skip navigation

Communication Essentials

By USA Hockey, 12/28/16, 12:15PM MST


When he was 11 years old, Shane Warschaw got into officiating for one reason: cheating.

I figured I would learn all the rules and then I could learn how to cheat in my game,” Warschaw admits with a laugh.

Learning to “cheat” was also teaching Warschaw the intricacies of hockey. It gave him a new passion for the game, one that he has carried on as an official in United States’ junior leagues and beyond, as well as overseas with the Swedish Hockey League and Austrian Hockey League.

With international hockey experience, Warschaw has especially learned the importance of communication. He gave us his advice on why communication is so important, and how to do it effectively on and off the ice.

USA Hockey: Why exactly is communication such an important part of an official’s expertise?

Shane Warschaw: If we can’t communicate with players and coaches, as well as our teammates, the other officials on the ice, then we have a big issue. We’re always communicating, whether it’s verbally or with our body language on the ice. A good referee is one that’s back and away from the play and isn’t noticed, therefore, you’ve got to get your voice to let them know you’re paying attention, watching, that you’re confident. That poise throughout the whole process in the game, it’s so essential.

USAH: Communication doesn’t just start when the game starts though right?

Warschaw: Right. Communication with your [officiating] team starts right away when you walk into the building. When you’re in the locker room, you have small talk, you talk about the matchup or players – just being aware of what you’re getting yourself into or the possibilities of what you’re getting yourself into. That starts immediately when you walk in the locker room, but even before that, it starts when you walk into the building; the way you’re dressed, the way you show up, it’s more of a body language perception. You’re not wearing ripped jeans, a t-shirt – especially wearing a t-shirt of one of the teams that’s playing – because coaches and players and fans, they all notice that when you walk in the building. If you’re dressed professionally, whether it’s an 8U game or pro game, people notice who you are right away, so it starts there.

USAH: Wait, wait, wait…are you saying you’ve seen an official walk into the rink wearing team-logoed apparel?

Warschaw: Unfortunately, yes, I have. That’s mostly at the local level [in Europe] because you get local officials who grew up in another region or a group playing for one club and they just put on a t-shirt and go to the rink. That’s when it usually happens. Some people don’t even think about it. They just go and they may not care. I have seen it and it puts you behind the 8-ball right away as a group.

USAH: How difficult is it to communicate with players, coaches and your officiating team in a different country? How did you move beyond that language barrier?

Warschaw: You’ve just got to keep it very simple. That’s one thing I learned. You have to keep things very basic, very simple and straight to the point. You don’t want to tell a story, you don’t want to b.s. anybody, you just want to get straight to the point and just be honest. That’s the best way to deal with international officials, coaches and players.

USAH: What if you’re a younger official who’s still a bit timid to approach a coach or new group of officials? How do you learn the confidence to communicate?

Warschaw: The biggest thing is, one, try to be unafraid. I know that’s easier said than done, but have that confidence. You’re out there, there’s a reason you’re out there. They have you there because the scheduler had confidence in you to do those games, so have confidence and always know where you want that conversation to go. When you go to approach a player or coach, have an idea of where you want that conversation to go and play that conversation very quickly in your head as you’re going over there and say, ‘this is where I’m going with it and if we get sidetracked I’m outta there, I’m done, we’re not going to go any further, because this is what we’re going to talk about.

Have that confidence, and have that rule knowledge. You need to know the rules, because when the coaches want to talk to you about a situation or a rule, the worst thing you could have happen is to not know or understand the rule. Rule knowledge in any situation is essential when you are going into the conversation.

As in anything, hey, you might make a mistake, but you’re only going to get better with more conversations. You’ll get better and better each time.

USAH: What’s the best way to communicate with associations/teams/coaches?

Warschaw: One thing that we started to do in Europe was meeting with teams beforehand and tell them what is expected on the ice. This was based on a league rule. You kind of teach them … what the League’s expecting, how to handle yourself, how to present yourself in a manner on the ice because we’re always teaching and learning. But when it comes to organizations in youth hockey, it’s so big and spread out. It’s nationwide and you have different people trying to deliver the same message all over, and USA Hockey does a great job with it. But some messages get misinterpreted. It’d be great for local associations to conduct seminars for the players, parents and coaches to give them an all-around sense of what USA Hockey is looking for. Coaches and officials go and learn what’s expected from USA Hockey. I’d like to have something similar for parents and players. I think that would help them learn the game and how USA Hockey wants it played, coached and officiated.

USAH: Biggest piece of advice on communication

Warschaw: The biggest thing is to show respect, even when you’re dealing with disrespect. It’s difficult to stay even-keeled when there’s a player or coach yelling and screaming, but you have to remember that their behavior is based on emotion. We, as officials, have to keep our emotions in check and stay calm. It’s the best way to diffuse a situation.