What Makes an Excellent Call?

How many times did you want to swallow your whistle after making a bad call? Sometimes we miss the elephants and call the mosquitos that don’t even affect the game. Sometimes we miss, other times we are too fast! On the other hand, excellent referees differ from mediocre ones making the necessary calls faster. But, at the same time, they don’t make calls too fast. They process calls.

How to find balance and make excellent calls?

According to the Triune brain model, our brain has three main parts for processing information.

Here I’d like to thank Johnny Jacobs, a great FIBA instructor from Belgium, to draw my attention to this topic.

1. Reptilian complex

This part of the brain is responsible for instinctive actions, quick decisions. You can use this part of your brain when averting a threat or need good reflexes.

2. Paleomammalian complex

This is the “limbic system” responsible for the motivation and emotion involved in feeding, reproductive behavior, and parental behavior.

3. Neomammalian complex

The neomammalian complex consists of the cerebral neocortex, a structure found uniquely in higher mammals, specifically humans. It is responsible for the ability for language, abstraction, planning, and perception.

The quick cheap calls come from the reptilian brain. You want to avoid using this part of your brain when making calls on the court. Use the neocortex instead and process the information. But as soon as you have confirmation, make the call. Immediately.

5 steps towards excellence

1. Watch games

You can never overdo it! You will never watch enough games, so use your time to study your own and other games.

The processing time depends largely on how you recognize the situation. Your brain is able to quickly find matching patterns you have already seen or experienced (i.e. through visualization). Just learn by watching as many games as possible, and look for trusted and strong opinion about the situations. Watching games with your mentor is a great tool for development.

2. Learn from your mistakes

Ask yourself after the game. Which were the calls I would change. Was I too quick? Did I make the call from a bad position? Process the calls in the right way. Just visualize you making the same call the right way. This creates a footprint in your nervous system, therefore, you teach yourself how to call it next time. You can write a journal of your learnings.

3. Be ready for the call

Be mindful, practice meditation. Clear your mind, don’t think too much, and be in the moment. Talk to yourself about the game. What’s happening now? Is there a trap, zone defense, post play, screening? Should you call more or let them play? If you find yourself out of the game, come back. Take your time and arrive in the game as soon as possible.

4. Access your ideal mental state

Invest in preparation before the game to reach the state you want. It may vary from one person to another, but usually it’s a relaxed alertness you are looking for. Not too calm, not too excited… focused and balanced.

5. Know your game

Gather every information on the teams, tactics, players, coaches, the way they play basketball. Identify key points to your officiating before the game. This will help you expect the unexpected.

Good calls come from experience, experience comes from bad calls.

To judge a situation, you need to process the call with your neocortex. Leave reptilian brain for emergency. Get into the rhythm, process the situation, wait for the confirmation… and make the call!

Experience, learn and grow every day!

Any comments are welcome!

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.

  • Johnny Jacobs

    Peter, Thank you for your compliment.
    Keep up the good work.

    Take care,

    Johnny J.

    • Peter

      Thank you, Johnny!

  • Kenyetta Jackson

    Great article. Thank you for nuggets to improve my game to excellence.

    • Peter

      Thanks for the comment! 😉


    Thanks Peter. Great article for the improvement of whistling…. and to understand the game

    • Peter

      The pleasure is mine, thank you! 🙂

  • I do find your illustrations informative, thank you.

    • Peter

      Thank you 🙂


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