Your Biggest Enemy on a Game

Lots of referees hope their game will be easy. They think when there is a substantial margin between the teams, they have an easier job. Most of the times they are wrong. While a tied game seems more difficult, players have to focus on the game when they are head-to-head.

And when one team is losing by 30 points, they have nothing to lose. What’s more, they are frustrated!

Frustration is your biggest enemy on the court. It comes by for several reasons:

  • one team feeling you (the crew) made some mistakes that afflict them
  • one team is humiliated by the impressive plays of the other
  • internal conflicts
  • private life challenges
  • …and definitely for many more reasons.

You shouldn’t mix frustration with being an asshole. Some coaches and players simply try to manipulate you by putting pressure on you, and that’s a different story. A strong ref handles this kind of behavior, the weak ref obeys and makes some bullshit calls to release the tension caused by the bad behavior.

But we’re talking about frustration now.

Let me share my story.

I was 24 years old when I officiated a deciding fifth game of the semifinal of the Hungarian championship in a place where the home team was extremely hard to beat. Or at least they thought. Two weeks before, they were beaten in their own arena in the final of the Hungarian Cup where I also blew the whistle.

So we go into the game and it turns out too early that despite the impressive history, it’s not gonna be the usual win for the home team. They are down by 20 points quite soon. Smell some frustration? You betcha!

And what does a young referee do? Tries to show that he is a good referee. Blowing every illegal contact made by the home team like it would be a game decider. Like it would be a disaster to miss.

The result?

Frustration takes off.

As I try to call everything I see, not taking into account what the game needs, the frustration of the players, coaches, supporters, and even the doctor from the home team is high in the stratosphere. They shout at me. They curse at me. One of the players even threatens me that he’ll kill me if they lose.

My answer? Technical fouls! I don’t remember, maybe 1-2 techs.

The result? Frustration rises even further.

In the end, we had to wait in the locker room for about 2 hours, and policemen came to rescue us from the gym because some 50 supporters thought it was worth to wait that long to cut my throat.

And they were right. Not because I did it on purpose. I think they would have been losing either way.

But because I added fuel to the fire.

I didn’t officiate there for like 10 years and when I did return, the supporters remembered. I think my calls were right, according to the rules, but poor, according to the game.

What can you do to avoid situations like this?

It’s “simple”. Watch out for frustration on your games. Don’t just focus on the team fouls, score, key players, shot-clock, problematic players, off-the-ball situations and rough play, but watch out for frustration and measure the fever of the game. Constantly.

When you have nothing else to do, take your time to watch the faces of the players and coaches and read them. You will definitely notice frustration and when you do, you want to do something.

How to communicate with a frustrated one?

Never offend and never try to calm them. Telling a frantic coach to calm down is like asking the fire to snuff out. Also, you should avoid finding some “legendary” calls against the frustrated team.

What you can do is approach them and tell them that you understand their frustration. Tell them and show them. Words only don’t help here, you need to show your empathy here.

Also, make every obvious call in favor of the team with a red face.

Please don’t mix it with starting to call bullshit. I only try to suggest that we should call the obvious, but sometimes even a bad call can make good to a game!

Feel free to Share this story with others. 

Photo credits: Flickr

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.

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