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PostPosted: 12 Feb 2015, 09:44 

Posts: 2
I have been following Breakthrough Basketball for years and I have implemented many of the drills and philosophies at the travel, AAU, and high school levels. The one area that I have found lacking is in the discussion of how our games are controlled by the referees. I have been consistently appalled by the performance of the officials at all levels. Especially at the youth level, where coaches are all volunteer, the officials are the only professionals involved in the mix of volunteers and the only ones being paid. Yet there is little or no oversight of the officials and their word is law. I see the same officials in tournament after tournament making the same poor calls or non-calls, and it is negatively affecting the way the players learn to play and how the coaches have changed their methodology of coaching. Where is the discussion on how we can upgrade the quality of our referees? Most of the coaches I know are afraid to file grievances against any official for fear of retaliation, which allows the referee carte blanche to institute their idea of what they want the game to be. As a coach, I can train my athletes to play in accordance with the rules, but if other coaches train their players to "play dirty", and the referees allow it, my players are handicapped. What are we teaching our players: that if you can get away with it then its OK?

I suggest we open a forum on how officials affect the game at all levels. If we want our children to follow the rules and focus on learning and utilizing the skills of the game, then we really need to investigate and change the way the officials operate.

PostPosted: 12 Feb 2015, 09:55 
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I'm curious what specifically bothers you about the calls? What are they calling or not calling that is affecting the development of your players?

I think specifics will help us get a healthy discussion going.

I can't count the number of other coaches and parents that have complained about officiating on forum and comments. Just look at all the comments on this article:

But to be honest, I don't understand how it affects player development. The refs don't seem to affect the youth teams that I coach. Maybe we are lucky and get better refs or maybe we are handling things differently. Maybe if I better understand we can help. Let us know.

Jeff Haefner

PostPosted: 12 Feb 2015, 17:12 

Posts: 158
In youth sports, even a bad referee can be used as a teaching tool.

How do your kids react to referees?

They will mirror what you do, they will take your cues from you. They learn far more from watching your reactions than following any spoken instruction you give. You can tell the players not to talk to the referees, not complain about calls, not make faces. But if the coach does those things, they will take their future cues from that far more than they will any spoken instruction not to talk to the refs.

How do you adjust to the way a game is called?

Are they supposed to call the hand check? Yes. Are they supposed to allow physical play on the perimeter? No.

Do all referee's call that the same way?

Absolutely not.

Even to the High School, College, and Pro levels, the game is not called specifically at the level or even by different crews. Thinks like hand check, perimeter contact, post contact, vary from crew to crew. Good players learn how to adjust to how the game is called.

I stopped worrying about the refs in my conference. We have had good refs. We have had bad refs. We have had average refs. We have had awful refs. I make sure that I pass a note on about the bad to awful refs to make an effort they don't get assigned to our games.

But outside of that I say absolutely nothing to the referee's other than the occasional "good call" or ask for an explanation when I didn't see something clearly.

I used to constantly ride referees until I realized that while I was making an ass out of myself, I had stopped coaching my team. Now I just focus on my kids, focus on my team, what are WE doing right or wrong. I can honestly say that I have never lost a single solitary game in over 11 years and I've lost track of how many seasons, due to referee calls.

Then I started to referee youth league basketball. I realized two things:
1) I have a better angle from where I stand than most coaches on the bench. I also have no vested interest and I have to interpret what I see relatively quickly.
2) I will make mistakes. Many mistakes. Bad mistakes. I made calls I realized were bad or wrong as I blew the whistle.

Joe Forte (former referee) had a saying I liked that he used for college coaches: "I owe you one, but I'll never pay up."

Mistakes are part of the game. Realize that many leagues are having trouble finding refs, especially new younger ones as older ones retire, and young people don't want to put up with garbage from coaches who treat youth games like it's the 7th game of the NBA Finals.

I'd worry about the things you can control: Your team, practices, attitudes.
I'd leave the referee's be. File the complaints if you can. But otherwise don't spend too many moments considering it.

Just some thoughts. Certainly doesn't make me right.

PostPosted: 12 Feb 2015, 21:42 

Posts: 899
I can appreciate your frustration, all coaches seem to have difficulty dealing with the officials at some point in their coaching careers. I struggled for a few seasons big time, especially when the level of competition increased. I remember thinking the same exact thing you did with regards to teaching my players "the right way to play", only to watch other teams get away with what I thought was "playing dirty".

I have to say though, Brian's post is spot on. Hard to add anything else to it, but I'm sure I can ramble on for a few sentences.

The best thing I ever did was join an officials forum online. It was pretty harsh when I'd ask questions (that I thought they would side with me on), but honestly, most of the answers I received were correct, especially when I took my emotions out of the equation. I also talked with experienced officials and coaches asking their advice on how to handle things in a game. Slowly my perspective began to change. I realized the officials couldn't care less which team won. They weren't after me or my team, they were calling the game as they saw it. I had to adjust as a coach and so did my players.

I remember thinking teams were "playing dirty" and we were "playing by the rules", only to find out my kids just weren't able to compete with stronger more physical teams, yet. We eventually became one of those teams that learned how to play through things, playing more physical basketball,.adjusting when necessary depending on the flow of the game.

If you could give a couple of examples that really frustrate you, it might help us understand a bit more. If you're talking about rec basketball and refs just allowing blatant fouling, then I'd talk with the league directors about tightening things up.

Couple of threads where officiating/officials were discussed on BB:


PostPosted: 13 Feb 2015, 14:01 

Posts: 214
I think for the most part Brian and Rob are spot on. But you will sometimes run into a ref that actually does have an agenda.

Example: we're a 5th grade team that was breezing through our travel league's regular season, so our director asked if we wanted to play the first place team in the 5th grade division. We did, as one of the final games of the regular season. They were unbeaten and blowing teams away, relying on a really talented player.

We gameplanned and shut her down and we had a 2 point lead with 2 minutes to go. Throughout the game there were your usual tough calls and questionable calls. One in particular, when their star chased down a loose ball and our toughest player was hounding her, scrapping for the ball. Their star clearly swings her elbow directly into our girl's face. All they call is a player control foul. As my assistant tended to our player, I calmly approached the ref and said, "Sir, can I ask why that's not a flagrant foul?".......he looks at me, smiles and replies, "No." with a chuckle, then looks away. I left it at that.

A couple weeks later, that team is playing in their division's championship game and who walks in with some family members of their players? THAT SAME REF!

I intend to go back to watch film of the game and track the fouls called by each official. Maybe they were even, but I want to know for sure because that's the kind of stuff that does not belong.

There is also a lot to be said about how you approach a ref. I try to say hi to them before the game and maybe strike up a 30 second conversation. I've gotten on good terms with several refs this way and it goes a long way in allowing for a civil discussion when you just want an explanation on something. There are also a few refs I know that are extremely short tempered, so it's not even worth my breath to ask them the simplest of questions. Even if I'm not arguing their call, but just asking a question.

One game we had a good mannered ref working with a quick trigger guy. Our defender accidentally crossed the baseline and contacted the ball while the other team was attempting a throw in. Immediately the quick trigger guy issues a technical foul. I started to ask him why we don't get a delay of game warning first, but then changed my direction and asked the mild mannered ref. The two of them conferenced and we were ultimately given the warning. Sometimes you gotta know your referee personnel too! LOL

PostPosted: 15 Feb 2015, 12:04 

Posts: 899
Coachmt - I agree with you that there are definitely officials that probably should not be officiating. My personal breaking point is if anyone in a trusted position (e.g., officials, teachers, coaches) puts a kid in obvious harms way, they should be called on it through the proper channels.

Had a situation a couple of nights ago where the officials just didn't have control of the game. It was apparent from letting the game get too physical to multiple stopped clocks with no whistles (confusion for some reason on the officials part) and we're talking about JV high school basketball here. Some shoves in the back while going up for layups, obvious tripping, and tempers were heating up. A few parents in the crowd were expressing their disapproval very loudly and in not so nice terms. Not a cool scene, to put it mildly.

When safety is involved, that's when I think it's appropriate to have a face to face with the officials and mention the words, "I'm concerned about the safety of the players". I've found that most refs will respond to that, especially if you give them specific players, "#32 is shoving in the back when my guy is shooting" or , "#12 is sticking his foot out and tripping". It's up to the ref at that point to make the observation and call.

The tricky part in these scenarios is sometimes the physical mismatch between two teams creates what looks like one team beating up on another team. When in fact, the weaker team just doesn't have the ability to hang so they do goofy things. I'm not talking about obvious shoves in the back or elbows being thrown, more where the weaker team isn't quick enough to take the charge or goes up against someone who's just physically more powerful.

This can get extremely difficult at the younger levels as there can be wide ranges of skill level and coordination. The best refs at the younger levels are the ones that establish before the game what they want from the players. No reaching in, hands out on defense, etc. They teach as the game goes along when appropriate and aren't afraid to call a time out to reemphasize key points.

I've definitely had situations like you described where it appeared the calls went "the other way" and then I'd see the officials chatting it up with the other team's players or parents. I just found putting energy into trying to figure all that out was usually futile.

My main point was to address the OP's comment that he was, "consistently appalled by the performance of the officials at all levels" which is a pretty big brush. If that's really happening in his town, it sounds like the officiating needs a major overhaul.


PostPosted: 15 Feb 2015, 12:35 

Posts: 158
I think that's a common problem the smaller the town is.

But I would like to point this out in that regard: How many young refs leave? Just stop doing it instead of continuing on and getting better because they just don't want to put up with the garbage from coaches, parents and players?

Young refs just starting out or older people coming into referee for the first time need to be permitted to make mistakes. They need to go through those growing pains just like youth players. Just like youth players, they aren't going to grow, and will probably leave, if they are getting yelled at every time they make a mistake by parents, coaches, and players. What youth player would stick around for that kind of abuse?

Well, it is the same way with referees. I have news for you: The amount of money they make is often not worth what they have to put up with.

I got out of it. I'm not exactly in a position where I can forfeit income, but I didn't need to come home every weekend feeling like crap because some feeder coach who I don't know, coaching a team I had no prior interaction with, was convinced I was out to take his "hard earned victory" away from him. They turn their players and parents on you.

So many a referee that may be getting better, may be putting in the work to get better, putting in the effort to do their best every night, walks away BECAUSE they care.

Then what are you left with? Refs that don't care. Refs that just collect the paycheck. Refs that don't put in the effort or have questionable allegiances.

You want to solve THAT problem? Make sure that your coaches and players and parents at all levels of your program are treating officials with respect. Make sure that a ref enjoys working your sideline win or lose. Then have the coaches identify the ones who are doing the best job. The ones that care about what they do the most.

Then make sure you get them back in to work as many of your games as you can.

Because that, in my opinion, is how you get the quality of officiating to improve. Start with respect and tolerance. It will be a slow process. But so is building the youth player. It's what is needed. Because it is a growing problem in youth and just sports in general. Not enough quality people are staying with it because they made the same decision I did: IT....IS.....NOT.....WORTH IT.

PostPosted: 17 Feb 2015, 08:15 

Posts: 2
Thank you all for your replies. They are all good and you all make very good points, however, I believe that I did not state the issue I wish to discuss very well. I am not concerned with interfacing with the officials during a game, or what to do when I see bad calls during a game. I am a member of the positive coaching alliance, and I do not try to “play” the refs during the game. I agree that as coaches and teachers we have a responsibility to set a good example to our athletes. But that isn’t the issue here. The issue is: “How do we improve the expertise of the officials?”

I challenge anybody who has coached basketball for any length of time to tell me that the majority of referees do not need improvement. Every year I coach at least 75 games at different levels, and I watch hundreds more. I see coaches and officials interact, and in almost every instance it is because of a specific call that has been made on the floor. I personally don’t have any problems with an opinion call: blocking, reaching, jump ball, who touched it last, etc. My issues with officials revolve around the skills calls: traveling, holding, double-dribble, illegal screen, back-court, lane violations, etc. Actually, I do not object when these calls are made, I object when they are not called because that makes a huge difference in how I train my players. It also can make a huge difference in the outcome of games.

For example, if one team is mechanically sound due to good coaching and does not commit the skills errors previously listed, and they are playing a team that commits a lot of traveling and holding calls, and the officials just “let them play”, then the mechanically sound team is handicapped. The officials have an undue influence on the outcome of the game. By not calling these infractions against one team, they are not purposely favoring one team over another, but the team without the good mechanics gains an advantage by not turning the ball over and thereby affecting the outcome. Fewer turnovers means more chances for the poorer team to score and fewer chances for the mechanically sound team to score – which could result in the poor team winning, not because they played a better game but because they were not held accountable for their lack of expertise. The officials have then had an impact on the game results – however inadvertently – and there is no recourse for any coach or team. If the coach complains then it appears he is being a poor sport or not setting a good example for his athletes. And I have yet to see any official complaint about any referee in any league or tournament ever have an impact on the performance of the referee in question.

So now I have to explain to my players why sometimes those calls are made and sometimes they are not. I have heard time and again: “Get over it, that’s part of the game”. My point is that it should NOT be “part of the game”. My point is that if the referee allows any infraction to happen without calling it, he/she is not doing the job he/she is PAID to do. If a player doesn’t play well and improve then he ends up sitting on the bench. If a coach continually loses games and her players do not improve, then she will lose her coaching position. My major point here is that if a referee continually makes bad calls, there is no way to hold that referee accountable, and he/she will continue to be an official with no accountability. And for the ultimate insult, in youth basketball, everyone is a volunteer – EXCEPT THE OFFICALS WHO ARE PAID PROFESSIONALS!

The primary purpose for having a referee in the game is to ensure that everyone follows the rules. If the official chooses which calls to make instead of making all of the calls, then that is affecting the outcome of the game. The official is supposed to be neutral and have no effect on the outcome of the game. I can’t remember how many times I’ve spoken to an official at halftime about a player hooking my post player or hanging out in the lane, and getting the response: “ The other team has just as many fouls as yours”, or “your player is hanging in the lane, too”. The proper response is to call EVERY call, not make the calls even for each team. If my team is not playing correctly, I want the referees to call them on it. They will not get better if they get away with infractions during the game. It is not up to the referees to pick and choose which calls to make.

The bottom line question is: “How can we help our referees to become better at their job?” We insist that all of our teachers, trainers, coaches, and mentors do their jobs well and we have methods for assisting them or weeding out the poor ones. How can we do that with our basketball officials? We can’t if we don’t address the problem and simply keep repeating: “It’s just part of the game – get used to it.”

PostPosted: 17 Feb 2015, 17:02 

Posts: 158
I'm not going to say much else, other than to say that I think these are the complaints I hear often from coaches.

The one way I see it changes is to put on the striped shirt and see what it is like from the other side.

A point of contention I do have: You seem to elevate and punish them at the same time by saying that they are PAID PROFESSIONALS.

Because they are paid does not make them professionals. Professionals devote massive amounts of time to their craft. They hone and practice it and study it.

Referee's, particularly youth basketball do not do that. They have full time jobs. They have real professions. They do not earn enough to feed their families by refereeing youth basketball games. Most put an honest effort and try to be fair. Most of them will fall short.

In basketball there are things you can control, and things you can't. Referee's can't be controlled. You can try to keep good ones involved and try make sure poor ones aren't seen involved so often.

But I wonder what your games would be like if no refs came. What would that look like? Parents ref? One from each team, go.

Coaches Ref?

I think this energy is misspent, and sounds like me in my early years of coaching after a bad stretch with a couple of sub-par refs. Every coach has a bad ref story.

You don't like that it's part of the game and you need to get used to it, but: It's part of the game. You and your players need to get used to it. If you want a method for better oversight, bring it up to your league and tournament director.

But I still think the best idea is to put on the striped shirt once a weekend and take a 3-4 game stretch every week. I guarantee it will change the way you feel. Completely.

PostPosted: 18 Feb 2015, 00:08 

Posts: 899
gtap2005 wrote:
The issue is: “How do we improve the expertise of the officials?” I challenge anybody who has coached basketball for any length of time to tell me that the majority of referees do not need improvement.
I guess it depends upon what's available in your city and your personal perspective. The more I interacted with officials off the court and participated in forums where officials discussed issues, the more my perspective changed as a coach. The more games I coached, the more my perspective changed.

We have a few different officials associations in our city and some are run better than others. In the end, I don't think anyone is becoming rich by being an official in youth basketball. I think it's a tough gig to attract folks who want to ref, especially at the lower levels where the kid's skill levels are all over the place and the parents/coaches are certain that this is game 7 in the NBA finals.

My major point here is that if a referee continually makes bad calls, there is no way to hold that referee accountable, and he/she will continue to be an official with no accountability. And for the ultimate insult, in youth basketball, everyone is a volunteer – EXCEPT THE OFFICALS WHO ARE PAID PROFESSIONALS!
Brian already mentioned this, but the pay is minimal for youth officials at best and these are folks who are doing it as a part-time gig. If you subtract out the umpteenjillion times the refs have to hear people yelling at them every trip up and down the court and put it in perspective that this is just a game, they're pretty much volunteers.

The proper response is to call EVERY call, not make the calls even for each team. If my team is not playing correctly, I want the referees to call them on it. They will not get better if they get away with infractions during the game. It is not up to the referees to pick and choose which calls to make.
Been in a few of those "whistle games" and they drag on forever. It's impossible to call every call in a game for various reasons, but the main one being that leagues have X amount of gym time. Add that to the mix for the refs and things get interesting. They've been told the games need to last a certain amount of time, so keep it moving. Now they have to pick their poison when it comes to the calls or these youth games will never end.

The bottom line question is: “How can we help our referees to become better at their job?” We insist that all of our teachers, trainers, coaches, and mentors do their jobs well and we have methods for assisting them or weeding out the poor ones. How can we do that with our basketball officials? We can’t if we don’t address the problem and simply keep repeating: “It’s just part of the game – get used to it.”
Make the environment a better place to work in youth basketball which would make the part-time job as an official more attractive. There isn't a single time when I walk into our local youth basketball facility which houses six courts and don't hear a coach or parent screaming at the refs. If I stay long enough, one of the courts will have a real doozy of a shouting match going on. The grade levels vary from 2nd - 8th grade at that particular arena. It really becomes mind numbing when a 3rd grade team is playing and you hear the screaming.

Having a mandatory session for the coaches and parents to review the league philosophies and how officials should be treated. Invite a few seasoned officials (which I did for our team) to come and talk about what it's like to be an official. Educate the parents and coaches on common misconceptions when it comes to calls on the court (e.g. over the back, etc..). Get everyone on the same page as much as possible. Take away that "us vs. them" mentality right out of the gate when it comes to the officials. Remind everyone we're talking about youth basketball, which is a sport and it's supposed to be fun, for everyone.

I get where you're coming from with the calls. It sounds like you have a well coached team, so it's frustrating to see other teams "getting away with things". I ran into this all the time in various sports where certain coaches wouldn't abide by the play-time rules or correct their players even if the refs missed a call. The burden is on the coaches to coach their kids when refs miss calls and let them know they traveled or double dribbled.

I've thought about giving the ref thing a try in the youth leagues just for the experience. But, the more games I see, the more I'll stick to the coaching gig.


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