Usually when I write this blog, I will write down five or six sentences that remind me of stories I want to tell in the blog. I decided to write about technical fouls this week. As I wrote my notes, I forced myself to stop at 10 sentences. This could be lengthy.
Coaches and athletes are often misunderstood when the near-fatal punishment of a technical four or ejection is handed out. During my less than impressive high school football career, I was ejected from a junior varsity football game at Hebron, Neb.. It was a total misunderstanding. As time ran out in the game, the Hebron defensive players piled on our 95-pound quarterback. At an intimidating 135 pounds, I showed my mean attitude by saying “Lay off you big, ugly brutes!” Unfortunately, I interrupted the referee, who was saying basically the same thing. He thought I called him a “big, ugly, brute,” and was immediately tossed from the game. I never did convince my coaches I was faultless in this major event in my high school athletic career.
The first technical foul of my coaching career happened the same way. In my first year at Wilber-Clatonia High School, I had a player who frequently took too many steps before she shot. During a game with Friend High School, this player traveled for about the fourth time. I jumped from the bench and yelled, “Just shoot the ball!” I think the official thought I meant “shoot the official,” and I had my first experience with being singled out in a way that stops the game and hurts your team.
In the early days of girls’ basketball in Nebraska, you often had very young officials just breaking into the refereeing field. The more well-known coaches could really intimidate these young guys in stripes. Ken Cook, the recently retired coach from Adams, Neb., showed me that skill in my first year. Adams High School had just won a state championship and my team went to play them as a big underdog.
After trailing by about 20 points, we decided to press Adams. It got us to within 10 points in the final minutes. Coach Cook thought the young officials were letting us get away with too much physical play, so he called a timeout. He spent the whole timeout blasting them for their poor decision-making. After the time-out, the whistle almost immediately blew and we were called for a nonexistent foul. I then called a time-out to do a little blasting of my own. When I got to half court, all I saw was a very scared kid hoping the game would soon end. All I said was, “He really got to you, didn’t he?” Coach Cook’s numerous state championships was more intimidating than my three career wins.
I don’t think the average fan knows what is being said in the coach-official conversations. The first game the parents of my assistant coach, Lori Hopkins, saw is proof of that. Lori’s mom said, “I don’t really like that Steinmeyer. He’s always on the officials.” Coach Hopkin’s explained to her mother most of the conversations were far from intimidating or complaining. I will give you a few examples.
Maybe you have heard some of the old jokes that coaches tell about officials. For instance, the coach who called over an official and asked, “Can I get a technical for what I’m thinking?’
The official said you can’t get a technical for what you’re thinking. The coach then yelled, “Well, I THINK you STINK!”
My dad was always yelling at the officials. I asked him to hold it down, but did you ever try to tell your father anything? Finally, I just bought him a sweatshirt he proudly wore to every game. It was a plain, black sweatshirt with this on the front; “A Good Official is a Conflict of Terms.” I once had an official demand I tell the old guy with the funny sweatshirt to hold it down or he’d get tossed. I said, “I’ll tell my dad to be quiet.” I didn’t mean it.
You will very seldom see me receive a technical foul. Most of the time I try to kill them with kindness or make a joke of what I think was a grievous mistake on judgment. For example, let’s say an opposing player steals the ball from a Northwest player. I might say, “We took a vote on that call and it was 12-0 against your call. We voted for a foul.” How can an official get mad as we remind him we live in a democratic society?
However, there are times I get really mad and I need an outlet. One way to avoid a technical is to state your feeling to your unsuspecting players that are on the bench. I might explain, “How can I expect you to play well when the game is so poorly officiated?’ I am aiming my remarks to my bench players, but I’m yelling it so loud, you can hear it in the press box. You can’t get a technical with what you tell your players, can you?
Sometimes, officials will hold grudges rather than give you technical fouls. I won’t name the officials, but there are a few that cause me to warn the players to beware. If a particular official makes a call against you, don’t even frown. You’ll pay for any display against an official the rest of the night. On the other hand, that same official will give you every break in the book if your opponent makes the mistake of “showing up the official.”
Even with my sweet personality and calm demeanor (just joking), I sometimes come unglued at officials’ calls. I can still avoid technical fouls by either giving the offending official the “death stare” or handing out the “silent treatment. I was giving the silent treatment to a long-time MIAA female official a couple of years ago. After about five or six times up and down the court, she comes over and asked, “What’s the matter? I can’t take it when you don’t talk to me.” She never gave us any calls, but at least she noticed.
I always seem to get in trouble with one official every time we travel to Pittsburg, Kan. Twice in the last three years, this official has followed me to the water cooler and told me not to say anything else. The last time that happened, I gave her my best death stare. After a couple of possessions, she turns to me and says, “WHAT!” In a calm voice, I announce that I was told not to say another word. I was just doing what she wanted.
As I said, the relationship between the coaches and those people wearing the stripes is often misinterpreted. I sometimes use the same tactics on my family. When I give Sam the death stare rather than yell at him, Michele, my wife, yells at me not to be so mean to him. When I try to give her the silent treatment, she will stomp off to read a book and leave Sam and me to our own vices. Maybe if Michele wore stripes more often those tactics would work.