In the past, my anger often surfaced while coaching sports. I’ve coached adults and children in many different sports, and I’ve gotten angry at nearly every level and in nearly every sport. I wouldn’t ever yell at the kids, but I would let the referees have it. 

Asking for Accountability  

One night, we were having dinner with a group of couples with whom we met regularly for fellowship and accountability. I said to them, “I am really dealing with my anger issues and have made great progress with my family. But there’s still one place where it comes out. That’s coaching. I’m asking you all, including my wife, would you hold me accountable to fix that, too.”  

An Opportunity to Practice  

About six days later, we were having another elementary school basketball game. As we were warming up, a referee I knew walked in. He introduced me to his wife who also had on a referee uniform. He explained to me that this was her first day as a referee. 

I thought, “Oh, no! You’ve got to be kidding. This is the first game when I’m going to work on my anger, and I have to deal with a brand-new referee?” During the game, the anger was kicking in, but I was controlling it fairly well. She was just bad. She wasn’t making one-sided bad calls. They were bad calls all the way around. 

About three-quarters into the game, I had reached my limit with her. Everybody was yelling and clapping for the kids. I yelled over at the male referee and said, “Come on, Man! Give her some help!” When I did that, the gym went silent, and I knew they both heard me. As I looked across the gym, I saw my wife watching the game. After asking her and others to hold me accountable for my anger just a few days earlier, I had just yelled at the ref.

An Opportunity to Apologize  

About an hour after we got home, my wife hugged me and said, “Honey, you may be the best coach with kids I have ever seen. But you did yell at the ref. And when you did, the whole gym heard it. And you did ask us to hold you accountable.” 

In transformational leadership, we not only teach a six-step apology, but we also use it when we need to apologize. I knew I needed to practice what I teach. I also know that each part of the apology is important. 

  1. First, I had to clearly state the offense and what I did.
  1. Then, I needed to simply state, “I was wrong to (do or) say that.” 
  1. I had to say, “I’m sorry.” Or “I apologize.” 
  1. I needed to ask the question, “Will you forgive me?”  
  1. I needed to ask the person for accountability, “Will you hold me accountable not to do or say that again?” 
  1. Then I needed to ask the question, “Is there anything else I need to apologize for?”  

And, in this step, if the person says there is, in fact, another issue, then I would need to go through the six-step apology again from the very beginning.  

When you apologize to the person with humility, with pre-forgiveness, with unconditional love, and with 100 percent of the truth and facts, this six-step apology will set you and others free and has the power to dramatically improve relationships. 

I knew it was time for me to offer an apology to my wife. And I apologized with the six-step apology that I outlined above. I said, “Yes, Honey, you’re right, I did that. I angrily yelled at the ref. I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you forgive me? And I continue to give you permission to hold me accountable if you see me do that again. Is there anything else I did in that game that I need to apologize for?” 

Then came the hard part. I knew I had to make that same apology to the referee. I had to get back in the car, drive back to the gym, and wait until halftime of a game to apologize to those two referees. I went up to them and asked, “May I talk to you?” and they said I could. 

I said, “You know…earlier today, I yelled this at you about your wife. I yelled, ‘Come on, Man! Give her some help!’ I was wrong for doing that, and I’m so sorry.” 

When I did that, they both started crying. And I thought to myself. It must have been much worse than I had thought. As they regained their composure, I said, “I’m sorry to have caused that much pain. Will you forgive me?” 

They looked back at me and said, “That’s not why we’re crying. You’ve been the kindest coach we’ve had all day. Everybody’s been yelling at her.”

The Relationship Between Apologizing and Controlling Anger

Since those times, I have learned to control my anger by looking at how my anger affects me and others. I decided to choose to change my thoughts before my anger has a chance to kick in and to remember the effect my anger had on those two people who were volunteering their time. By preparing a new thought for me to think ahead of time when I face situations that would have typically caused me to become angry, I am now able to overcome the angry response, which will change my feelings in the situation, which will change my actions in response to the situation.  

Which leader do you think has the most impact? The one who has been yelling at the ref nonstop or the one who messed up by yelling but then went back and apologized? Which kind of leader do you want to be? It’s your choice because you are in control of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.  


Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.