One Tip That Can Save Your Game

The game has just started. The ball was tossed perfectly. The atmosphere is great and you are in a good shape to bag another great game in your collection.

Then something happens. You make a call that may be wrong. A call that everybody thinks you did wrong, but you think it was ok. You can even give an absolutely rational explanation, so it must have been good, right?

Well, maybe it hasn’t…

The reason I think you may be wrong is that everybody tells you that. Ok, you have to feel it, and I know you are a good ref, so you need to trust in your judgement. And at the same time you have to be aware of the things that fool your judgement.

And there are a lot of them.

Now I invite you to think about one that is so powerful that it may block your way to improve. It may give you a strong reason why not to investigate and develop your weaknesses, so you won’t bother doing it. In my opinion it’s one trait that causes so many referees go down the hill as they get older.

We rationalise

Something inside us wants immediate validation that the call we’ve just made was good. This desire to make good calls and the feeling that you made a mistake creates an uncomfortable feeling inside. It’s frustrating and stressful, no matter how tough you are.

If you don’t feel it that way, it’s either because you don’t give a shit or because you are tricked by your own mind. The reason is that you immediately create a rational explanation why you made that call. No, you don’t say that you were in the wrong place, and maybe you did see something that wasn’t there.

You explain, and your frustration is gone. You made a good call, and everybody is stupid.

Psychology calls it cognitive dissonance. It’s inconvenient to be wrong, and some always want to be right.

Cognitive dissonance comes up when two of your parts are conflicting with each other. Here they are the part of you that wants to be right, and your knowledge of the game. The conflict is solved by having one of them bend over. And since the easiest thing is to rationalise your call, you do it. This happens when there is no flexibility in the mind to accept that you may did wrong.

So, what about a solution?

First thing is always to recognise the fact, that cognitive dissonance is there to sabotage you.

Then, you need to catch that moment when it comes to play, and stop rationalising. Develop a flexible mind, and start thinking about the best solution to improve.

Realise that the most important thing is not your inner comfort, but THE GAME!

I’ll tell you an example.

After the first two minutes of perfection, you are caught up by an unsportsmanlike foul on a fastbreak. It’s the last defender making contact from the side, so it’s a no-brainer. Unsportsmanlike by rule.

You still don’t make the call, only a simple personal foul. Everybody complains, but you immediately rationalise and say that there was another defender 2 inches behind the one who fouled. When you see the video later, you will see that everyone was right, but you may still find another good explanation. When you run out of them, you give in, and admit the mistake.

What if you could admit it right on the spot? If you had the flexibility to question your own call, you could go to your colleague, give her a nice compliment about her hairstyle (only to let everyone in the gym see that you ask for help, but in reality you only need time to think), and raise the unsportsmanlike.

Are you ok with the call? Yes!

Is it better for the game? Yes!

Win-win situation. My favourite!

Now, think about it. If you think well, you will find some of these calls in the near past. It’s when someone more experienced questioned your call and you gave an explanation that wasn’t a real one.

You didn’t make the right call, but you knew how to explain. I must admit, this is also a skill of exceptional referees.

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

  • Ben Wood

    This is quite possibly the most important feature a referee needs to develop – admitting you are wrong, and listening to others. By holding up your hand and saying ‘Sorry Coach, my bad,’ you gain so much more respect than covering your ass with an excuse or rationalising the call. Over the years I have done both, but as I develop at the international level I know which one has helped me to diffuse situations. Coaches can smell BS, so provided the mistakes are infrequent, honesty is the best policy, followed up with a good call to get back into the game mentally.
    Thanks Peter!

    Ben, IWBF referee

    • Peter

      Thanks Ben, absolutely agree!


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