Posted tagged ‘Officiating’

Turning My Basketball Players Into Basketball Officials

March 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 11, 2018


I hand a black and white striped shirt to each one of them. Each of them is also given a whistle, and they stare at me!

“Okay, boys! Here’s what I want you to work on to begin with.”

“The boys” are the players who are a part of my freshmen basketball team. They are being asked to be the officials for the kid’s basketball program that our varsity coach has operated for the past few years. The varsity and junior varsity players are the coaches for the eleven teams of boys between the grades of three and six. “The boys” have all played basketball for several years, but none of them have ever officiated a basketball game.

They look like a herd of deer in headlights, wide-eyed and unsure of how this is going to play out. If asked I am sure each of them would rather be shooting a game-deciding free throw in front of a packed gym than blowing a whistle to indicate that a third grade boy just ran down the court with the basketball and forgot to dribble.

I have them practice their referee mechanics, the hand signals that indicate what call is being made. However, I know that once the game starts they will be like the third and fourth grade boys who are practicing dribbling using two basketballs, but once the game starts they will all dribble to the right corner. My players will practice their mechanics, but once the game begins they will blow their whistles inconsistently and weakly.

“Don’t let your whistles sound like tweety-bird! Strong whistles and strong voices.”

“Coach, I’m going to be awesome!” one of them boasts, but then goes through the entire first half without his whistle making a peep.

“Coach, watch this!” The boy in front of me is doing the hand signal that indicates he is doing a ten second count.

“That’s great, but I don’t think getting a ten second back court violation is our biggest concern with third and fourth graders.” He stares at me as if I mortally wounded him.

“Let’s keep it simple. Arm up with a closed fist means…”


“Good! Arm up with an open fist means…”

“A really bad foul?”

“No, space cadet! It indicates a stoppage in play because you are about to give the signal for a violation that has happened, or that it’s a held ball, or that the ball is dead.”

“Dead? So, do we get another ball when that happens?”

I don’t have to respond. The player who asks the unintelligent question is hounded by his teammates.

The games begin and I conduct an official’s clinic as the afternoon progresses, instructing these fifteen year olds on where to stand, what to look for, how to use their voices, and how to sell a call that could go either way? I ask them questions about situations and other questions that seek to help them cultivate the common sense of officiating. We laugh together and they get better each game they do.

“You’ve got to have a whistle on that play!” I yell at them.

“Yes, but-“

“No, yes but’s! If you were doing a high school game right now would you stop the game and say to the irate coach ‘Yes, but!’?”

I hung up my whistle last year after sixteen seasons of officiating high school and junior college basketball, but I enjoy these moments of helping my players see things from the perspective of the person with the black and white striped shirt.

And then the reward! A parent comes up to me and says, “Coach, your boys are so much better at officiating than those who have done it in past years.”

I smile and thank her. It’s a comment I share with my players who still at times resemble deer in headlights…but not as often!

Losing Perspective In the Midst of Playing a Game

January 11, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 11, 2016


This past weekend I officiated eight basketball games (one college, four 5th grade instructional league, and 3 middle school club games), coached one game, and was on the bench for two others.

Here’s what I learned. There are a lot of parents and coaches who lose all perspective. There are very few times that players lose perspective, although a couple of Cincinnati Bengals’ players majorly go against that statement!

The best of the eight games I blew my whistle for was the college game…the game that meant the most! Coaching jobs, school reputations, school pride, recruiting potential new players, conference titles and NCAA post-season berths are all tied into the playing of a college game…and yet, it was the calmest and most enjoyable game to officiate. Players battled hard, coaches coached, fans cheered, and it was fun.

The worst of the games would be a three-way tie between one of the instructional league games where one of the coaches evidently didn’t get the memo about it being INSTRUCTIONAL!!!; one of the club games between two sixth grade girls’ teams, in which one of the coaches and the parents must have “Red Bulled” up before the game; and the JV and Varsity games I was a part of coaching, in which the parents of the visiting team were obnoxious, insulting, and blatantly immature towards the officials.

In those games only a couple of players had attitude problems, and they seemed to take their cues from either the coach or mom and dad in the bleachers.

What is it about a game that makes reasonable people lose all perspective? As a coach I value the opportunity to teach my players not just about the game, but about life…what’s really important and what is the chaff that will burn away? A big part of the teaching is the modeling of consistent beliefs and behavior. Some coaches create players who are “game-long pains” to deal with. They model that kind of behavior and/or condone that kind of behavior.

I hope I’m the other kind of coach that creates players who are able to keep perspective. During the Saturday game I coached, one of my players questioned a call by one of the officials. My response: “Sub!” She came to the bench and I calmly explained to her that asking the officials about a call was my job not hers. Players questioning officials is not to be a part of our DNA.

One brand new high school varsity boy’s basketball coach that I’ve officiated for models consistency and integrity. His team is struggling. He inherited a cupboard that is bare. As an official I’ve offered him encouragement even in the midst of a game. He’s a brand new varsity coach, the kind that our sons and daughters need to be influenced by. If I can say just a few words of encouragement to him to help him keep the right perspective I will do that.

Officials are not the enemy. They are simply the ones given the task of keeping the horses in the corral. Coaches understand that there are good officials, other officials trying to be good, and still other officials that will never be good. Officials are like a school classroom. There are those who excel, some average, and others who struggle.

The sad reality is that the number of officials is declining, and one of the main reasons is the loss of perspective by those who are coaching or watching the game. Officials in any sport can now get an insurance policy that covers death or injury during an athletic contest. Whereas most of those deaths are related to heart attacks, there is the growing concern about officials being attacked by spectators, coaches, or players.

It really comes down to a choice that people involved in athletic contests make. You either choose to keep perspective or you lose it! When people lose perspective everyone loses!