2 Stories on How to Keep Talented Referees in the Business

We all like to referee with good guys. Intelligent guys. Nice, still strong guys. Open, flexible, respectful ones. But a lot of these type of referees give up before they even had the chance to take off.

They face professional demotivators early, like a crazy parent, observer, or referee instructor. Ok, more often a parent, than an instructor.

Why do so few people stick with officiating? Let’s take a look at how chemistry makes us do one thing, and another never again.

The (neuro)science behind inner drive

The reason for inner motivation is dopamine.

“In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviora dopamine system which is neuromodulatory.” – you can check it out on Wikipedia

In short, you get rewarded, your brain releases dopamine. You do the activity again, you got the reward again. This virtuous circle keeps you doing it over and over again.

The problem is that each time you need more and bigger rewards for the same amount of dopamine release. You were ok with a simple “good boy!” from your father when you were a kid, but now you need some bigger reward for the same level of satisfaction.

With this information in mind, we do an experiment in Hungary. I suspect that the current ratio of officials staying in the game is terrible and we can push that much higher.

The benefit of an early acknowledgement

Let me tell you a story. When I hung on the whistle for my first game, I hadn’t even passed my exam. My teacher put his trust in me. That was the first acknowledgement in my refereeing career. He didn’t trust only me. There was another guy who had the chance to officiate his opening game before the exam took place.

We had our first games one after the other. He had the first game, I had the second. With the same experienced guy, 2-man mechanics, back in 1998.

When he blew the final whistle, one of the coaches, who lost the game, attacked him. The coach was shouting, cursing, he was furious.

I had much better luck, with a coach shaking hands with me saying that was a good job from me on the court.

You guess what happened? He stopped officiating a couple of months later.

It’s not because I was better, to be honest. Our common partner told me years after that he considered the other guy better than me.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the early reward in my career was a catalyst. The offence in his was a demotivator that decided who goes on and who sits back.

Warm-up is important

There is another story I want to tell you. It’s an ancient story. I won’t say that it’s an example to follow, but it gives an excellent way of being a motivator.

There was a bright young man in his 20s when he got his first nomination in the second league in Hungary. He was the umpire. The referee was a funny old guy who liked youngsters much, and young referees liked him back.

The young man was a little excited. He showed up early in his best suit and perfect tie. He wanted to do a good job, so he tried to warm up well before the game.

The old man was watching him with a smile.

“Why don’t you warm up?”, the young man asked.

“Oh, yes. Wait a second”, the old man replied, then gave his eyes a gentle massage with his fingers. “I almost forgot about it, now we can go.” — now you have a sense about how funny the old man was.

So, they greeted the coaches and the table officials when they arrived on the court. It was around 15 minutes before the game when the old man brought the two coaches together for a quick word.

He told them.

“Listen. This is a smart young referee. He will be an excellent official and this is his first game on this level. The first team trying to fuck with him will lose.”

They knew the old man for a long time, so they knew he meant what he’d just said.

The young man told his partner how proud he was. Nobody complained about any call he made during the game.

The old man rewarded his performance with a sincere smile.

Not so many years later the young man became a FIBA referee.

I don’t say intimidating the teams is a good way. This story is as old as the hills and it’s definitely not a wise thing to do nowadays.

I’m just saying that young and motivated referees are treasures we must take special care of.

Of course, their wings need to be broken when they fly too much above the ground, but I’ll write more on that later.

A solution, or at least an experiment…

Maybe it’s worth a try!

I’ll be there at the freshman wannabe referees’ first practice in Budapest, Hungary. I’ll ask my colleagues who teach the new referees to look only for things they do well and let them know.

Nothing else.

I don’t want them to lie. I just want them not to criticize, and look for evidence that those baby referees will be top referees one day.

You don’t curse on your child when she makes her first stumbles trying to walk. You encourage her, instead.

Maybe it’s better to do it not only at the first practice but on the first real game of the young referees.

It is our responsibility not to demotivate those kids. We can find a lot of mistakes when they step on the court for the first couple of times. But all we do is overwhelm them with what they do wrong and demotivate them with our criticism.

We don’t want to raise big headed bastards. We need to build up their confidence in the beginning of their career. The right amount of dopamine will help them in self-motivation for more successful careers.

If you care about young referees, share this article!

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 RefereeMindset.com.


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