The Calm Before The Storm

The game started as if it was a different sport, or a different level at least. No contacts, no defence, only easy goals, like if everyone was sleeping. Then something happens and all hell breaks loose. They start to fight and complain, fight and complain, and the game seems to get out of control every minute.

If you officiate long enough, you must have had this experience.

What happened?

They started the game easy. Maybe they are not in the mood to beat the hell out of each other. Whatever the reason is, not important. The fact is the key; they make you sleep while they play no defence, just take the shots.

Then one coach asks for a time-out. He shouts them it was enough of playing around and gets them bite. They go back and start to push the limits further. They start to play more and more roughly. Slowly but steadily tougher than before.

You have just talked about the game during the time-out. You’ve told each other that everything is ok, and there is no need to change anything. “Let’s go this way”, says the crew-chief.

Change has a very strange characteristic. It isn’t interested in your opinion, and doesn’t care what you wish. It just happens. You can fight it, and you can adapt to it.

Guess which one is better on the long run?

So as they try to push the limits they succeed, because you let them while you sleep. And when you wake up, players are pissed off, tired, so they fight even more. It goes until you get yourselves together and make a fine selection of calls that takes everything back to normal.

According to my experience, it’s always easier to watch out and keep the car on the road than to steer it back when it’s already out of balance. Especially when your travel mates scream in your ear on the manoeuvre.

So how can you manage these kind of situations?

One thing you can always ask during a game is the following: how rough is the game? If it’s not too rough, you don’t need to intervene.

You only have to watch out!

Do you know why does it seem so difficult? Because we are wired the other way round. We are programmed to watch out only when we feel danger, and we can be calm and relaxed when everything seems all right.

It’s not the case on the court. You want to be professional, right? Then you cannot let your game go off.

Be aware of these kind of situations and talk about them with your partners. Before the game, during the time-out, even during the game. Watch out especially after time-outs, since there is way more chance for a change in the course of the game.

And when the time comes, lose only one foul. Not two or three. Only one! Then you have to make the call.

Call the ones you can sell

No rush here, you only need to keep order, not to blow unnecessary stuff. The difficult thing is that you may need to change the line for a short period of time. Maybe you need to call some easier ones to keep things back on track. You have to be really selective.

Call the ones you can sell. At this stage, usually talking to them doesn’t help. Instead, you only need to take one or two calls. Handchecking, post play pushing, elbowing, holding. Usually it starts with the point guards. The coach says mare aggressive, and the guard goes closer and uses more hands. Look for it.

When you have a situation like this, things can get out of control. But you have to always remember: the only thing you can control is yourself, so take charge of your mind, and rest takes care of themselves.

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


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