A Chat with Heiner Brand

Heiner Brand is known to be very much ‘engaged’ in the games where he is working as a coach. This means that he reacts spontaneously and visibly to what happens on the court, whether it involves a ‘dirty’ action by a player on the opposing team or a referee decision with which he clearly does not agree. And sometimes it may even go beyond ‘spontaneous’; if the coach of the other team starts acting theatrically or ‘pleading’ with the referees, then Heiner is alert and knows that he may need to ‘balance’ this action to ensure that his own team is not put at a disadvantage.

This could be misinterpreted, as if Heiner Brand was disrespectful of referees and their role, but that would be absolutely wrong. In all my years as a supervisor or spectator in games where Heiner has coached, I have never found him to go too far or to show a lack of respect for others; emotional, yes, but only in the heat of the battle, and never vulgar or nasty like some of his colleagues. On the contrary, away from the game, he always shows a great understanding for the task of the referees and is ready to discuss and propose ways of improving things.

Therefore, as on other occasions over the years, it was a pleasure in Chicago, in connection with the recent Germany-Poland game, to have a chance to chat with him along these lines. We talked about recent trends and general problems, for instance going back to the overall observations from EURO2010. Heiner seemed to have seen ‘the same games’ as I did. He had general concerns about the lack of consistency from one referee couple to another, and from one game to another. Clearly this makes the job of a coach more difficult. In particular, he (like I myself) had in mind the balance between defensive and offensive fouls, and the not always so clear ‘line’ in applying progressive punishments.

Heiner Brand also expressed worries about the continuing difficulties that referees have at the top level in observing correctly what happens in the ongoing battle at the 6-meter line: what goes on when the ball is not there, and who initiates the illegal methods? Another area of continuing inconsistency, as far as Heiner was/is concerned, is the judgment of passive play. Perhaps as a ‘good student’ of Vlado Stenzel, he is of the opinion that there may be some merit in the arguments for introducing a time limit for each attack. He noted that this would then have to be supplemented by a new way of viewing and punishing fouls, perhaps along the lines of the accumulation of personal fouls in basketball.

But beyond these specific comments, Heiner Brand emphasized his general concern: the game has become more difficult for the referees to handle at the absolute top level, and the increased emphasis on education and training may not be enough. From his vantage point, the main objective of any rules changes in the near future must be to facilitate the task of the referees, for instance by looking for different ways of reducing the need for subjective judgment. It would be natural for Heiner to suggest rules changes that would facilitate for him and his players, but it says something about his mentality when instead he focuses on ways of helping the referees!