The 3×3 Experience

Photo credit: FIBA 3×3

I didn’t know it was so cool! Really, I must admit I had no idea how great games were there! I wasn’t alone with my thoughts on the FIBA 3×3 U18 World Championship in Debrecen last weekend. The city hasn’t seen bold basketball teams for long, and now they were happy to join the show.

But I’m not intending to write about supporters here. I was one of the referees, nominated for the first time to officiate this new sport. Yes, this is different from basketball. Ok, there is the ring, and players need to dribble the ball, which is different from what we use for 5 on 5.

The rules are also different. The game lasts for 10 minutes or 21 points, and after the 7th team foul, every personal foul (except for offensive) costs 2 free throws. Then, at the 10th, it’s 2 plus possession. Since, on an average, you can win a game by scoring 15-17 points, fouls weigh like 20 times more than for normal basketball game.

You need to watch out for a lot of other things. Jump ball goes to the defensive, so you need to know who was had the ball the last, even is there is only one basket, and there is a huge fight for the ball on the ground after a field goal attempt. Also, you want to know the number of team fouls by heart, since you don’t want any surprise after a reflex call on overtime that results in 2 shots, and the game is over.

These make officiating really difficult. Especially when you are a rookie for 3×3. And this is exactly why it is so rewarding.

Believe me, I haven’t felt anything like this long ago. Games were so fast to referee at the beginning, that sometimes I didn’t know where I was (not literally, of course). I was out of my comfort zone.

Your subconscious mind handles a lot of things officiating your sport with many games in your pocket. You don’t have to consciously watch out for things, because your auto-pilot does the job. But now, on a new court, with music screaming loud at the baseline, you can forget about your auto-pilot.

You need to “switch the chip” in your mind, and learn again. You have to adapt to the new style and new situations. And when you face the first game you decided by a wrong call, you feel something you may haven’t felt before. Your emotions sit on your face, and if you don’t watch out, you may enter the vicious circle, because you need to officiate the next game on the other court on the next minute.

This happened to me. And you know what? I’m grateful for this. The reason of my gratitude is that it helps me learn how to adapt.

We grow faster out of our comfort zones!

I learned to hold back my whistle (in certain situations), and how to clear my mind and be more focused. I learned that I need to be faster, and how to be more preventive. I learned how to count team fouls, and that balance is sometimes more important than good calls.

There are great benefits in refereeing 3×3. Besides, you see an exciting new dimension of basketball, and meet a lot of great people from around the globe. Look for this great opportunity to learn how to let the show run and control the game at the same time. This is all for the supporters at the end of the day.

A great product that is still in the beginning of its evolution.

Have you officiated 3×3? How did you feel? What were your impressions? What did you struggle with? What was your biggest challenge? Feel free to add your voice in the comments below!

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

  • Hoj Fozi

    Thanks for the great articles. I really enjoy reading your material and learn from them. I know I am only at the beginning of the very difficult path to become a better referee. Not long ago I was out of comfort zone when I started 3PO refereeing. The whole concentration was on my position on the court and was missing very obvious things. What I learnt from this is “Practice makes perfect” and just keep going at it until I found it easier. There is big “BUT” all the time and I really feel this all the time when I am making a mistake and I am learning from it and that is, the team or the player who suffered from my mistake. I always feel sorry for them as they are affected by my mistake which is inevitable part of my learning curve.


    • Thanks Hoj, really appreciate your feedback!

      Yes, I know what you mean. This is because you are a good person. I think this is normal, and you want to accept it. If it worked the other way round (feeling nothing when you make mistakes), that would be a bad thing.

      It’s not the feeling that creates problem, it’s how we react to the feeling. Reframe it in a way that makes it more comfortable to you, and accept that you make mistakes. I haven’t seen a game without mistakes from the players, coaches, and referees.

      I think you can do three things with anything: love it, change it, or leave it! Above all, you can always learn from it!
      You cannot love it, because you strive to be better, you cannot change it, since it’s in the past, so you can only leave it… AND LEARN from it! 🙂

      Believe me when I say; your best is enough!


  • Tamás Benczur

    Greetings my Friends,
    I was one of the hungarian 3×3 referee candidates together with Peter and Csaba Cziffra in Debrecen. Before the tournament I thinked the officiating in these World Championship will be not so difficult, I’ve so many games in the HUN first division in the last 20 years, international games and tournaments… BUT I’ve forgot the most important thing: these games all was 5×5. This 3×3 is so different…
    The adaptation of the basketball rules, specially the fouls, travellings, and 3 seconds violations, the intensity of the game… After the first day I was so confused. What situations should I call, what should I leave with no call, what is good for the game, advantages, disadvantages… As Peter wrote in his comment: I was totally out of my comfort zone. I felt myself on the court like a people from a small village walking in a metropolis. After the first day, and after a lot of conversation between us (I want to say a BIG THANK YOU for all the experienced referees, GM, Markos, Edmond…) I started to feel a bit more confidence on the court, games by games more and more, and finally I’ve started to understand what does it mean: RUN THE SHOW and CONTROL THE GAME in the same time.
    It was a great experience and maybe a start of something new, interesting… But guys, You need to try it before say something about this fantastic, different basketball game!
    Best regards,


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