothy Dodds and I had co-authored a development plan ahead of the inaugural season of a new program at the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association. We revised the plan annually as the program underwent exponential growth but the introductory section never changed:

Statement of Purpose:

The Thunderbird Officials’ Development Program (TODP) is committed to provide for young officials the knowledge, opportunities, skills and tools necessary to:

  • develop a lifelong love of officiating
  • increase performance excellence
  • work high-level minor hockey
  • work at the above minor level (if interest to do so is expressed)

The TODP is based on the principle that if resources are allocated for young officials, they will have greater personal investment officiating, both as a job and a potential career.

True to form, these are broad statements rather than a set of specific goals. However, they are easily translated into specific, measurable objectives. In 2015, as part of a conversation around measuring success in the broader context of youth sports, I came up with these two questions to help define the progress of our program:

1. Of the officials who had the desire to officiate at the “elite minor” or “above minor” levels, how many did we help achieve their goal?

2. How many of the officials that came through our program continue to officiate as adults because we created an environment in which they could love the game?

While these two questions specify criteria for measuring individual success, they still lack a rubric against which the program as a whole can be judged. How many officials must be working “elite” or “above minor” hockey and by how much does our program’s retention need to increase before the program can be considered successful? These principles and goals could apply to virtually every youth athlete development program. However, there is also a need for variation between individual programs. Terrace Minor Hockey will face different challenges than Richmond Minor Hockey and will have varying resources available to meet these challenges. Where possible, these challenges should be identified and considered in the creation of a development plan.

There will always be the temptation to equate the success of individual officials at the high performance level with the overall success of a program. It is natural for minor hockey associations to tout their officials working junior hockey, and for junior leagues to tout their alumni working in the NHL. However, development programs should strive to avoid this model, especially at the minor level. The success of one individual at the junior or professional level is not indicative of the program’s overall strength. A program’s ultimate responsibility is to assign qualified officials for their games. In order to fulfill that task, they are required to support and develop their officials. If you create a realistic plan to fulfill this duty, you can set attainable, highly specific goals that will allow you to measure success when you achieve it.

 


Dan is a Level IV Hockey Canada referee and has officiated in the BCHL, PJHL, BCIHL and BCMML. Since 2011, he has served as the Assistant Referee-in-Chief for the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association. He also has the privilege of being an HCOP Course Conductor and a BC Hockey Minor Supervisor since 2013. He has instructed over 100 HCOP certification clinics, 5 BC Hockey Summer Officiating Schools, and has supervised 6 BC Hockey Provincial Championships.

Written Feedback is Key to Development

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BC Hockey Officiating Coordinator Larry Krause supervising the 2017 Juvenile Provincial Championship. Photo: Dan Hanoomansingh. 

A supervisor has two methods through which they deliver feedback to their officials: verbal feedback delivered in the room and written feedback delivered in the days following the game. The written feedback is essential for effective supervision for a number of reasons. First of all, an officials’ ability to process feedback in the moments following a game is limited. Their adrenaline is still flowing, emotions may be high, and they are both physically and mentally fatigued. Secondly, a supervisor’s perception of a particular incident may change after having time to reflect. Finally, the written supervision preserves a record of the feedback delivered for that official and also for other supervisors. There can be no question that written feedback is an important tool in developing officials.

Unfortunately, many supervisors often neglect or completely overlook the written aspect of supervision. Most supervision forms are divided into two parts; a section for scoring and a section for written comments. The scoring section can be a helpful summary tool but the information one can glean from numerical scores is fairly limited. It can be useful for a supervisor to quickly scan a supervision form and see that an official scored 65 or 75 out of a possible 100 points. However, this is only a broad snapshot and it raises more questions than it answers; hence the comments section. Despite this reality, many supervisors spend a great deal of time assigning scores but write only a handful of sentences in the comments section. Not only is this an ineffective use of a supervisor’s limited (and often volunteered) time, it is unhelpful to other supervisors or the officials themselves who might want to refer back to the supervision.

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Supervising the 2017 Canada West (CIS) women’s hockey championship series. Photo: Alison Knight

This problem cannot be solved merely by increased written output on the part of our supervisors. Quality, as well as quantity, must be addressed. A strong piece of written feedback consists of three parts. The first part clearly establishes what the supervisor observed during the game that has led to this piece of feedback. The second part illustrates what the official did that is either exemplary or requires some improvement. In the case of positive feedback, the third part will explain why the official’s behaviour or skill is an asset. In the case of feedback in an area requiring improvement, the third part will address why this is an issue and how to correct it going forward. These criteria are useful to refer back to when creating written feedback for an official.

As an example of this problem, let’s examine the following piece of written feedback. This comment was taken from a supervision by a former Level VI official, now supervisor, to a Level III linesman:

“Careful being too hands on with players.”

The issue with this comment is the information it does not provide. As a supervisor, a number of questions spring to mind when reading this comment: Did the linesman initiate contact unnecessarily or did the situation warrant the linesman becoming physically involved, albeit to a lesser extent? Was this a single mistake or did this occur multiple times during the game? Did it occur at the beginning of the game when the linesman may have been nervous? Or did it occur at the end of the game when the linesman may have been physically and mentally fatigued? The supervisor has not provided enough information for an outside observer to understand or, in the case of the official, recall what occurred and how the linesman could have improved their response to the situation.

Now, contrast the above comment with this second comment delivered by the same supervisor to a Level IV referee in a different game:

“When making the penalty calls in the third period when a team is frustrated, there is no need to sell the call with an emphatic signal. The optics of a team that is losing and frustrated and a referee making penalty signals like that is not good. It can shift the team’s frustration to the official.”

This second comment is far superior to the first for a number of reasons. First of all, the supervisor precisely establishes the referee’s mistake. The referee penalized the losing team late in the game and unnecessarily over-sold the call. In doing so, the referee made it appear as though he was trying to prove a point by penalizing the team. The supervisor also addresses what potential difficulties the referee may face by repeating the mistake. The referee created an additional opportunity to shift the team’s mounting frustration onto himself. The supervisor fulfills all three criteria for written feedback by establishing when the mistake occurred, what specifically happened, and the potential issues it creates. This is clear both to the official and other supervisors wanting to refer back to the supervision.

In order to provide effective supervisions, it is equally important that supervisors fulfill the three criteria when delivering positive feedback. Regardless of the age of the official being supervised, it is important to emphasize areas of strength.  To illustrate this point, we’ll examine two pieces of positive feedback that address the areas of skating and end-zone positioning. The first is taken from a supervision by a Level III official, with several years of supervisory experience, to a Level I referee.

“Good skating and use of end-zone positioning. Nice work!”

That type comment is typical of written feedback regarding areas of strength, regardless of the age and experience of the officials. Now contrast that with this second comment, quoted from a supervisor with over a decade of experience to a Level III referee in a Major Midget playoff game. This comment addresses the same area of strength but also details what the official did well and leaves the door open for further improvement without diminishing the overall positive message.

“Your movement in the end-zone was strong throughout the game. You made good decisions about when to bump and pivot and went behind the net sparingly but when necessary. Your excellent agility and quick-feet movement made this possible. Continue improving this skill so that it continues to be an asset as the speed of the game increases at higher levels.”

As supervisors, there is a tendency to spend far more time addressing the areas requiring improvement than the positive aspects of an official’s performance. This becomes a problem when officials begin to internalize that imbalance, which they can, regardless of their age or level of experience. Ironically, supervisors tend to spend less discussing an official’s strengths when that official performs well in a game. When an official performs poorly, supervisors make a conscious effort to identify areas of strength so as not to appear to be unduly harsh. We must strive to devote equal attention to areas of strength as well as areas requiring improvement.

The ability to deliver effective feedback is a skill that most supervisors take years to develop. Although supervisors are drawn from the ranks of skilled officials, developing officials requires an entirely new set of skills. The reality is that new supervisors are rarely equipped with the tools and training required to succeed in their new role. A supervisor requires not only extensive officiating knowledge but also the ability to identify teachable moments, select the most appropriate, and connect with and communicate their feedback effectively to their officials. Very few supervisors possess all of these skills prior to trading their whistle for a pen. The written aspect of supervision is one of the more slowly acquired skills and even supervisors with many years of experience can work to improve their abilities in this area.


Dan is a Level IV Hockey Canada referee and has officiated in the BCHL, PJHL, BCIHL and BCMML. Since 2011, he has been serving as the Assistant Referee-in-Chief for the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association. He also has the privilege of being an HCOP Course Conductor and a BC Hockey Minor Supervisor since 2013. He has instructed over 100 HCOP certification clinics, 5 BC Hockey Summer Officiating Schools, and has supervised 6 BC Hockey Provincial Championships.

Officiating in the 21st Century: Video Supervision in Minor Officiating

BC Hockey Referee-in-Chief Sean Raphael using Coach's Eye at the 2014 RBC Cup in Vernon, BC.

BC Hockey Referee-in-Chief Sean Raphael using Coach’s Eye at the 2014 RBC Cup in Vernon, BC. Photo via twitter.com/BCHockey_Refs

Over the last several decades, video technology has fundamentally altered the way that we experience the game of hockey. In the modern era, a game isn’t broadcast on television without every play available for replay from six different angles in super-slow motion. The use of video in hockey has become ubiquitous to the point that there isn’t a PeeWee team that doesn’t utilize regular video sessions as part of their player development. However, video has yet to penetrate the officiating side of the sport to the same degree. Unfortunately, both in the professional and minor spheres, the most frequent use of video has been to catch officials making mistakes. However, from the perspective of developing officials, feedback is only useful if it’s constructive. Simply pointing out every instance where an official missed a trip, slash, or check from behind doesn’t meet the criteria.

This is not to say that video doesn’t have a place in the development of officials at the minor and junior levels. Video coaching is a tool that has massive upside for officiating development when utilized in a limited context. From the beginning of this experiment, my use of video has focused on the procedural aspects of officiating that are difficult to explain in isolation and would benefit from having a video example. I have absolutely avoided using video to discuss individual calls or non-calls by an official. I avoid isolating individual calls for the same reason that everyone who watches the NHL and has a Twitter account thinks they could referee. It’s simply too easy for a supervisor to spend several minutes zooming in, slowing down, and replaying an incident until they come to a decision that the official on the ice had to make in a split-second. Furthermore, my experiment has focused almost exclusively on minor officials, albeit at the higher levels of minor hockey. Therefore, I have scrupulously avoided giving officials the impression that my presence at the rink is to catch them doing something wrong. A supervisor isn’t doing an official any favours if the official feels like the supervisor is “nit-picking” at their performance. The singular objective is for the official to feel that they’re being provided with an additional dimension to enhance their learning and development.

From a supervisor’s perspective, the one drawback of utilizing video coaching is that, in minor hockey, the supervisor has to shoot the video themselves. The reality is that when a supervisor is shooting video of an official, they’re not really watching the game. This means that their ability to talk to the official about their overall performance is diminished. An additional consideration is that most minor hockey associations have very limited resources devoted to officiating development. In most cases, supervisory work is either done on a strictly volunteer basis or their budget for remunerating supervisors is restrictive. Given these constraints, it doesn’t make sense for a supervisor to spend the entire game filming when it’s one of only a few opportunities to develop a particular official that season. With that in mind, I will only utilize video coaching under the following conditions:

1) The official being supervised is working at least Bantam AAA and/or this is a high performance event (Provincial Championship, U16 Cup, etc.)

2) The supervisor has previously supervised the official during the current season

3) The supervisor identifies an aspect of the official’s game that would benefit from video coaching after having watched at least one full period

If a situation meets these requirements, it means that the supervisor already has some kind of relationship with the official and the official is presumably mature enough to handle highly specific, individual feedback. It also indicates that the supervisor has a good idea of how the official is reacting within the game before committing both their time and the official’s to video coaching. The point of these guidelines is to ensure a judicious use of video coaching, which is necessary in order to be beneficial in minor officiating.

Dan delivering a presentation on video coaching to the Officiating Seminar at the 2015 BC Hockey Annual General Meeting.

Dan delivering a presentation on video coaching to the Officiating Seminar at the 2015 BC Hockey Annual General Meeting.

Once the video has been collected, the question remains of how best to deliver the feedback to the officials in question. Thus far, use of video coaching at the Above Minor level in BC Hockey has taken a more immediate approach; either reviewing video in the dressing room post-game or simply emailing a raw video clip of the incident in question to the official. However, post-production utilizing video analysis tools provided by Coach’s Eye* allows for greater flexibility in addressing the unique challenges of developing minor hockey officials. Given the reality of back-to-back games and parents giving rides to and from the rink, supervisors already feel pressed for time when conferring post-game with their officials. Adding the element of video review and discussion is simply not feasible under this paradigm and post-production provides freedom for extensive explanation that a minor official is likely to require.

The addition of post-production elements to video coaching is also beneficial because it creates a record of feedback for that official. Video feedback functions in the same way as a traditional supervision, whether a paper form or electronically through the Hockey Canada Registry. Video feedback can be valuable to an official even when revisited long after the game in question. Post-production also allows supervisors to distribute a single clip to multiple officials as a developmental tool. The use of the voice-over and visual analysis tools means that the clip can be distributed as a self-contained unit, without requiring any additional explanation.

I began to use video coaching in this way when I was given the opportunity to supervise the 2015 PeeWee Female Provincial Championship. Earlier that season, I had recorded a clip from a Juvenile A game that was an excellent example of linesmen communicating and switching lines on the fly. The linesman working the game would not benefit from reviewing the clip, as they were both experienced officials for whom this was an ingrained aspect of their game. However, at the PeeWee Female Championships, I was working with young Level II and older Level I officials who were on the cusp of making the transition to higher levels of minor hockey. The awareness and communication required between linesmen to switch lines on the fly was not yet second-nature to these officials. Utilizing the voice-over and visual analysis tools of Coach’s Eye, I created a minute-long clip that broke down the process of switching lines on the fly. Not only was I able to distribute the video to all fourteen officials working the tournament, but I can also share it with officials in the future as a quick and easy example of the kind of awareness and communication required for the transition into the higher levels of minor hockey. Once a supervisor has acquired quality video, it is simple and easy to ensure that every official receives the same message on a given aspect of officiating.

Video technology has already changed how we view the game of hockey and will continue to permeate every level of the sport over the next few years. The question is how supervisors can turn technology to our advantage as we continue developing officials. A judicious use of video coaching in minor officiating with a focus on the procedural aspects of officiating will fundamentally change the relationship between officials and video technology.

*This article is not an advertisement for Coach’s Eye, which is a tool that I purchased through the Apple App Store. Coach’s Eye is just one of many video coaching apps available for Apple and Android devices. 


Dan is a Level IV Hockey Canada referee, officiating in the BCHL, PJHL, and BCMML. Since 2011, he has been serving as the Assistant Referee-in-Chief for the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association. He has also had the privilege of being an HCOP Course Conductor since 2013 and a BC Hockey Minor Supervisor since 2013, supervising 3 BC Hockey Provincial Championships, instructing 4 BC Hockey Summer Officiating Schools.

Dear Coaches, What You’re Doing Isn’t Working: The Dynamics of Official-Coach Interactions

As I come to the end of my eleventh season as an official, I realize that I’ve been devoting more and more attention to how officials and coaches interact. One of the biggest lessons I try to teach my young officials is that the relationship between a coach and an official does not have to be adversarial; it is unfortunate and unnecessary that it often turns out to be the case. At the minor hockey level, the issue has garnered increased media attention as young referees are continually driven away from the sport by abusive coaches. By contrast, at the junior and professional levels, verbal abuse of referees is often considered a semi-legitimate gamesmanship tactic. Whether we’re referring to an outburst of emotion or a continuous barrage of verbal abuse, yelling at the referees is considered to be ubiquitous in hockey. My meditation on the subject have been centred around trying to understand precisely what coaches are trying to achieve when they verbally abuse official. This is not pathos designed to persuade coaches to reform their behaviour on moral grounds. Instead, this is an explanation of the practical ways in which referees respond to verbal abuse and why smart hockey coaches should keep their mouths shut, because what they’re doing isn’t working.

Before I continue, I want to clarify my use of the word abuse, because my choice of this word is very deliberate. A coach screaming and swearing at an official constitutes abuse because the official cannot respond in kind; if an official screamed or swore at a coach, they would be swiftly disciplined, and rightly so. It is fairly universally agreed upon that a middle-aged adult coach screaming at a twelve year-old official constitutes abuse not only because a teenaged official does not have the ability to respond on the same level, but there is also a physical intimidation factor in which an adult coach clearly has the upper hand. But by the same token, an adult coach yelling at an adult referee constitutes verbal abuse because the referee is not permitted to engage the coach in this way. Whether or not you, as the reader, accept my definition of the word “abuse”, we can continue forward with the understanding of why I have selected this word for my article.

The reality is that for all the smart people involved in the game of hockey, most coaches and players have absolutely zero understanding of how referees respond to displays of emotion and verbal abuse.  Coaches tend to treat referees like players – a coach will yell at a player in the hopes of eliciting a behavioural response that will improve the quality of that individual’s play (whether or not this is a useful tactic is a debate for another day). So coaches react, sometimes without thinking, to (real or perceived) errors by referees the same way they would with their players. The key difference, the one that coaches overlook, is that players are subordinate to the coach; referees are not.

When a referee gets verbally abused, there are three possible ways in which they might respond. The first possibility is that they completely ignore it, which is the best possible outcome for the coach. Let me repeat that: when a coach yells at a referee, the best possible outcome for the coach is that the referee completely ignores them. Either the referee doesn’t hear the coach, or they simply let the abuse roll off their back and carry on with their duties.

The second possibility is that the referee becomes angry with the coach (and by extension, the team). Obviously, a referee is not going to compromise the integrity of the game because a coach has irritated them, but referees are human and it will stick in their subconscious. No matter the circumstances, if a coach or a player verbally abuses an official, they will forever be associated with negative thoughts in the mind of that official. Jason de Vos put it best when he said that “if you treat referees with respect, they will give you the benefit of the doubt”. The reverse is true as well; if a player or a coach treats a referee with disrespect, that referee will not give them the benefit of the doubt when he has to make a judgement call. So by yelling at the referee, a coach is putting himself and the rest of his team in jeopardy of more serious consequences for the rest of the game (and future games with this referee).

The third, and most dangerous, possibility is that the referee suffers a loss of confidence as a result of being verbally abused by a coach. This usually happens in minor hockey, but I’ve seen it happen at the higher levels of the game as well. The criticism from the coach or player sticks in the head of the referee and eats away at their confidence. As a result, they are no longer sure of their decision-making abilities and are more likely to make errors and second-guess themselves. In a previous article, I discussed how a referee cannot properly officiate if they do not have confidence in their decision-making abilities. Loss of confidence on the part of an official will ruin a game of hockey. Furthermore, the officials who are most susceptible to a loss of confidence as a result of verbal abuse are the ones who already have below-average confidence in their abilities and are more likely to make errors that would incite a coach to verbally abuse them in the first place. So the criticism from the coach or player is actually having the opposite of the desired effect. Ironically, if a coach believes that a referee is performing at substandard level, verbally abusing that referee is the least-advisable course of action.

Thus far, three possible outcomes of a coach verbally abusing an official have been discussed. You might notice something they all have in common: none of these outcomes are positive for the coach (and his team) or the official. The simple reality is that when a coach yells at an official, nobody wins. As a referee, a supervisor, an instructor, and a coach, I believe that berating officials is simply not an appropriate course of action. However, if a coach doesn’t realize that by themselves, I have little chance of convincing them. The only chance I have of convincing a coach is as I have tried to do here, by explaining the possible reactions and practical consequences. If a coach plays three forwards together and they fail to register a goal, that coach going to juggle his lines; coaches want to use tactics that work. So it follows that if you are a smart coach, the next time you open your mouth to verbally abuse an official, save both of you the trouble and close your mouth. There are many ways to interact with an official, but verbally abusing them is a tactic that will never work in your favour.


Dan is a Level IV Hockey Canada referee, officiating in the BCHL, PJHL, and BCMML. Since 2011, he has been serving as the Assistant Referee-in-Chief for the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association. He has also had the privilege of being a BC Hockey Minor Supervisor since 2013, supervising 3 BC Hockey Provincial Championships, instructing 3 BC Hockey Summer Schools, and has been a HCOP Course Conductor since 2013. 

What’s wrong with NHL playoff officiating? (HINT: It’s not the officials)

Anybody who has been paying attention to the NHL over the past few years can identify the most common source of complaints: the officiating. With the playoffs in full swing, abuse is raining down upon NHL referees from all corners. Last week, Andy Dudones wrote an excellent piece for thehockeywriters.com decrying the unrelenting “ref-bashing” that is dominating conversation in the hockey community. If you aren’t familiar with the path to becoming an NHL official, the article is an informative introduction to the team of sixty-six physical specimens who have spent decades toiling away in the minor leagues, honing their skills, before being given the opportunity to join the NHL’s officiating corps. Dudones’ conclusion is that the NHL’s officials are only human, that they will make mistakes, and they’re doing their best. While he’s not incorrect, the reality is that the quality of officiating in the NHL is not acceptable. However, the problem is not with the officials; they are the best people available for the job and they are doing their best. The problem stems from the fact that the NHL has accepted the convention that a referee’s penalty standard should change based on the circumstances of the game; that a game in overtime or during the playoffs should be officiated differently than a game in regulation time or during the regular season.

NHL referees

Officiating is about confidence; even though an official is part of a four (or three)-person team, an official is isolated when he’s on the ice. Each official will make a thousand individual, split-second decisions over the course of sixty minutes. An official’s confidence comes from, among other things, his ability to make decisions and decision-making ability, like any other skill, improves with repetition. By the time a referee joins the professional ranks, he is an expert decision-maker, having made millions of decisions over the course of his career. He is supremely confident in his ability to judge goals, penalties, high-sticks, and hand-passes, all in a split second. As an official progresses from minor hockey thru the ranks of junior hockey, he will have to adjust to different rules in each league; however, the basic penalty standard remains constant. It is from this proficiency that officials acquire the necessary confidence.

When an official reaches the NHL, he is subjected to constant, micro-level review of all aspects of his game, including penalty standard. It could be argued that this level of control is necessary in order to maintain consistency at the professional level. However, anyone who has watched a substantial amount of NHL hockey knows that consistency is a scare commodity in the league, and has probably wondered aloud why, with the level of review that referees undergo, there is not more consistency game-to-game.

When referees are instructed to alter their penalty standard based on the circumstances of the game, any hope of consistency goes out the window. A referee has made a thousand elbowing calls in his career; he is an expert at calling elbowing penalties according to the rules of the game. Now, he has to adopt a completely different standard; one that isn’t written down anywhere and exists only in the minds of those who think that playoff hockey should be officiated differently. This means that an official no longer has the confidence to make those split-second decisions. An official cannot do his job if he second-guesses himself, but an official will second-guess himself if he doesn’t have confidence in his ability to make decisions. NHL officials do not, and cannot, have confidence in their decision making abilities. Especially during the playoffs.

While the referees struggle with their decision-making abilities, the players are suffering the consequences. Regardless of whether a player is perceived to be “dirty” or “clean”, no hockey player wants to be sitting in the penalty box. In order to stay out of the penalty box, they need to know what will be called a penalty and what will not. When players “test” the standard – a euphemism for committing a foul to see if they get away with it – and the referees call the penalty, it reaffirms the standard of officiating. When the standard is altered based on the circumstances of the game, the players are lost; they have no idea what will be called and what will not. Although players will espouse the folk “wisdom” that playoff hockey is different and should be officiated differently, alteration of the standard does not benefit them. If the standard for elbowing (or any other penalty) has been the same for eighty-two games and is suddenly relaxed during the playoffs, it is effectively encouraging players to use their elbows. They will do so, and the degree of violence and recklessness will increase, until someone commits a foul so egregious that the referee decides he must call a penalty. At which point, it seems as though the elbowing penalty is coming “out of the blue”; nobody was expecting it and yet, in a game with much on the line, one team is unexpectedly short-handed.

It is not in the nature of any sport to demand a certain standard from September to March, and then a different standard from April to June. The NHL has evolved so much in the past decade, but the near-ubiquitous concept that the standard of officiating should change based on the circumstances of the game is a relic that has yet to be retired. Until this idea is eradicated, there will never be consistency in NHL officiating. It is not up to the officials, this is not their fault; they are being paid to enforce the rules as determined by the NHL. The NHL must decide that they are prepared to take a leading role in changing the attitude of the wider hockey community in order to establish consistency in their league. Until then, the officiating will continue to be wildly inconsistent and complaints will continue to flow, from coaches, pundits, and fans alike.


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 has instructed over 40 on-ice instructional sessions. He has also 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. 

The Role of Supervisors at Championships: Evaluators or Teachers?

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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. 

Supervisors as Coaches (Developing officials and what we sometimes overlook with the best of intentions)

Supervisors don’t usually identify themselves this way, but they are essentially coaches of officials. The role of a supervisor is to support their officials on an ongoing basis, identify the individual strengths and weaknesses of officials, track their progress over time, see how they interact with the team as a whole, and eventually, objectively rank them against their peers. A coach (in any sport) performs these exact same duties; the only difference is that they work with players. If you had to choose, which is the most important of these five aspects? Or more precisely, to which should you devote the most of your time and energy?

The answer is option number one; the role that every supervisor should be most focused on is how best to support their officials on an ongoing basis. It’s not that the other four aspects are unimportant, but they are easy to do. Any decent official could point out a fellow official’s strengths and weaknesses in a game situation. If an official was provided with a list of their officiating colleagues, they’d have no problem ranking their fellow officials by ability. And anybody with moderate reading comprehension could review several supervisions of the same official and judge whether or not that official is making positive progress. Obviously, a supervisor will have a better ability to dissect an official’s performance as they gain more experience and learn from other supervisors (not all supervisors were created equal), but supervisors already possess the basic abilities to evaluate officials before they trade their whistle for a clipboard.

The first key aspect of supporting one’s officials is understanding what I call the “feedback balance”. In order to support one’s officials, supervisors need to know their officials; they need to know who their officials are, what motivates them, and how they respond to feedback. If a supervisor doesn’t know those things about an official, their impact on that official’s life is going to be very minimal. This information tells the supervisor when to push an official, and when to pull back; when to be hard on them, and when to encourage them.

A supervisor’s feedback balance for an official is constantly changing; each official is in a unique situation depending on their age, experience, personality, and goals. When an official is just starting out, the feedback balance is weighted 95/5 in favour of encouragement; these officials need to be praised generously for their strengths while having their weaknesses gently corrected. When supervising a more experienced official who sees officiating as a way to make some money and have some fun, the feedback balance will be about 50/50; the supervisor should make sure the official knows what they’re doing well, while making sure they maintain appropriate skills for the level they are working. In the case of an experienced official who has set high goals for himself (whether that be Provincial assignments, or junior hockey, etc), the feedback balance will be 80/20 in favour of “pushing” that official. In this instance, the supervisor’s job is to help that official reach his goals by honing his skills to the highest level possible; at the same time, supervisors can’t forget to praise the official’s strengths and affirm their ability to achieve their goal (if that’s true).

The second key aspect of supporting one’s officials is simple: candour. Not just honesty (because while honesty is crucial, it alone is not sufficient) but candour. As a supervisor, your job is to make sure that your officials know where they are and where they’re going. Are they struggling at their current level, are they middle of the pack, are they ready for the next level? Have they reached their peak, do they need to work harder, where is their potential, can they work at a high level? If an official has the potential to work at a high level, but is only officiating for fun and money, respect their chosen path while letting them know that they have the potential to do something more. If an official wants to work at a high level but isn’t there yet, tell them what they have to do to reach their goal and how far away they are from it. As a supervisor, as a coach, your job is to communicate with them; never stop communicating. Make no mistake, it is a hard thing to do; nobody ever claimed that it was easy to be honest and candid, but as a supervisor and a coach, you owe it to your officials.

Having the difficult conversation with an official and letting them know, however gently, that their performance is falling short of what is expected of them is never a fun task for a supervisor. Because of this, supervisors often shirk that responsibility in favour of the head supervisor or referee-in-chief, who also avoids the conversation, assuming that it has already taken place between the supervisor and the official. In the end, nobody has the conversation with the official, they all assume that someone else has had the conversation, and the official is left in the dark. In fact, the responsibility is equally shared amongst every member of the supervisory staff. The head supervisor or referee-in-chief has to assume the responsibility of ensuring that every official knows where they are and where they’re going; at the same time, the supervisor must have the conversation with the official because their feedback and reports will serve as the basis for the referee-in-chief’s decisions. When in doubt, more feedback is always better.

From the outside looking in, its relatively easy to identify officials whose supervisors don’t communicate properly with them. They are the officials who sit nervously by the computer waiting for their next batch of assignments, with no idea how many games they’ll be receiving or at what level they’ll be working. They are the officials who think they have been performing well all season, only to not receive the playoff or championship assignments they expected. This level of uncertainty is so detrimental to an officials confidence and seriously hinders their ability to perform to the best of their abilities. It is an official’s responsibility incorporate the feedback given to them by their supervisors, but if the supervisor isn’t speaking to them with honesty and candour, that official will not be able to succeed.

There is a tendency for supervisors to get caught up in the tactical, black-and-white aspects of officiating; the “X’s and O’s”, so to speak. What is important to remember is that just about everybody can do the X’s and O’s. We all understand positioning, signals, penalty standard, and the other elements of officiating. The obligation that is the most difficult to execute and to master is communicating with them. Keeping your officials healthy and happy while helping them to realize and achieve their goals; and although it may be the most difficult, it is also the most useful and the most rewarding.

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Author’s Note: I have had the distinct pleasure of working with BC Hockey supervisors who view themselves more as teachers than as evaluators, are never afraid to have the difficult conversation with an official, and who served as examples for this article. I also owe Eric Wynalda, Atlanta Silverbacks Technical Director, a debt for helping me to elucidate my long-held philosophy.  -DH 

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 has instructed over 40 on-ice instructional sessions. He has also had the privilege of instructing at 2 BC Hockey Summer Schools and has been a HCOP Course Conductor since 2013.