Referees are the most important facet of any street hockey business, whether you run leagues or tournaments. Referees are the most direct conduit to your customers. THE REFEREES REPRESENT YOU. Your business will be largely judged by how customers perceive your referees.

Yet, I’ve never seen any situation mangled more consistently. MANGLED.

It’s hard to find good refs, or keep them working. It’s a cash business, decent money, but the abuse can be horrific. It’s even worse if management doesn’t back referees, which often happens. The refs feel isolated. Animosity develops.

But management can’t always back the refs. I don’t. If a referee makes bad calls, applies the rules inconsistently, unduly abuses customers, or officiates in a lazy fashion, I tell him about it. It’s my business, not his.

Refs get me livid when they verbally berate or physically threaten customers. “I DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THAT!” Yes, you do. Fielding X amount of invective is part of the job. Penalize. Eject. File a report. Speak with me. I’ll deal with it. But there’s no just reason a ref should ever curse a customer, or menace him.

If you’re dealing with self-esteem issues, see a therapist. But when you’re working for me, be civil to the customers. That’s not a request. That’s an order.

By contrast, if a ref does a good job, I pay him more. I give him more games. You’re the boss. The ref is the employee. Pursue that relationship in a fair and constructive manor, and there should be no problem.

In terms of the actual officiating, it’s not that hard. Call the rulebook as it’s written, and call it consistently. Don’t reinvent the game. Keep emotions in check, both yours and the players’. It’s a recreational sport. Always remember that. Tolerate a little physicality, but zero stickwork or fighting. League/tournament directors should get rid of players who go too far. They don’t help your business.

With referees, most problems have nothing to do with officiating.

For example, referees are often the reasons games run late. A referee is tardy. He takes too much time between periods, or games, often leaving the rink. He engages in too much discussion, or dilly-dallies between whistles.

Refs don’t owe an explanation. The call is the call. Whenever refs huddle to discuss a decision, one team will always think it got screwed. Quick, decisive calls speed things up, and are a better bet to be convincing on the close ones.

Look matters. A referee doesn’t have to be a fashion plate. A striped shirt and black pants/shorts will do. But an outfit that makes a ref look ridiculous – like a striped shirt that’s been hacked to shreds to allow for hot weather/”humongous” pipes, or some generic T-shirt unrelated to officiating – kills credibility.

Officiating conundrums are often created by management.

League/tournament directors tend to employ their friends, especially their otherwise unemployed friends. These friends usually get assigned a lot of games. That’s fine, as long as they’re good referees.

But, too often, they are not. They just as often have an entitled attitude, like it’s the rink’s responsibility to make sure they have money.

I have seen refs of this ilk get up to the worst shenanigans. Games shortened. A partner left alone on the rink for minutes at a time for no discernible reason. Working games impaired. Lazy beyond description. Treating customers terribly.

A referee like that chases customers away. But his friend the league/tournament director keeps putting his name on the ref schedule. Never gets heard a discouraging word. Go out and have a beer after. Before, even. Hell, during.

Here’s a scam referees pulled at a Pittsburgh-area rink: Two friends always got scheduled to ref together. But only one showed. The one who did got paid double. Then he would split the money with the one who didn’t. They took turns showing and no-showing. They got paid the same for working half as much.

There’s nothing worse than one ref, especially when customers pay for two. But the league director never did a thing. He was probably in on it.

If you put friendship over business, you won’t have a successful business.

Timekeepers are part of this equation, too. It’s best to assign timekeepers in advance. Having to recruit timekeepers on the spot invariably delays things. If one isn’t found, customers hate running time. I see more and more rinks using running time as a matter of policy. I can’t believe it. That’s so low-rent. On outdoor rinks, where the ball so often goes out of play, the customers get cheated.

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