Learn from Your Observations

As we all strive to become better at the craft of officiating, sometimes we forget very simple things that contribute to our success on the court.

As a former Supervisor of Officials for IAABO Camden, NJ (Board 34) and current observer for IAABO Board 196 I’ve had the opportunity to observe and evaluate several hundred officials over the years, all with varying degrees of proficiency and skill levels.

Below is a short list of “common” observed items that appear on our rating forms as AREAS OF NEEDED IMPROVEMENT. I characterize all of these as “simple fixes” and small changes that can lead to major improvements in everyone’s game.

Would any of the following appear on YOUR evaluation sheet?

Problem #1: Spot of Foul Mechanics / Signals

As the NFHS Official manual suggests (Section 2.4.2) – “It is imperative that a definite procedure in officiating mechanics be used when a foul occurs.” The manual goes on to list the duties (and order) that should be done by the calling official.

3fingers80% of the time (by my observation) the calling OFFICIAL DOES NOT:

  • VERBALLY INFORM the player that he/she has fouled – stating jersey COLOR and NUMBER.
  • Lower the foul signal and indicate the nature of the foul by giving a PRELIMINARY SIGNAL at the spot of the foul.
  • Indicate the spot where the subsequent inbound will occur, or indicate the number of shots being awarded.  Gain eye contact with your partner(s) during this procedure, to make sure you are on the same page.  Communication at the spot is key!
  • Many times the official stops the clock correctly (whistle with closed fist raised) but then proceeds directly toward the reporting zone without finishing the appropriate signals and mechanics at the spot.

Think of it this way — before you head to the table (reporting zone) make sure you COMMUNICATE the FOUL properly before leaving this area.  Much of what you will do at the table is repeating what has already been communicated at the original spot of the foul.

Recommendation: Get in front of a MIRROR and PRACTICE with the official’s manual open. Make sure you know the exact procedure and signals for the spot of any foul as well as the reporting zone – which are two distinct items.  Here’s a “Spot of Foul” Cheat Sheet you can download that we use with our new cadets, to remind them of the proper procedure.

Problem #2: Stay with Perimeter Shooters

One of the hardest habits to break as an novice official is the desire to “follow the ball” versus keeping a focus on your primary coverage area (PCA). This tendency carries over to shooters as well.

JumpShotWhen it comes to perimeter shooters, on the wing, in the corners, or anywhere on the court. less experienced officials (by my observation) tend to:

  • Turn their head (and attention) AWAY from the permiter shooter – WELL BEFORE the play is completed.
  • FOLLOW the BALL flight – instead of watching the defender and airborne shooter until the play is over.
  • Miss illegal contact AFTER the play is completed … sometimes even borderline intentional / flagrant contact.
  • It is extremely important to break the habit of following the ball flight and STAY WITH YOUR SHOOTERS until the play is completely over. Trust your partner(s) to watch the other players on the floor.

Recommendation: Use a “MENTAL CUE” when watching the play. In your mind, say something like – “STAY” , to remind you to stay with that shooter until the play is over. Or maybe mentally count – “one-one-thousand” before even thinking about turning your head away from the play.

Observation #3: Need to Develop a Patient Whistle

The skill of creating a “space in time” between an official’s signal (whistle) and the actual violation or foul occurring is a key best practice for all referees to learn.
Often I observe an official “blowing the whistle” at the EXACT TIME a foul is happening. Much of the time the official is moving to get into position or in transition – and not in a relaxed position.

Pwhistleroblems with this include:

  • Anticipation causes the official to BLOW the WHISTLE early.
  • Sometimes the play turns out different than anticipated … and you are STUCK with the ruling now.
  • There is no turning back once you blow.
  • Experienced officials develop a “knack” for allowing a tiny fraction of a second to mentally evaluate the play BEFORE signaling with their whistle. This permits time to allow the play to continue without interruption on the official’s part … keeping the game moving and ruling properly on the play.

Recommendation: LOOSEN your GRIP on the whistle. Whenever possible you should have a relaxed grip on the whistle so there is time needed to load the whistle with air. That split second can make the difference between an official with a perceived “tight / impatient” whistle, or a relaxed one. It’s permissible to ANTICIPATE the PLAY but don’t anticipate the ruling.

Hopefully none of these observations appear on your ratings sheets, but if they do you certainly can work on these areas to find major improvement in your game.

If you have any to share … please do so in our comments section below.

About Billy Martin

Co-creator of "60 Seconds on Officiating" and co-author of Beyond the Rules (book series) for Basketball Officials. Billy is a 35+ year basketball official with IAABO (Camden Board 34 and Cum-Cape 196, in Southern NJ). He also is a collegiate softball umpire with the Eastern Collegiate Softball Umpires (ECSU), and created the best selling "Bluebook 60" for fastpitch umpires, and coaches. Contact: Website | Twitter | More Posts

8 Comments on Learn from Your Observations

  1. NFHS should change their mechanics regarding prelim. Officials are taking to long looking like a robot.

    A whistle, foul signal, number, color should be sufficient. When you get to the reporting area is when you should show your signal of foul. Then, the coach and fans all know what the foul was.

    The current mechanics not only take too long, but cause more Technical Fouls by a delay getting the ball in and referee the next play. Further, getting the coach not to argue for example weather or not her/his player fouled.

    I have suggested this to NFHS before.

    This area of evaluation should be less stressed on than the other 2.

    I do agree with the other 2 points. Very good explination as to staying with shooters and patient whistles.

  2. theegag@verizon.net' Gary Gagliano // February 21, 2017 at 3:21 pm // Reply

    Excellent article on all three topics. In reference to the first topic that deals with relaying information to partner(s) before moving from where the ruling official sounded the whistle indicating a foul or violation doesn’t dramatically slow the game down.

    Matter of fact, it only adds to the efficiency of the crew by knowing how the ball is going to be put back in play and moving to the appropriate position while the ruling official briskly moves to the reporting area to convey information to the table crew.

    By the time the ruling official finishes reporting the foul or violation to the table crew, the non-ruling official(s) will already be in position when play is to resume, rather than guessing where to go and how the ball is going to be put back in play.

  3. preliminary signal is unnecessary and repetitive. It does SLOW down the game. i agree with the other poster that officials have become robotic Observers should be judging whether referees can officiate the game, game management , game awareness, etc… pre lim signals are least of our worries. Coaches and players don’t care about pre lim signal unless its a block/charge play.

  4. Slowing your whistle down is a good idea to help see the play develop. However, the down side of that process is that it gives the coach a chance to call the foul or violation for you. Sometimes it will appear to fans and opposing coaches that you are calling the foul or violation only because the coach is calling it for you.

    Where holding your whistle is needed is on breakaway steals where the ball handler as an open or unstructured lane to the basket. I see so many officials call a foul for a little bump or hit on the arm and stop the play. In this instance, hold your whistle to see if the ball handler makes it past the defender without losing control of the ball, or causes him or her to travel.

  5. patient whistle is the way to go whether coach or fans yell it out or not. As Al says We control the Game, Don’t let the Game CONTROL you.

  6. gjenningslsw@aol.com' Gary Jennings // March 11, 2017 at 8:59 pm // Reply

    Help! Throw in rolled along the floor and defense does not contest the ball.
    10.0 seconds left in 4th quarter, White (offensive team) down 1 point and has the ball for a spot throw-in on the far end line (they have to go the length of the floor).
    Throw-in is rolled on the floor, Black (defensive team) doesn’t defend. The ball rolls into the front court and – BEFORE IT IS TOUCHED – White coach requests and IS GRANTED a timeout. There’s still 10.0 showing on the clock.
    What do you do?
    (Crew granted the time out. Is that right. White had team control when handed the ball for the throw in BUT no team control inbound yet) HELP! We Cant find a case play

  7. zhitomirskiyilya71@gmail.com' Ilya Zhitomirskiy // September 22, 2017 at 10:07 pm // Reply

    For a timeout to be granted on a live ball that is inbounds, you need player control inbounds, not team control. Therefore, the crew was not correct in granting the timeout in this situation.

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