(Part 2: you can read Part 1 here.) International basketball officiating was built on non-verbal “sign language”. Referees were taught not to speak – and were criticized if they did. Signals were the only accepted form of communications for officials outside of North America, whether at the point of foul or reporting to the table. Discussions with players and coaches were also frowned upon.
But times have changed. The FIBA rulebook now “strongly recommends” that when reporting to the table, referees should “verbally support” their communications. And in recent clinics for referees and instructors, FIBA is now insisting on the use of voice.
Having a working command of English on the court is a must for referees involved in international basketball or even in their countries’ top levels of officiating.
Is your English holding you back? Here’s some basic vocabulary…
Knowing English and even passing the required FIBA English test for international referees is not enough. In every professional field there is dedicated terminology, a lexicon of terms and slang. Basketball officials around the world have to transition from sign language to learning how to talk “referee”.
At the point of the infraction:
In obvious situations you may choose just to blow your whistle and signal. However, in many other situations, blowing your whistle sharply (don’t drag it out and avoid “toot-toot-toot” – it’s a basketball game, not Beethoven 5) and using your voice adds authority and communicates what you are calling. Referees are also “salesmen” – and we want to “sell” what we are doing out there. Some examples:
“14, hold”; “8 white, handcheck”; “15, push-out!”; “…pivot foot – travel!”; and of course, we want to sell our “bang-bang” big collision block-charge plays. I don’t even think the legendary Joey Crawford got this call right – but who’s going to argue about it?
Reporting to the Table
We verbally support our reporting to the table in order to communicate what and why we blew our whistle. Use your personality and project your voice to not only convey a message but also to let others know that you are confident in your decision. Take a listen to these referees report to the table and also communicate with coaches and players:
Using voice supports your signals. When reporting, you can start with number then color – or, I prefer color and then number: White, Twelve! Following that, signal the type of foul and report what the player did. Tell everyone exactly what happened: hit! (on the arm, point to the wrist, elbow etc.); block or blocking foul; push/pushing; hold/holding; impede (an important word – to “impede” or restrict illegally someone’s progress); handcheck/ing; illegal screen; straight arm, or 2 arms, in the post; walkout (defender moving into/underneath the shooter); over the back (rebound); clamp, etc.
When we have borderline act of shooting plays, everyone wants to know now if it’s a shot or not. In this situation you want to strongly communicate your decision immediately: “count it” or, “on the floor” (or “no shot”).
Use “rule-based” communications with coaches and players
But besides giving voice support to our decisions, referees also need to know how and when to communicate with players and especially coaches.
A coach might say, “Hey, what did he do on that play?” Use rule-based communications in your answers – and keep it short and direct: “I didn’t feel he was in legal guarding position”…”He extended outside his cylinder on the screen”…”He was too much into his body on the shot”…”He clamped him on the rebound”…”He wasn’t set”…
3-person officiating (3PO) changed communications with coaches. With 3 referees, there is always one official (whether Center or Trail) standing near a head coach. And coaches are constantly using this as an opportunity to communicate their “thoughts” with the referee nearest to them, good, bad and otherwise. In the “old days” of 2-person officiating, there wasn’t always a referee in the vicinity of a coach, especially (since referees worked “left-right”) near the bench to the right of the scorer’s table.
Being “mum” and not communicating properly with a coach or player in “normal” situations is usually not an acceptable response. A referee who won’t or can’t communicate properly will quickly lose respect and authority on the court.
And, have fun with your communications! Interacting verbally with players and coaches and developing a working relationship on the court can be one of the most enjoyable parts of what we do.