USA Field Hockey NEWS Communication is the...

Communication is the Key to Success

By Steve Horgan, USA Field Hockey's Director of Umpiring | Dec. 06, 2019, 1 p.m. (ET)

In any business when it appears that the “right hand” and “left hand” are not communicating, problems arise and occur more frequently. Problems then trickle down and create even more issues for the people that the business is supposed to serve. When the consumer becomes frustrated with the service they are receiving, the company begins to get numerous complaints due to the lack of communication from the business on what and why any specific situation is happening. All of this traces back to the initial lack of communication between all parties involved.

The umpires on a match are always the first line of communication when a decision is made. The decision must be clear between partners, so it can be expressed to the players, coaches and spectators. If the umpires are not clear between themselves, how can anyone expect the other participants to understand what is acceptable in a match? This process begins and should end with the use of the whistle and “proper” arm signals. These actions performed in the right context of a match will communicate exactly what is called and, in many cases, why the call was made. Even though we are in a world of electronics where radios are being used more frequently by umpires, the communication cannot only be between umpires. The message must come across to the other participants as quickly and clearly as possible.

Except for baseball, softball and cricket, most other sports officials use a whistle as the first line of communication. With the whistle, hockey umpires must communicate to “four” separate but all-important parties: their partner, the players, the coaches and the spectators. The best way to achieve this is to, at a minimum, blow the whistle to a level on every decision so that the furthest player away from the umpire can hear it. If a penalty corner decision is made in one circle, the goalkeeper at the opposite end should hear the whistle, then the coaches and most spectators who are in between that area can also hear it.

Thus, no excuse when a player says, “I did not hear the whistle.” Also, for clarity and understanding for all, everyone must be able to know that the game has been interrupted for some reason. If some hear it and some don’t, then someone is confused as to why the game stopped. It is the umpire’s responsibility to be heard properly and consistently when making a decision.

Umpires are trained that what is heard from the whistle is as important as the timing of it. Even the youngest of players can understand that the tone, loudness and sharpness of a whistle “means something” in relation to the game. A simple whistle heard by all easily, is an indication that a simple foul has occurred. When the tone goes to the medium level, this should indicate that the foul recognized is of a little more aggressive nature or close to a breakdown type of foul. If the umpire uses a much harsher, sharper type whistle, this should indicate to all players, coaches and spectators that the action or foul recognized is not acceptable and if not stopped will lead to the next level of penalty. Again, the whistle is the first line of communication during a match setting the standard of play as well as clarity and consistency for all participants.

The reason “why” the whistle was blown is just as important to the participants in terms of clarity and understanding of what is acceptable or not. A player or coach cannot be expected to stop an action just because of a louder whistle if there is no indication of what the foul is being called for. This is where communication with signals is so important in controlling and managing a match. It is the umpire’s duty to keep as many people in the loop of the decision as possible. Therefore, the proper signal in conjunction with the appropriate whistle tone is the best way for umpires to indicate that they are confident and consistent in their umpiring.

Umpires cannot operate in a “silo” or be the only ones in a match that knows why the game was stopped. In hockey there are obvious fouls that the players, coaches and umpires understand easily, this does not mean that everyone in the stadium does. This is where the umpires can help themselves and the big picture of the game by using the appropriate arm signals as much as possible during a match. These signals should be delivered by the book and in a way that is not flamboyant or arrogant in nature. Realizing that today’s game can be very fast with the self-start and immediate aerial ball off a free hit, the umpire may not always have the time to signal. But, it must be done as often as possible for the benefit of everyone.

Any attempt to have effective communication on the pitch between the umpires and those on the sidelines or in the bleachers cannot happen verbally, especially from 40-50 meters away. The only way to verbally communicate from that distance is to yell or speak loudly which will only leads to frustration and confrontation. Therefore, the vast majority of communication between an umpire and the athletes must be done with the whistle and signals. Verbal communication in close quarters, around a small area, can also be quite acceptable to manage a specific situation but should also not be used in an arrogant or demeaning manner.

Communication is the key to success of any business, group and family. When communication happens in the appropriate context and with the right presentation, everyone benefits. Even though all parties will never always agree on decisions made on the field, all can agree that if the communication is understandable and consistent, everyone wins.

This article is featured in the Spring 2018 issue of FHLife magazine. To read more inspiring, knowledge-packed and fun features revolving around hockey, fitness, healthy eating and how to strengthen your game, subscribe to our quarterly publication by clicking here.