The Easiest Thing To Do

As a college basketball referee, I have numbed to the inappropriate comments coming from fans during games. You have to a certain amount of confidence as a ref to be able to go home without crying. I have said to many basketball fans that the referees are always (they should be) the most unbiased people in the building. Often though, through my experience as a basketball official, I take many lessons that apply to leadership in schools.

Last night, I made a call against one of the teams that I was not happy with. The coach was very upset with me and started yelling across the floor, to which I motioned that I would come talk to him the second I had a chance. At the next timeout, I approached the coach, ready to hear his argument, seeing he was extremely upset with me. As I walked over, before he even said anything, I said to him, “Coach, it was a bad call and I apologize. I will do my best to get it right next time.” He looked at me, smiled, patted my back, and went back to his team.

I could have justified the call and argued against him, knowing that I have the ability to throw him out of the gym if he got out of line. But just because you have power, does not mean you need to use it.

If I was a betting man, I would put my money on that coach having more respect for me admitting my mistake, than coming up with some elaborate argument. The next time I do make a call that is questionable to him, but can defend it, he will likely have more trust in my explanation because he knows I can admit when I am wrong. To be honest, I gained a ton of respect for him as well as he did not rub my face in the mistake.

As educators and/or educational leaders, we have to be able to admit when we screw up as well. If we are truly risk-takers, we are going to run into situations where things do not work out the way we planned. Own up to it, admit your mistake, and make it right.

I heard a quote last night that really stuck with me:

“…whenever you hear a euphemism, it means someone is lying or a coward.” Fareed Zakaria

Be straight with people, and admit when you are wrong. It will gain respect, help you move on, and the time you save arguing, can be put into making it right.


  1. As a basketball player and coach, I can really relate to this post. I have always played with a lot of passion (I’m very aggressive), and in the heat of the moment I can get very frustrated on the court and on the bench when calls are made that I don’t agree with. I can still remember a very intense game against our biggest rival school when I was in grade 12, where I got fouled out on a play that I was on the complete opposite side of the court for. I was obviously very upset by this, and it was easy for the refs to see this. After the game, the ref who made the call, came up to me and apologized for his mistake. This ref could have decided that I was a rude player who couldn`t handle getting fouled out and just left me upset, but instead he talked to me and made me feel a lot better, and earned my utmost respect. I especially love what you said about power: `just because you have power, does not mean you need to use it.` In high school, now in ladies league, and as a coach, I find the best refs and the ones I respect most, are the ones who can justify their calls, and also admit that maybe the call they made wasn’t the right one. Refs are sometimes viewed as these high and mighty untouchables, which makes it easy to `hate on them` as players, but when they admit to their mistakes, it makes us realize that they are human too. I can see and agree with the connection you make to education here. I want and hope to take risks as a teacher, and I know that sometimes these risks wont pay off, and I will have to make things right. Heading into my pre-internship and internship in the coming semesters, I know there are going to be times when I fall flat on my face, and I hope I can earn the respect of my students to be able to pick myself up and fix my mistakes.

    November 9, 2010
    • Thanks for your comment Katie! We refs aren’t all that bad 😛

      November 9, 2010
  2. Right on, George. In fact, in his 40 years of research, Martin Haberman identified the ability to recognize and publicly acknowledge one’s fallibility as a key factor distinguishing”star” teachers of kids in poverty from those who fail. (Dr. Haberman’s book is a must-read for every urban educator for sure and, I would argue, anyone involved in education.

    And I mentioned this in a recent blog post as part of a plan to help struggling teachers get their classrooms back on track:

    November 9, 2010
    • Thanks so much for your comment and your resources David 🙂

      November 9, 2010
  3. Lorna said:

    You are so right George. People respect honesty. It takes a special principal to lead the school community with this philosophy. I congratulate you again for leading the way.

    November 10, 2010
  4. Jeff Utecht said:

    Best administrators I’ve had are those that have been able to admit their mistakes and move on. You always have more respect for those that can admit they’ve made mistakes. We’re all human, we all makes mistakes, why is it so hard for us to admit it at times?

    November 10, 2010
  5. Rodd Lucier said:

    In case teachers don’t already know this, one of the most incredible ways to make a connection with a learner, is to apologize when you’ve made a mistake. It could be that you failed to teach something well, or that you’ve made a false assumption, or that you’ve made an error in social interaction.

    If you take the time to publicly acknowledge that you have erred and that you will try to get it right next time, you’ll be modeling two things:

    1] how to admit your mistakes and seek forgiveness; and
    2] what it means to live, work and learn in relationship with others.

    November 10, 2010
  6. kevcreutz said:

    Great post George! Love the bball reference.

    November 10, 2010
  7. Ted said:

    Great post George! I too love the basketball reference. I also was a ref back in Canada for years and it is amazing the respect you can gain by being honest and forthright with coaches and players. It also works the other way around, as a player, I have huge respect for the refs who can admit mistakes.

    And yes, this translates perfectly into being in school administration … we will never get it all right, so we better be able to admit when we are wrong!

    Thanks for the reminder.

    November 11, 2010

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