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Universal Greeting: Set the Stage for Cooperation - Book Excerpt

Confidence in Conflict for Sports Officials- Chapter 4 Universal Greeting


Enjoy this excerpt from one of our published books.

Chapter 4

Universal Greeting (Set the Stage for Cooperation)

 It’s a beautiful sunny day in July. John and his partner Jim are umpiring a 14-year-old youth baseball tournament. Jim is the plate umpire and John will umpire the bases. They both get to the ballpark 45 minutes before game time. They conduct their pre- game meeting with each other and get dressed (they look good). It’s now time to head to the field for the ground rules (meeting with coaches and captains). They get to home plate and Jim opens up the conversation by stating, “Here’s how I’m going to run this game.” He continues by explaining his strike zone and that he won’t tolerate any disagreements during the game. He uses the word “I” ten times during the meeting, referring to how “he” will umpire the game. What kind of impression do you think the players and coaches have of Jim (and his partner John)? Has Jim created a supportive or defensive atmosphere for the players and coaches during game? Has Jim made it easy for him and his partner to get cooperation during the game? The answer is “probably not.”

Making Initial Contact

Meetings like this occur in all sports. There is always a point when the officials make their initial contact with the players and coaches (at all levels of sports). Many people are watching to see who that official(s) is/are way before the game starts. Once they see you, they begin forming an impression based on how you come across. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” he examines the process he calls thin-slicing in which people formulate an impression of you within two seconds. The players, coaches and fans thin-slice officials and officials do their own thin-slicing. In general, the impact of thin-slicing is felt in the building of relationships and how people interact with each other (agreements and disagreements). Therefore, how you make an initial contact with someone is very important. It is setting the stage for how you manage the game. Vistelar’s tactic for this is the Universal Greeting:Graphic-1-Chapter-4-Sports-Officials

  1. Give an appropriate greeting. This shows respect and is professional and pleasant.
  2. Introduce yourself (if they haven’t met you before) and your role as an official, if they don’t know (Umpire, Crew Chief, Line Judge, and Side Line Official, etc.). This answers the Great American Questions of “Who are you?” and “Where do you get your authority?”
  3. Explain your reason for initiating the contact (Great American Question #1, “Why?”). Is it ground rules, equipment inspection, pre-game meeting? Every sport has its own procedures; just explain yourself.
  4. Ask a relevant question (approach for showing respect: ask and explain why). “Can I see your line-up cards? Please line up so we can check your shin guards. Can we see your bats and helmets? Is everyone properly equipped?” These are examples of questions you may have.

The pre-game meetings or ground rules also allow you to set the “Social Contract” for the game. This concept was created by Joel Lashley, a Training Consultant for Vistelar. The Merriam-Webster definition of Social Contract is as follows: “an actual or hypothetical agreement among the members of an organized society or between a community and its ruler that defines and limits the rights and duties of each.” I think of the social contract in sports as those rules that may not necessarily be written, such as not stealing bases when you are winning by 15 runs or throwing passes down field when you are winning by four touchdowns in the last three minutes of a game. This doesn’t mean you need to talk about all of these things during your meetings. You run the risk of being too long winded and giving the impression that you are a dictator and not an official. Officials may mention things, such as how to approach them if you want to discuss a call, or they mention the need for sportsmanship during the game. In some sports and organizations there are certain requirements for reminding the coaches and players that they have to behave. The pre-game meeting is your opportunity

In my experiences, “behavior” is a relative term for some people. In my ground rules, I remind coaches that I would rather they come to talk to me instead of yelling at me from the dugout or from 90 feet away. It’s hard to accomplish anything from that distance (except maybe an ejection). The pre-game meetings are your opportunity to set the Social Contract when it comes to discussing calls and sportsmanship. One caution is that you shouldn’t be using the “I” word too much when you talk about these things. That puts too much focus on you.

Benefits of the Universal Greeting

There are benefits to initially greeting people properly. This assists you in managing conflict that may occur later in the event. The Universal Greeting is professional and pleasant, which helps to overcome any of the players’ or coaches’ negative perceptions of you as an official (or perceptions you have of a coach). These perceptions could be the result of a previous encounter with a coach or they could be the negative perceptions players and coaches have of officials (it happens at all levels). You want to show the players and coaches that you are not a “jerk.” I once had a rough encounter with a high school coach in a state tournament. There were several conflicts that occurred in two games during that tournament. The following season I umpired a regional tournament game involving the same team and coach. I made it a point to be spot on with the Universal Greeting when we met at ground rules. It went great. The meeting was pleasant and professional; we even talked about the tournament from last year. This reduced the tensions and led to a more pleasant experience for both of us during the game.

The Universal Greeting also allows you to “test the waters” during the pre-game meetings. You get a sense of how the coaches and teams are feeling today. If you go into the meeting overly aggressive (you don’t let anyone talk), you will get little information that would have allowed you to head off and handle any conflicts that may have occurred during the game. There are clues sent out by the coaches that will let you know if there will be friction between the teams, players, coaches or officials. How the participants at the meeting interact with each other may give you some clues. If you are professional and pleasant, then you can eliminate yourself as the antagonist. The information you gain at the pre-game meeting may lead to some good intelligence for you. That intelligence may well help you later in the game when dealing with conflict.

Vistelar and its training consultants are always receiving requests for training courses that center around de-escalation tactics. In sports, de-escalation means how we as officials communicate with the players and coaches when they are losing it on the field? Officials sometimes do things that set people off. In many instances, we don’t even know we are doing this. Yet in some instances there are officials who bait people into bad behavior. In either case, we call this the P.O.P index, which stands for how to “Provoke Other People.”

The importance of the “P.O.P. Index” can’t be overstated. That’s because 93% of your success inGraphic-2-Chapter-4-Sports-Officials communicating is based on your delivery style. This includes both your non-verbals aa well as your speech. Examples of non-verbals are as follows:

  • Facial expressions can convey disinterest, disgust, anger and annoyance. 
  • Your attitude may convey superiority; you may be argumentative or dismissive.
  • You may display mannerisms that convey being inapproachable. Such as the use of the “hand” to stop someone from talking.

Examples of speech that provokes people are as follows:

  • The use of profanity.
  • The use of “buzzwords.” Buzzwords are trending words and phrases that are usually negative. They can be ethnic slurs, racial slurs or any other kinds of slurs.
  • The use of a “verbal parting shot.” We don’t always have to have the last word. Remember that if it felt good for you to say it, it probably wasn’t the right thing to say.

As an athletic official, you may be officiating sports on the youth level. This means you could have players and coaches with little or no experience in competitive sports. So where do they learn how to interact with the officials? The coaches may have personal experience from when they participated in a sport. The kids may get it from watching games on television or in person, or from watching movies that deal with sports. The experiences these people have may be good experiences or they may be bad experiences. Either way you have an opportunity to mold their experiences with officials by modeling proper behavior during the game. I stress this when speaking to umpires at the youth level. You have an effect on the development of those players and coaches. I have even encountered coaches at the high school level that need to be shown proper behavior on the field. The Universal Greeting helps in that modeling process.

The final benefit to the Universal Greeting is that it makes you look good no matter how the game or event goes. You can make a great call and still have conflict. The coach or player may still feel the call was wrong. That can happen any time. When they question the call, you want that discussion to be professional, and the chances are good it will be because of the supportive atmosphere you created during the pre-game meeting. But the coach’s behavior may escalate to a point that you have to eject him (even though you handled it professionally).

A parent has been videotaping you and the coach. The good news is that it was the coach that looked bad on the video. But what if you didn’t set up that supportive atmosphere, because you handled the pre-game meeting and/or the conflict unprofessionally (you lost control)? Instead of you looking good on the video, you came off as the aggressor. The video was uploaded to social media and it was titled “official loses control.” It got thousands of hits. But how can this be happening? You made the right call or decision. Nobody watching the game or video remembers your great call because you colored your good call with your unacceptable behavior. The focus is now on your behavior because you are the person who has the authority. This is why you want to look good no matter where the situation ends up.

How the Universal Greeting Helps Bring People together

Let’s talk about the challenges that different age groups and genders face when officiating and how the Universal Greeting can help to cultivate respect between the players, coaches and officials. About one half of my umpire trainees are teenagers I have also trained female umpires (softball and baseball). Every sport has their share of young officials and female officials. The relationship between the adult coach and youth official can be intimidating for the youth official, as can the relationship between males and females. Your credibility is being examined during the pre-game meeting, so the Universal Greeting becomes important. You do not want to give a perception to the players and coaches of being passive or meek. Conversely you don’t want to be pushy or aggressive. You want to be assertive. This gives them an impression that you are firm, but fair. By following the steps to the Universal Greeting and scripting out and practicing your pre-game meetings you convey competence and assertiveness. I make my umpire trainees perform the Universal Greetings in their training. I use “ground rules” as the simulation.

All officials should have a script for their pre-game meetings, regardless of your age or gender. There are officials who are “bully magnets” that are easily manipulated by coaches and players. There are also officials that portray themselves as pushy or overly aggressive. To project assertiveness and competence you should take the time to practice your scripts.

Here’s how I conduct my ground rule (pre-game) meeting. First, I stand facing the field (my partner(s) stand facing me). The coaches are to my left and right. If we have not met the coaches, we introduce ourselves (there may be players at the ground rules so we introduce ourselves to the players). They all know that they are there for ground rules so I move on to asking a relevant question(s) such as, “Can I have your line-up cards?” Other questions are asked such as, “Are your players properly equipped?” Finally, I ask the home field coach to “take us around the field” and give us the ground rules for their field. I then conclude the meeting by asking if there are any other questions and I state, “Have a good game.” This is my script for how I conduct “ground rules.” Other officials may say and do it differently. That’s okay as long as it is professional and sets the tone for for getting cooperation during the game. Create your script and practice it.

Chapter 4 Learning Points

  • First impressions are important in terms of how people view The players, coaches and fans “thin slice” you during the pre-game meetings. By using a scripted and practiced Universal Greeting, you are being professional and pleasant. It also allows you to overcome any adversarial relationships that may be present before the game even starts.
  • Every sport has the time when the coaches and players first This is the time to show the coaches and players that you are not a “jerk.” You can set the rules (Social Contract) on how you want to handle the situations that involve conflict. Be careful not to use self-referential language such as the word “I.” When you begin sentences with the word “I,” you run the risk of portraying yourself as being too aggressive. Remember that you are not the show. You want to disappear during the game, while at the same time being able to manage the game effectively.
  • By being professional and pleasant you can test the waters to see how the players and coaches are feeling There is information that can be gained by observing how they interact with you and each other during the pre-game meetings. You can see things such as the tensions between the teams, the coaches or maybe how they feel towards you and your partner.
  • As officials we need to be aware of the fact that there are things that we may do that provoke other people (P.O.P Index). We may not even know that we are doing these things. That’s why it so important to script out and practice a proper Universal Greeting. You can than eliminate the potential of doing or saying something wrong which may provoke a coach or player before the game even begins.
  • There are challenges faced by young officials and female officials that may be officiating in a male dominated The use of the Showtime Mindset tactic and a proper Universal Greeting can project assertiveness, confidence and credibility. Don’t become a “bully magnet” that can be manipulated by the players and coaches.

Pete Jaskulski / About Author

Pete Jaskulski has been umpiring baseball in Wisconsin at the high school and collegiate level since 1981, receiving the Ken Kirby umpire of the year award in 2006 from the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association. He has umpired the spring state baseball tournament four times, three as a crew chief. In his training with the Wisconsin Umpires Association, Pete focuses on effective communications and game management. In 2014, Pete won the Wisconsin Umpires Association Umpire of the Year award. Pete works as a training consultant for Vistelar where he travels around the country providing instruction to various professions in Vistelar’s training program focused on how to communicate effectively in the midst of stress. He has led many workshops for sports officials on how to apply Vistelar’s methodologies to officiating. Pete is married to his wife, Pam, who was a collegiate soccer player. He has two children; Alex, a collegiate baseball player now working as a graduate assistant baseball coach and high school baseball coach and Kayla who is a multi-sport athlete (soccer, basketball, softball). Pete retired from the Milwaukee County Sheriff ’s Office at the rank of Captain after 24 years of service and he currently holds the position of Assistant Fire Chief for the Village of Hales Corners, Confidence In Conflict For Sports Officials which he has been with since 1981.