How to Lead a Pre-Game

One of my dear readers sent me this email the other day.

“I am the crew chief on a game this Thursday night.  High level […] game between two previous number one ranked teams […] (both were ranked number one at some point this season[…]).

My situation is that my partners on this game are 2 senior officials, one of which does primarily university men’s games.  As crew chief, I will lead the discussions regarding the pre-game and of course, engage my partners in this discussion. I expect them to participate in this important discussion.

I have not seen either of team this year and I don’t expect either of my partners has seen the teams. I know the […] coach but no nothing about [the other] team or coach.

My question is: how do I handle the senior partner?  Do I let him lead pre-game discussions?  I would certainly like his feedback and his ideas during the pre-game but I also want to ensure we remain as a team and a solid unit.  I know the senior official but have never worked with him.

Any suggestions as to how I should handle the pre-game?”

Well, this is not an easy challenge, and all of us face it from time to time, I guess. Let me share my points on this one.

First of all, I think people easily deceive their minds thinking they should handle their partners. I know you didn’t mean it literally and I still think some of us make the mistake thinking that we have to somehow control what others are doing.

We need to handle situations, not people, and all we can control is ourselves.

I think, you should only focus only on yourself and how you facilitate exceptional teamwork as a crew chief. Remember, you can only control yourself. You simply cannot control anybody else. The idea that you need to control others will only make you stress out when they don’t do what you expect.

It doesn’t mean, of course, that you shouldn’t do what it takes to be a good leader of the team, even when you are the most inexperienced one in terms of age or years on the court.

To your second question, namely, should you let them lead pre-game discussions, my answer is a definite no. You are the crew chief, so you should lead the pre-game. But it only means that you are the one who sets the framework. You can choose to ask them about what they expect from the game and let them talk even more than you talk and, still, lead the discussion.

In my humble opinion, there is something you have to do, though. Do your homework, and

study the teams.

If you don’t know them, call some colleagues who do. If you can, watch their previous games, and look for how they play the game, how they behave in certain situations, and look for troublemakers, of course! If you deliver key information to the crew in your intro, they will appreciate your position as their leader.

By the way, the intro. You can start the pre-game by stating

what’s important for you.

I assume it’s the game and good teamwork, primarily. Furthermore, you may indicate what you expect from the others to form the greatest team ever for a game.

Other thing you can do is to

build rapport

before the pre-game. You will meet before the game when you will have some time for a nice chat and you can use this time to build rapport. Find things you can agree with and show your agreement. Mirror their gestures and body position, their tone and tempo of voice and (as useful as strangely it may sound) their rhythm of breathe. This comes from NLP and it works brilliantly.

“If you want to lead, you must learn how to follow!” ∼Rick Beneteau


Tweet: If you want to lead, you must learn how to follow!

It’s also critical to mind your communication. An extremely useful concept is

assertive communication.

It means that you talk about your own feelings and state positively what you want others to do. For example, you could say

“although we haven’t officiated before, I trust you and I will be very glad when we act as a team. I do want to be the best teammate for you and I want you to trust each other on the court, so let’s focus on how to do great job and let’s look at each other when we can during the game.”

The key is to talk about your own feelings without judging what and how they do, and state firmly and positively what you want them to do. Don’t force, just state.

avoid negative sentences

like “don’t mess it up guys” or “let’s not call some bullshit mosquito calls”. It only tell their subconscious minds to do what you don’t want them to do. “Don’t think about the big blue elephant.” See what I mean?

I also consider it really beneficial to consciously

invite all the crew members

to the discussion.

Your job is facilitate the pre-game, not to talk all the time. Give them space and appreciate their opinion and suggestions. The more you (as a team) can agree on things the better the teamwork will be on the court. If they say something you don’t agree with, use assertive communication. For example, you could say

“I appreciate your opinion about focusing extensively on 3-sec violation and I think we  also have an important job on the rebounds and off-the-ball situations. Let’s clean up the game!”

With this strategy, you can maintain rapport (with your agreement) and redirect the conversation to more important topics (as you consider it, at least).

How to maintain good chemistry in the team and how to manage the focus of the crew during the game is another extensive topic. Anyway, as far as it goes with the pre-game, I find these concepts helpful.

What do you guys think? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

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About Peter

Peter Papp is an enthusiastic supporter of open-minded referees, international basketball referee (FIBA) and NLP Master Practitioner. Peter is the founder of


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