5 Mundane yet Game-Changing Tips for Referees

I pretty much welcome guest posts partly because my time is limited recently, and because the world is a better place when people help each other out. Michelle is a writer, and topics such as refereeing is close to her heart because her husband worked as one for a couple of years. He often entertains her with personal stories.

This writing was inspired by them.


Being a referee is a double-edged sword. On one side comes personnel of a team clapping their hands, praising you for a “good call” which went their way. On the other hand, you’re the subject of the ire and displeasure of the team who deemed your call as incorrect and result-altering.

But like any other profession, you’re bound to make real mistakes too. One saddening truth about FIBA referees (and almost every other league referee – major or minor) is that once they blew the whistle, their call is often final and executory (except for instances like last two minutes of the ball game).

Want to be consistently good as a referee? Below are five simple yet effective tips for you to practice.

#1: Review tapes of both teams before the game

As a referee, if you don’t have the slightest impression of the tendencies of both teams’ players, it’s going to be at your disadvantage.

For instance, a player from a certain team may have that knack for baiting fouls. However, after you reviewed some game tapes, you found out that that player, 30% of the time, subtly wards off his defender (enough to warrant an offensive foul). Knowing that information will make you more cautious in scrutinizing if the player deserves a two or three-shot foul, or if he must be called an offensive.

Perhaps a player from the other team unconsciously commits a dribbling infraction that most of the time gets uncalled, or another one who’s short-tempered. By reviewing game tapes, you’ll have an insight about the various reputations of players, enhancing your decision-making. However, you should review tapes from both teams as a gesture of neutrality. Never focus on a certain player or team.

#2: Arrive early in game days

Just like players who continuously refine their shots at game warmups, you should accustom yourself to the game venue and setting as well.

The first thing you have to assess is the crowd volume. Sizeable crowds, particularly in gold medal or championship games, mean a noisier and more pressure-packed game, since two groups of fans are rooting for their respective teams. By seeing the lines outside arenas before the game, you can warn yourself of the pressure and initiate self-help ways to keep your composure. The second thing you need to check is the arena’s setting.

Is the baseline too near the scorer’s table? Will that distance be a distraction when you’re running back and forth? Is the lighting too bright or dim that can affect your vision? Is the timekeeper’s table too far?

By knowing the answers to these early, there’ll be littler adjustments you have to make in-game than when you see it a couple of seconds before the jump ball.

As a referee, it’s imperative to acclimatize to the setting and surrounding that also impacts the game, so arrive early.

#3: Better your understanding of sign languages

In FIBA zones for instance, a handful of Asia Cup, Afro and EuroBasket participants don’t have English as their primary, or even secondary language. Even the Americas region are joined by Spanish-speaking teams (e.g., Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela).

Since it’s hard to be on the same page verbally, you have to communicate non-verbally and through sign languages. The key is to widen your sign language knowledge even more. Study up on non-verbal cues per nationality too (since the meaning could differ from your perception).

For instance, you may call a technical foul on a team official who appeared disrespectful to your eyes, when in fact it’s a generally accepted debate stance on their country.

It’s not just conveying messages and calls, but reading the intent of others too through sign language.

#4: Reinforce your refereeing knowledge and experience with new updates

No matter how established and renowned you are in the sports world as a referee, you can easily get outdated. That’s because sports institutions like FIBA are constantly redefining and improving their rules and interpretations.

Do you know that under FIBA rules, a player is no longer considered to be in the act of shooting when he passed the ball to a team mate after he’s fouled?

Or the fact that a team won’t have the shot clock reset to 24 seconds when their player is stopped by a held ball (only their remaining shot clock time prior to that)?

Also, you may want to review rules which have a blurred line (i.e., often the subject of debate between analysts and casual fans). Reading and reviewing both new and old rules recalibrates your refereeing, and makes you a more precise one.

 #5: Strive to never engage with enraged fans, coaches or players.

Players, coaches, and fans can shout and mock at you all they want but never retaliate. At the very least, referees like you should pacify, not instigate a fight.

When a fuming coach or player comes to you, visibly upset with your call, just render a short explanation and walk away. Never bark right back at them.

At the end of the day, you have an insurance policy – your whistle, to call them for technical fouls and possible ejections. Always maintain a professional demeanor.


As a concluding thought, your whistle can either make or break the quality of the game. There have been many quality games marred by questionable calls, so strive to be on-point as much as possible. The abovementioned tips, though rudimentary in nature, will surely help a referee like you through consistency.

Michelle C. Dutcher

About Michelle C. Dutcher

Michelle Dutcher is a social media manager with four years of related experience. She furnishes quality content for her clients’ social media platforms, to better engage their consumers. Michelle loves challenges and setbacks, using those to further fuel her drive. During her down time, she serves as an essayist for paperchoice.org


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