There are many people in hockey who feel that if a player or coach doesn’t yell at a referee at least once during a game, then the referee must be doing a bad job!  After all, every referee understands even before beginning a game that he will usually have 50% of the people upset with most of the calls he makes in any game.  Furthermore, at the end of every game, the losing side often lays part of the blame for the loss on several calls made by the referee. This is not a criticism of the game. It is merely a fact of hockey which must be accepted as part of human nature.

In the heat of battle, coaches, players and officials do not always see eye to eye. How’s that for a profound statement?  The referee is always trying to be fair, but any coach who has just received a penalty from this official seems to think otherwise.  Referees are human. This is something that many coaches, players and fans seem to forget. What they also forget is that referees have feelings. So when a coach is screaming at a referee in disagreement over one of his decisions, imagine how it must feel to be publicly centred out in front of all of the fans and players. Imagine how it must feel to have your authority questioned by someone who is usually older and who supposedly knows a lot about the game of hockey. To a young referee who is trying his best to develop his officiating skills, this is terribly upsetting and at best, unnerving.

Every person is different and so is every official. Some officials will just let the coach yell and scream till he turns blue in the face and some officials will assess a bench minor penalty at the first peep out of the coach’s mouth. Many coaches treat this as part of their game strategy. They work the referee and pride themselves on how far they can push without getting a penalty. The common belief is that if you stay on the referee early in the game, you may get some calls going your way later on. 

What drives coaches around the bend is that some referees may allow a coach to get away with screaming at him for a few games and then the next game, give out a bench minor for a simple comment or gesture.  Once again, referees are human and from time to time they have bad days at work or arguments with their friends and/or partners. Don’t be surprised if a referee has a short fuse from time to time.  Furthermore, as the season progresses and the referees are getting verbally abused game in and game out, it takes its toll on these people and their fuses may start to get shorter and shorter. The message is clear – if you play with fire, don’t be surprised if you get burned.

Referees are always told that they are to take a ‘Zero Tolerance’ approach to abuse from coaches and players and that this will gain their respect and make your games go smoothly.  However, the exact opposite has happened from time to time.  A referee may give a bench minor at the first outburst by the coach.  This is fine and it is what he has been told to do, but the referee must still find a way to communicate with the coach. Some  referees refuse to speak to the coach or captain which makes the coach even more infuriated and eventually results in problems later on in the game.

“Zero Tolerance” does not mean “Zero Communication”. It is still important that effective communication be established between the coach and players, and the officials. It is only when this communication becomes verbally insulting or unprofessional that the ‘Zero Tolerance’ should be adopted and appropriate penalties assessed.

There is a fine line between communicating to a coach in a civilized manner and not communicating to the coach at all.  Referees must learn through experience when to assess a coach a penalty and when to talk to the captain or coach.  Just like coaches must learn through experience how far they can push the referee before he will assess?


The problems with having coaches or players yelling at the officials is that this also tends to cause the other coaches, players and fans to get going as well.  At some point the referee now has half of the arena yelling at him.   The players start to feed off of their teammates, coaches and fans and they start to play rougher and dirtier giving the referee no choice but to assess another penalty against that team.  It is a vicious cycle that usually is not completed until the final buzzer of the game sounds.

This is the very reason why it is better for the referee to address the problem of a coach or player yelling at him by either communicating in a respectful manner, or, failing that, by assessing an appropriate penalty. 

Communicating with Fans/Parents

The way a referee can communicate with the crowd is by calling the police!  And don’t think that it won’t happen if the fans start to get out of hand.  It has happened before and will happen again! Especially if the fans continue to abuse young officials the way they currently are.

Bringing in the police is something that no one wants to see. However, some fans can be threatening, and a referee has no way of knowing if the person causing the problems is merely letting off steam or if he is a lunatic who could pose a physical danger to the officiating staff. In either case, the abusive fan definitely has a negative impact on the game and if allowed to continue will affect the manner in which the players conduct themselves on the ice.

Communicating Techniques

Referees have a few communication techniques available to them that are utilized during the course of a game. We will consider a few of them below:

1) The referee may let the coach yell for a few seconds but no more.

Sometimes the referee will let a coach yell at him for a few seconds, as long as the coach chooses his words carefully.  If the coach yells about a situation that just happened and does not direct it at the referee by calling him names or pointing at the referee saying things like “It’s your fault my player is hurt!”, then the referee may not assess a penalty as long as the coach does not make a big scene of it.  Officials who have played the game are well aware of the emotions involved and usually give a bit of leeway in order to allow a coach to cool down.

2) The referee may get close to the bench so that the coach can express his heartfelt feelings towards the referee in a manner whereby the rest of the arena does not have to hear it.

This is considered a very risky move that could erupt into a nasty scene.  As the referee, you try to get as close to the bench as possible so that the coach can scream in your ear at a sound level that won’t let the rest of the people in the arena hear him.  The referee must now gain his composure and bite his tongue so that he does not say anything.  When the coach has rambled on for a few seconds the referee may look at him and say something like, “Okay, that’s enough!”  It is at this point that the coach should realize he has pushed the referee as far as he can and it is time to zip his/her mouth or else a Bench Minor penalty may be in the not so distant future.

You will find for the most part that unless the coach has embarrassed, showed up or centered out the referee he will not be assessed a penalty.

The key to this technique is the ability of the referee to take what the coach is saying without getting into an argument that only adds fuel to the fire. By remaining calm and allowing the coach to have his say (even if the coach knows that the referee will not change his mind) the referee will be demonstrating that he is mature enough to listen – up to a certain point – and most coaches like to take the matter to that point.

3) The referee may wait until a coach has calmed down by waiting a few whistles before he will go over and talk to the coach.

Sometimes the coach will be flaring his arms in the air and screaming that he wants the referee to come over to the bench so that he can talk to him.  If you were the referee, would you go over and talk to a coach who has just been screaming and yelling at you?  Not likely.  So referees like to let the play continue for a couple of whistles before they will go over and talk to the coach.  This allows the coach about one or two minutes to calm down and allows a reasonably civil conversation to take place between the referee and the coach.

4) The referee may ask for a Captain or Assistant Captain to relay the message to the coach.

A referee will always try to maintain the flow of the game, so continually going over to the players’ bench and talking to the coach slows the pace of the game down.

Therefore, referees will often use the option of having the Captain or Alternate Captain(s) relay a message to the coach.  This way the referee does not have to get into a long conversation with the coach.  It is simply a message sent to the coach like “Keep your voice down or you are going to get a bench minor penalty.” Or “There was no hook on the play because your player was holding the stick of the guy you wanted a penalty assessed against.”

5) The referee may just ignore the coach or player entirely.

This may either work for the referee or backfire.  The way it works is that the coach will get tired of yelling or arguing to himself and just stop on his own.  The way it backfires is that the coach will continue to get louder and louder not realizing that the referee is just ignoring him and not that he can’t hear him.  Sooner or later the coach gets too loud and he can no longer be ignored.  This is where a penalty is usually assessed.


If a referee and coach show each other respect right from the moment they arrive at the arena, then a good communication bond has already been developed that will allow the game to flow smoothly.

However, there is a flip side to this coin.  If a coach does not show the referee respect, for instance trying to talk louder than the referee when he is trying to explain a rule or situation to him, then the referee may tend to not show respect back by simply not communicating with this coach until he decides to show respect. The more that a coach and referee learn each other’s personality types, the easier the communication barrier will be broken and the hockey game will flow smoothly with communication turning into an asset rather than a liability.           

Coaches using Captains and Alternate Captains

Since referees like to relay messages to the coaches through the use of the Captains and Assistant Captains, it is a fair question if a coach asks when can  it is appropriate for one of the  Captains or Assistant Captains to the referee?

First of all, the rule states that any player, including the Captain or Assistant Captain, who leaves his players’ bench to discuss any interpretation of the rules with the Referee is subject to a minor penalty. This rule is pretty self-explanatory.  A player is not allowed to come off of his players’ bench to discuss anything with the referee.  So what happens if a player does come off the players’ bench and tries to ask a question like “My coach wants to know why you didn’t call that slash that happened against our #12?” 

First of all, most referees will only let the player get the words “My coach……” out of the player’s mouth. The player will then likely be interrupted by the referee who will respond with, “Next stoppage of play you can ask me your question, not now.  Go line up.” 

This is because the referee is not permitted to talk to the player for the simple fact that the rules try to keep the game flowing as smoothly as possible.  Allowing players to come off the bench and ask questions to the referee would slow down play considerably.

You are probably wondering, “Well what is the difference if he asks you now or after the next whistle?” 

The answer is that while the player is asking his question after the next whistle, the referee will be conducting his line change procedure.  So by the time he asks his question and receives an answer, the players are almost ready to start play again and there will be no delay in the game.

Now here is where the penalties may occur. You are now aware that no player is allowed to come off the bench to ask a question to the referee.  If the player stays on the ice then this is perfectly legal.  But, if the player goes back to the bench,  then there will be a minor penalty for “Delay of Game” assessed to the player who tried to ask the question.  This is because the player’s prime reason for stepping on the ice was to ask a question to the referee and then go back and sit on the players’ bench.  In doing so, it delays the game and thus a penalty may be assessed.

Referees do not like to enforce this rule, so usually the player will not be allowed to go off the ice. The referee will force him to remain on the ice and have the coach remove another player. By doing this, the referee no longer has to assess the penalty because the player never got to ask the referee his question, and furthermore he remained on the ice. 

Coaches who know this rule and try to bend it will not argue with the referee if the referee makes this player who just tried to ask a question stay on the ice.  If the coach says that he doesn’t want this player on the ice, the referee simply says, “If he goes off the ice, your team will receive a minor penalty for Delay of Game.”  The coach at this time will usually make the player stay on the ice and thus avoid taking the penalty.