My 5 Top Referee Hacks

DoritoA life hack, is a a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way.  People come up with some really cool ideas to make life easier.  You might have heard of a few of these like …

  • Putting a wooden spoon across a boiling pot to keep if from boiling over.
  • Use Doritos (Corn Chips) if you don’t have any kindling to start a camp fire.
  • Freeze white grapes to chill down your Chardonnay instead of ice to avoid watering it down.
  • Wrap a wet paper towel around your soda (or beer) and place it in the freezer and it will get icy cold in about 15 minutes.

And yes, there are thousands of life hacks like that.

When it comes to basketball officiating, a referee hack could be considered a great tip or technique to manage your game more efficiently and keep you out of trouble.

Here’s a few of my favorite ones.  Check them out and please share you favorites with our readers below.

Referee Hack #1: When reporting a foul to the scorer’s table, preload your hands with the double digit player’s number.

In this first year of the NFHS / IAABO mechanic of two-hand reporting I seem to stumble when bringing my hands up to signal the jersey number.  Early in the year I found myself displaying the numbers backwards to the table.  One of my NCAA colleagues mentioned the concept of preloading your hands as you are jogging toward the reporting zone.  I start with my right hand for the first digit and left hand for the second digit while the hands are by the side.  Bringing them up together AND preloaded with the proper numerals on the proper hand, seems to work every time.  While this sounds silly, it really works.  Try it!

Referee Hack #2: Keep something in your pocket to remember which team is entitled to receive the ball on the next alternating-possession (AP) throw-in.

While I don’t personally do this many of my colleagues do this very successfully.  Just grab a coin, whistle or whatever you like and place it in a pocket before the game.  After the opening tap, whichever position you are in, move that object (if necessary) to the pocket the arrow is facing — as if you were standing in front of the possession arrow — looking at it.  The key here is to make sure you don’t forget to move the object each time after the arrow is turned.  It’s always suggested when the AP arrow is initially set or is changed that ALL crew members take a peek over at their first opportunity.  If it’s not right, make sure to correct this during the next dead ball opportunity.

Referee Hack #3: Seal the official scorer’s book prior to the game to prevent additions to the roster.

While I’m not a huge fan of the requirement for checking the rosters and starters prior to the game, it’s something we all have to live with.  Prior to the 10 minute mark during pre-game warm-ups and while checking the appropriate entries in the official book, I scratch a line below the last player in the roster and place a number below that line.  For instance if there are 12 players warming up and 12 entries in the roster, I draw a line under the 12th person and write a 12 there.  For the team to add additional players they would have to erase that entry which makes it pretty obvious – resulting in an administrative technical foul.  As a side note — I always print my name (and crew members) in the appropriate spot, so it’s readable.  I believe if you’re NOT a good official they will find your name out easily enough but if you ARE good, make it easy for them to bubble up commentary to your assignor.

Referee Hack #4: When spotting the ball during a time-out, how you hold the ball determines which team gets the ball during the ensuing throw-in.

One of my favorite tips to young officials focuses on how to hold the ball during a time-out. (Check out this previous article).  This hack includes which hand you hold the ball in too!  Similar to hack #2 above, place the ball in the hand that is closest to the endline (or direction) for the team that will be making the throw-in, in relation to facing the table.  I keep the ball in my left hand if going to my left.  And vice versa if going toward my right.  If spotting the ball prior to free-throws, I use my free hand to remind me how many free-throws are coming by holding this down to my side.  Index finger for one free-throw coming, two fingers for two, three fingers for three and hold my index and pinky finger down for a one-and-one bonus.  OK, that might be over the top but it definitely works for me. The key here is for YOU to come up with your own queues and reminders to stay focused on what’s coming next to start play.

Referee Hack #5: Set your smartphone alarm or online calendar to alert you when it time to leave for your game.

I call this my “cut time” or the hard stop in my busy online calendar that I must be in my car – and actually heading for the game to get there in time.  If you’re the person that has trouble budgeting time (like me) this really works.  My company (Salesforce – shameless plug) uses Google Calendar to run our business.  In GCal I create two entries — one for the game and one for my “leave by” time.  On weekends when I’m not online, I use my smartphone and just set the same alarm.  When either of these goes off I better be in the vehicle or already I’m in trouble.  Leverage the technology around you to service your schools more efficiently and you will hopefully never arrive late to an assignment.

OK, so maybe these things are not really hacks … but they are really great ideas to keep you on track during the game.

Do you have any good Referee Hacks?

Comment below and our top 10 entries will win a FREE GameTracker Journal, courtesy of 60 Seconds on Officiating.  Hack away!

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. He is considered one of the nations top authors and instructors on basketball officiating for over two decades. He lives in Wildwood, New Jersey - just a few steps away from the sand and surf. Contact: Website | Facebook | Twitter | More Posts

16 Comments on My 5 Top Referee Hacks

  1. Going along with #4, for a spot throw in after a time out, stand with your legs together. If the player can run the line, spread your legs apart during the time out.

  2. Whenever I start to get nervous (namely in a tight ball game in the final possession or two), I start to hum a certain song. It can be any song that works for you, but I choose one that is calming, and no one can hear you doing it because everyone is cheering and yelling due to the game situation. Furthermore, I would argue you are more focused on the crucial play because you are now focusing more on the action as opposed to being focused on your own nerves. Hope this helps.

  3. bkinney99@gmail.com' Brett Kinney // January 16, 2018 at 7:35 am // Reply

    Self talk is one that I use a lot for certain situations. It can be used for dead and live ball situations. Examples below:
    1. Jump Ball – As umpire, I self talk in my mind, white right (or white left) depending on direction white will go after the tip. This allows me to focus on the correct direction I will be moving to become lead or center. It also assists me to know whether a back court infraction occurs after the tip.
    2. Team shooting on next foul – When an opponent gets their 6th team foul, during live ball and upon every subsequent ball possession, I self talk in my mind “(team color) white shooting, white shooting, white shooting” as I officiate. As soon as mt partner or I call a foul against the opponent, I immediately put 1 and 1 signal up and state to partners “shooting one and one”.
    3. Free throw violation – To more easily determine whether I have an immediate or delayed whistle upon a lane violation, I will self talk over and over to myself the offensive shooters color-immediate and opponents color-delayed (Ex: green immediate, white delayed;green immediate, white delayed;green immediate, white delayed).
    This strategy works for many, many situations that you can adapt to your game.

  4. umptonti@gmail.com' Aldo J. Tonti // January 16, 2018 at 10:05 am // Reply

    At halftime—-besides checking the score, turning the possession arrow, instructing the table to “keep the game ball”, “keep the home score book’ at the table. In addition—-I take a pen/pencil and in the home book indicate who has ball and draw an arrow in that direction.
    For example—-BLUE then draw an arrow. Now if the arrow is mysteriously changed you have written proof who has the ball. I guess this is similar to hack #3 sealing the score book.

    Next hack: I carry a spare whistle in my pocket and also a “needle” to let the air out of game ball that is loaded with air. One thing–do not get the needle “stuck in the ball.” Better yet select another ball. However, most of the time the game ball the home team wants to use is already at the table.

    Next Hack: Post game—- I carry a “wet bag” for my undergarments(t-shirt, tights, socks)
    All the ‘sweaty” stuff , so as not to mix in with my jacket, pants, etc. Also a pair of “flip flops” for those questionable showers.

    The above hacks have served me well over the years. Hope they are not too silly.

  5. Love these hacks … keep them coming!!! Thank you

  6. Bring a back brace if you get stuck working with a partner like Billy Martin !!! That way you can stand up after carrying him!!!!!!

    Love ya Billy Great job with 60 Seconds !

  7. marcottem@prodigy.net' Mike Marcotte // January 16, 2018 at 3:54 pm // Reply

    Good stuff — I have used each of these with good results. Here’s one more — when a sub for free throw shooter is waiting at the table and I’m the trail I place an open hand over my “belly button” to remind myself to kill it if made

  8. I don’t count players that are warming up. It doesn’t matter who is warming up. A player may be getting taped or stretched when I count. If I am doing Varsity then a player may be “coming up” from an earlier but perhaps is changing uniforms or still talking to the lower coach. Just do #3 and mark the space below the last player with a horizontal line and my initials.

    Do you have sore knees (or back) and that first sprint after the tip really hurts. Most school games will have you in a locker room that is at least one hallway away from the gym. A fast jog down that hallway has most of that pain so that when the game is ready to play, you are worried about the athletes and not your screaming knees.

    Rinse your whistle before walking into the gym. A rinsed whistle tastes a lot better than the old dry one from the last game.

    At halftime and after the game, wash your hands. The ball has been handled by 10+ athletes that may be sick and it has been rolling on a floor that hasn’t been scrubbed with soap in weeks or months. It is a long season and it sucks to be sick.

    In addition to the above, buy a hand sanitizer bottle that comes with a strap and attach it to your bag. Last thing before you walk out of the locker room, use the sanitizer. It is a long season and it sucks to be sick.

    Similar to #2, my system is a whistle in right pocket is the white jersey and left is the other color. That way I don’t have to look at the bench to figure out direction.

    Spray your shoes with an odor eater spray after each game.

    Spray your trousers with Febreeze after every game.

    Several days before the game, I confirm how long it takes to drive to the school. I put that in my smartphone calendar as “Drive” before the game as that is the time I have to leave. I put the address of the school in that calendar entry as well as the phone numbers of my partners and the AD. Even a school that you know well may have traffic congestion and you may need to divert to a separate route and you may need to call people. Don’t be fumbling for phone numbers because the city decided to work on the water main between you and the school.

    Keep a belt in your bag. Use the belt to help stretch out calf muscles and the “IT band” on the side of your thigh.

    I don’t personally do this, but during a timeout some officials will stand on the line during a timeout if the throw-in team has the right to run the line. Toes off the line means it is a spot throw.

    Choose one thing every game that you are going to do better as a new habit. You may be fantastic but there is something that you could do better. Create a new habit by focusing on that one thing every game until it is second nature.

  9. ccusato1@comcast.net' Jerry Campbell // January 17, 2018 at 3:05 pm // Reply

    Re; fouls signals:one and one ‘Use index and pinky finger ‘ has been a source of confusion on several situations as being mistaken as two foul shots by players, who for the most part are young men and women who are easily distracted. One and one should be using both hands a signal that can not be mistaken

  10. I’ve seen many officials use the whistle in the pocket trick for the possession arrow and some do it very well and others not so well. My personal favorite is on my lanyard there is a bead which brings the whistle tight around my neck. I push the bead away from me if the “Away” team gets the next AP arrow or toward me if the “Home” team gets the next AP arrow. I think it is much cleaner and you keep the arrow correctly ( again assuming you remember to change the position of the bead) without everyone in the gym knowing you are keeping the arrow on you whistle.

  11. ndpavlecic@hotmail.com' Nick Pavlecic // February 8, 2018 at 7:52 am // Reply

    The way that I like to keep track of possession, is I use my lanyard with the “sliding Ball”, White is Tight (to my neck), and I slide it down for the other color. Sometimes hard to do if you are doing Rec ball and have two teams like Red and Blue.

  12. My dig ones are to always have on you what you MIGHT need.
    1. Needle for deflating over-inflated balls.
    2. Sewing kit in case you split your drawers.
    3. Medical tape in case of an injury.
    4. Ibuprofen, well…just because.
    5. Small pump to inflate the game ball, if necessary.
    6. Extra uniform.
    7. Several extra whistles.

  13. reff44@gmail.com' Lynn Roberts // December 9, 2018 at 3:04 pm // Reply

    Those who worry about “game interrupters” like this are the same people who let players shake hands after 25 or so free throws, don’t get teams out of the time out huddles, won’t put the ball on the floor when they don’t come out, won’t get the 3-minute warning at half so you can start the half, spend time talking to coaches during dead balls for excessive times…..just fix the net, and cut the other game interrupters out….

  14. gmart57@hotmail.com' Gerardo Martinez // December 9, 2018 at 3:56 pm // Reply

    Great stuff, keep it coming!!!!

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