For so many years – really forever – referee communications in international basketball was done by sign language. You blew your whistle, pointed at the player who made the foul; or, you made the designated signal for whatever violation had been committed. When reporting a foul to the table, it was all done by sign language – no voice was involved.
There was a philosophy to this. Since there was no common language, a communications method had to be developed that did not involve speech.
Of course, the North American officiating experience is entirely different. My initial training as a referee was in the U.S. (Seattle area). Strong signals were of course important, but we were also taught and told from the first day how to use our voice at the point of the foul and when reporting to the table. Listen in below on typical NCAA college referee communications.
I came to Israel and started officiating there in 1979. Because of my training in the US, I used my voice to call fouls and violations and communicated verbally with players and coaches. My colleagues (and many others) thought I was, well, insane (and I may have been, but we’ll save that for another blog)! “Why are you talking so much out there?” they would say to me. And when I got to the FIBA level in 1984, because of my officiating style (“very American”) and use of voice I was certainly considered “different” than everyone else.
The only referees that consistently verbally communicated on the court during that time and many subsequent years afterwards were me and the referees from English-speaking regions, i.e. Great Britain, Australia/New Zealand (and of course, the US).
Below, you will see me hooked up to a microphone at a game that took place about 15 years ago between Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv. We certainly don’t teach our referees to communicate exactly in this manner – but we do encourage them to use their personalities!
“No botanika!” – how the game has changed for referees as well
FIBA’s first big step in changing communications on the court was about 1990. The US is where basketball was invented and American players were already playing in every country overseas. It was therefore natural that they instituted English as the lingua franca of international basketball. By rule, ANY communications that took place in international events had to be from that point on in English.
They also for the first time required international referees to pass English exams. Until that time, rules and other FIBA tests in Europe were administered in at least English and French. I assume that other regions took their tests in various native tongues as well.
Until 1990 (and for some period after that), what did this all mean for referees? Well, first of all, on too many occasions you refereed with colleagues with whom there was no common language. Besides a few grunts, there was sometimes no pre-game, no post-game and virtually no communications in between. There were literally referees who spoke no English. When asked what he wanted for dinner, one (otherwise very good) European referee requested no salad. “No botanika!” he said to the waiter.
There are two aspects to communications: 1) calling and reporting the foul, and 2) communications with players and coaches. Part 2 later this week will provide some hopefully helpful vocabulary.
Just for a little “dessert”, below you can watch now-retired NBA referee great Danny Crawford. He was a master communicator.