SOUK Sports Officials UK

Verbal Judo

In Referee magazine a while ago, one sports official mentioned that in his day job as a policeman he had been trained in “Verbal Judo”. There was little explanation of this, but I think the concept is reasonably straightforward.

The Times had an article which I recall which was about PGMOL referees; it was mostly laudatory, but it was accompanied by a photograph showing a fourth official and Sir Alec Ferguson standing about six feet apart and shouting at each other. Those of you who have watched American baseball matches will have seen even worse; it seems to be an accepted procedure for coaches to have shouting matches with umpires, their faces only inches apart. This isn’t judo; it’s verbal sumo. To my mind, this isn’t good officiating either.

The technique of judo, to my untutored understanding, is to use the opponent’s force against them, rather than to confront force with force. You encourage their power to work in a direction which helps you rather than them. Give, deflect, sidestep, unbalance; allow them to beat themselves. (Judo people, if this is wrong I do apologise, but I do not need detailed corrections.)

Here’s an example of officiating verbal judo. Andy Melrose (may his name be praised) has been known to say to an irate rugby player, shouting loudly at him as referee, “what’s one and one?” The player, taken aback, says “Eh?” “That’s why I am refereeing and you are playing,” says Andy. Deflected, sidestepped, and silenced, and no confrontation. I can think of examples when I have been officiating when I have achieved verbal judo outcomes without consciously trying; perhaps I might have been a better official if I had regularly thought in this way.

Generally what we are trying to do is to get the complaining player to listen. An Irish friend of mine, a sports official of course, has an aphorism: generally speaking, you aren’t learning much when your lips are moving. What we want the shouting sportsman to do is to learn, and they can’t do that when shouting. If you shout back, they still won’t listen – they’ll just shout even louder. So it seems to me that what we firstly need to do is to remove the confrontational aspect. I saw an interesting programme on TV where a woman who is a dog trainer was faced by a little terrier which barked at her when she moved forward to sit on a settee where the dog was located. She simply turned round and backed onto the settee and sat down. The dog was totally silent; the confrontation had been removed. Facing up was confrontational, as was moving towards – and so it would be with us officiating. We can’t turn our backs, but we can turn enough to avoid being face to face. We don’t have to move towards (though on the other hand, backing away seems to show weakness) though we can invite the player into our space. We can allow the player to vent their anger without us showing anger in return, and we can possibly (time permitting) allow them to talk themselves to a standstill before responding.

This isn’t intended as a comprehensive article, so I am simply leaving it with you to think of verbal judo as another item in the official’s toolkit. It’s part of managing people and situations even if Craig Mahoney didn’t refer to it specifically – have you read the booklet? This is just something else to develop our officiating.

And for your pleasure, another couple of Irish aphorisms: “a closed mouth gathers no foot” and the one I need to take more notice of, “never miss a good chance to shut up.”

David Pegg

For more information on Verbal Judo, try:

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2008 SOUK