Behind the Whistle: The Life of a Referee

Every season the Sal’s NBL delivers action packed games that spark chin wags up and down the country. But the players aren’t the only ones on the court whose activity gets spoken about. The NBL’s Qoin Officials are perhaps the most closely scrutinized individuals to grace the court each season, despite rarely getting the opportunity to share their version of events or discuss how they arrived at their decisions. Today we pull the curtain back to give you insight from two Sal’s NBL officials who have agreed to anonymously share their thought process on missed calls, what it takes to earn a ‘T’ and when they were officially welcomed to the NBL.

Referee A – A senior official in the Sal's National Basketball League

Referee B—An official with around 5 years of experience in the Sal's National Basketball League

What is a tough call to make and why?

A - I’m not sure if there really are ‘tough’ calls. I blow the whistle because I believe it’s the correct call based on rule interpretations, so it’s important to be in the right spot, with the right angle to make these judgments. In saying that the change by FIBA to the travel rule altered visually what had become second nature for me to judge. It has since taken a lot more focus on footwork to ascertain legality. 

B- One of the toughest calls for me may come across as one of the simplest: out of bounds. You have players contesting over the ball with very quick bodies, limbs and hands and it can be a matter of the last fingernail to touch the ball.  Luckily, we have process’ where if another referee, who’s call it may not be to make, can provide the calling referee with information to get these right if they’ve seen something different.

Have you gotten a call wrong in a game and realised it? 

A – Generally you blow the whistle because you feel you are right based on the angle and position that you have. Unlike players, who know instantly when they make mistakes (by missing shots, turning over the ball etc), it may not be until you can see video after the game that you know you are incorrect. There are times that you wish you held your whistle e.g. a player you expected to shoot on a drive passes of the ball for a successful basket and at these times it’s a little “wake up” to focus on holding your whistle. There are some games where video replays are shown to the crowd. In these instances where you have clearly made an error it requires a lot of mental discipline to move on and keep your head in the game.

B- While we all strive to have a perfect game, we know this is an impossible task and that mistakes happen, we’re human and try to minimise the amount that occur in a game. I’ve definitely had calls that I’ve realised pretty much immediately “I shouldn’t have called that one”. These calls almost always follow with conversations to players and coaches, and I think it’s important to be honest during these conversations and admitting when you’re wrong to own your mistake.

When do you decide to give a Technical Foul?

A - In many cases giving a technical is easy, it’s trying to manage a player’s behaviour to keep them in the game for the enjoyment of fans which is challenging. There are often games in the last couple of minutes when teams have clearly lost the game and have become disgruntled, so the referees bear the brunt of this.  I personally don’t think the fans want to see the last-minutes of games consisting of numerous tech fouls and players disqualified so I tend to give more leeway in these situations.

B - Basketball is an emotional game and I think it’s really important to understand this and to understand the context of the game at certain moments. I feel that a reasonable natural reaction to a situation in the game is part of the game, but it is when these reactions don’t dissolve or are above what a natural reaction should be, is when you need to intervene. Not necessarily with a T, but at minimum, some form of conversation to address these behaviours. 

Did you have a welcome to the NBL moment?

A - I do recall a game early in my career that I anticipated a call and knew that I had blown a foul that clearly wasn’t. The player (who I won’t name) was comparatively very tall and when unhappy somewhat intimidating. As he came at me aggressively, I quickly apologised and said I had anticipated the call and was wrong. Fortunately, he reacted positively to this. His coach then went to similarly react to the call and the player went immediately up to him to relay what I had said, and the coach consequently calmed down. At the time my limited experience saw me make the foul call to the scoretable, but I’d like to think that now in my career this sort of call wouldn’t happen, or I’d have the experience and maturity to admit the mistake and not make the call to the table. 

B - The biggest adjustment to make coming into the league is the increase in physicality from what I’d experienced in the past. In my first game, I made a foul call which, after watching it back post-game, was very soft. Leon Henry came up to me right after the call and said, “I know you’re new, but we don’t call that here”.


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