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Message to All Coaches
by Jeanne Barreca posted 1/12/2017

Message to All Empire Coaches:

During the second week of January, Nick Tochelli, our local Supervisor of Officials sent a letter to all the local Presidents.  Hopefully by now, most of you have seen the letter (or heard about it) from your House Director or President.  It was primarily aimed at the Squirt Coaches but the message applies to all new Coaches and also to those of you with 5, 10 or even 20 years of coaching experience.  The theme is to improve team interactions with the referees before we reach a crisis point where Coaches are receiving suspensions regularly and Empire starts bringing coaches in for hearings.  I apologize in advance for the length of this email.

It is hard to become a coach.  There are five or six steps that need to be completed before you step on the ice with the registration, modules, certification class, screening and SafeSport requirements.  It is harder to become a referee – they register, screen, take SafeSport, and then EVERY YEAR also must complete their online modules, referee seminar, and take lengthy exams and skating tests.  It takes a lot of initiative to become an ice hockey official.  Then the referees go out on the ice and get yelled at by players, coaches and spectators in the stands.  This can make working at McDonald’s at minimum wage look very attractive. 

Both of my sons are referees, they started at age 14 and both still referee today at age 26 and 21.  This is my twenty-something season as a parent, manager and administrator.  Many of the following comments came from my sons over the years, some are impressions from when my children played, some are from running Tournaments and Playoffs over the years and some are from reading the Referee Evaluation responses Nick Tochelli has copied me on as EAHC President.

  1.       When interacting with the officials, call them by name.  Write their names down on your line-up sheet.  If you can’t remember them, call them “Sir” or otherwise show respect for the position.  Talk to them at their level, get down off the bench and use a conversational tone of voice.  They will not change a call no matter how much you argue so don’t waste the curfew time.  If there were previous issues with the other team, identify this at the beginning of the game – use your opportunity to give them a heads up.  If you remember the referees from previous games and thought the game was called too loosely, ask nicely to tighten it up so it does not get out of hand later on.  They won’t remember you or your game.  When they work 4 or 6 games a weekend (or even 2 or 3), what happened a few weeks ago is a blur.  My kids rarely remember who won (white or dark) or even the number of penalties by the time they drive home.  The referees take a picture of the scoresheet after finishing up a Game Misconduct or Match Penalty write-up on a scoresheet in the ref room after a game so they can remember enough details to do the mandatory USA Hockey report when they get home. 
  2.       The January 2017 issue of the USA Hockey magazine had an excellent article on page 12 on Bench Management.  Item #5 in this article identifies, ”Play It Cool.  Players are a reflection of their coach.  As a role model for your players, you set the tone for how the rest of your team will act.  Your demeanor on the bench will oftentimes be reflected by your players when they’re on the ice.  A coach who is calm and collected will likely be mirrored by a team that plays with composure. Conversely, if you’re a hothead, it’s reasonable to assume that your players will lose their cool when they’re on the ice.  I always tell my players to let their play do the talking.  You don’t need to be chirping other players or the officials.  I tell them that we’ll take care of the refs and you take care of the game.  I try not to say too much to the refs, but I want the players to know I have their backs.”  The author coaches Juniors.  In youth games, the kids are even more influenced by the coaching staff.  I attended the WNYAHL (travel) meeting in December where Gary Cutler, the West Section Referee in Chief, was a guest speaker.  In addition to making the same point about coaches being responsible for their players actions, he also pointed out the referees do not owe the coaches any interaction at all after the game starts. This statement caused considerable surprise at the meeting!  If the referees elect to not interact with you, do not take it personally or negatively, it is not part of their job requirement.  Appreciate it when it happens.
  3.       Your perspective on the bench is much different than the officials on the ice even when the referee is right in front of your bench.  They call what they see.  I hear coaches complain all the time when their player got a penalty for retaliating and the opposing player with the original slash or hook did not get anything.  The thwack or the stumble may have drawn their attention from the play and the only thing the refs see is the retaliation.  Use every penalty and icing and off-sides as a teaching moment instead of an opportunity to criticize the officials.  You may disagree with the call, but to your player it should include “I did not see the play from the official’s perspective” and ask him what he can do next time to avoid the situation or do something differently.  The officials utilize their judgement to make calls.  They may remember how coordinated they were at age 9 or 10 better than you do and therefore judge an icing call differently than you would.
  4.       Did you have excellent officials last weekend?  Were they average or did you spend the game biting your tongue?  Fill out a Referee Evaluation.  Both young and more seasoned officials benefit from your perspective and comments. The Referee Evaluation system is set up to make it easy for the Head Coach to fill it out.  Beyond the game details, most of the questions can be left at average but please take the time to make them higher/lower if justified.  Then in the Comments area give examples: were they consistent, fair, worked well together, dealt with a difficult situation, or otherwise stood out?  Wait 24 hours if necessary - this is not the forum to vent.  Do your research about rules if you think the referees were wrong – the USA Hockey Rule Book is online on the USA Hockey website.  Have you ever taken the time to look up the Rule for Hooking or Interference?  The referees will learn from your comments when the supervisors talk to them.  Sometimes the supervisors will provide feedback to the Head Coach or ask for more information if the situation warrants it.  Sometimes the supervisors will view part of the game on LiveBarn if it was in one of the rinks that have this feature.  But they won’t know to view the game for issues or outstanding refereeing if you don’t fill out a referee evaluation.  
  5.       EAHC implemented the Fair Play Point (FPP) system to encourage teams to use good sportsmanship and clean play.  It is not the referees fault if you do not earn your Fair Play Point for a game.  We also implemented the rule that if the Coaches receive an Unsportsmanlike Penalty, then the team loses their FPP even if they would otherwise qualify.  Coach behavior can cost your team points in the standings.  When we implemented the Fair Play Point system, penalties in our league dropped substantially when it was a Full Point.  Until this year, having the FPP set at ½ point has been a nice balance between keeping player penalties down and influencing standings.  I would hate to propose to the Empire Board next summer to raise the Fair Play Point back to a full point because of the behavior of coaches.

Thank you for coaching an Empire team.  All of the Empire Board and Commissioners appreciate your efforts and we hope we can count on you to give this issue your consideration and make this our best season ever!

Respectfully,

Jeanne Barreca

EAHC President, 2016-17