Officials who are looking for a way to distinguish themselves should look no further than the topic of team officiating. The best officials at all levels have the ability to know when to help the crew, game and make others around them better by doing so.
What helps an official to excel in that area? First and foremost, you must be an official who promotes trust and communication among your crew regardless of your position or status among a particular staff. Those are two of the biggest factors in successful team officiating. You will continue to see those two words appear over and over again. As the referee, you should look for opportunities to include and engage others around you, promoting like-mindedness and an atmosphere of inclusiveness. As the lesser-experienced member, ask questions, create conversations and, most importantly, be prepared for the opportunity to lead up from a position of U1 or U2. One of the most basic and common areas for a lesser-experienced official to lead up is with outstanding rules knowledge. Next, total game awareness is key. Beyond rules, the biggest opportunity to assist involves the knowledge of the clocks. Place a priority on having outstanding clock awareness on each possession. From all three positions on the floor, sneak a peak on every possession and make sure the game clock (and shot clock) are properly running. As the shot clock moves toward the latter stage, be aware and ready to assist on potential violations.
Establishing a trust among your crew, as well as an open and inviting line of communication, is important. Regardless of the situation, as the officials bring information, one rule to live by with team officiating is that you must have absolute certainty and be willing to take full responsibility for the play with your immediate supervisor. Using those two guidelines allows you to take an extra moment, collect your thoughts and then react only if you can answer yes to both.
For most of us, team-officiating conversations have started and ended with out-of-bounds help. It is one of the most common topics, and we have all discussed that if there is information regarding the changing of an out-of-bounds play, we welcome our partners’ input. Remember trust and communication. If you as the partner come with absolute knowledge, trust the information and then have the ability to communicate all of the information, i.e. red number 34 was the last to touch the ball. Being specific in your information allows the ruling official to respond to a coach and communicate exactly why the decision was changed.
We covered having an ability to know when and when not to bring information. Take the same play in the first four minutes of the game, involving a first-year official in your league or conference and a 50-50 out-of- bounds decision. Now take the play involving the same official and put it in the last two minutes of the game. Does the level in which you work have replay? Are there rules that will allow you to use that technology given the uncertainty of the play? What if there is no replay and it is a 50-50 play? All are factors in knowing when and when not to assist. The best leaders have the ability to look into the big picture, and most importantly do what is right for the game.
Here is another example of a play that happens often, but we rarely discuss how to help. A player is in the act of shooting by rule, however our partner incorrectly administers the play as a non-shooting foul or visa versa. Or the offensive player jump stops after the illegal contact and is incorrectly awarded two shots. Again, do you have absolute knowledge? And are you willing to take full responsibility for the play? Those should always be your baselines.
Those types of plays are often more complicated. Try and approach your partner with a question: “Do you want help on this play?” This can be done subtly and without much distraction, often while your partner is moving to report the foul to the table. Doing so in this manner is not threatening and does not bring unwanted attention to your partner. It also allows your partner to let you know whether they want help or not.
Additionally, if you tell your partner you will take full responsibility for the play and they choose not to use your information, you have now allowed yourself an opportunity to explain to your supervisor what occurred should further postgame discussion be necessary, and the accountability now falls back on the partner who chose not to use the information.
Specific information, both in your communication to your partner and to the coaches, is a must. Try to preface your response with “by rule” as it is hard to dispute what follows. For example, we cannot award two shots because by rule a jump stop ends the continuous-shooting motion, or we should award two it properly. Failure to blow the whistle and stop play could result in players displaying anger, hostility or the dangerous swinging of elbows.
- A bounce pass to the post is deflected by the guard, allowing the post player and the defender to each get a hand decisively on the ball.
- The shooter drives the free-throw lane. In attempting to block the shot, the defender is able to place a hand on the ball to prevent the shooter from releasing the ball.
- A1 lobs the throw-in to A2. B1 and A2 each jump and get a hand on the ball. As they land, they maintain their hold on the ball.
In each of those situations, it is at that very moment when a held-ball situation occurred. Do not hesitate. Blow your whistle. Certain game situations will require a demonstrative whistle. Raise your arm in the air to display the stop-clock signal. Reach your arms out horizontally and point your thumbs straight up in the air. Signal in the direction the ball will be going, and make eye contact with your partner(s) while pointing to the spot of the throw-in.
(Editor’s note: Referee recommends using the stop-clock signal; however, NFHS and NCAA mechanics codes allow the option to stop the clock with a held-ball signal only.)
In a three-person game, one or two officials should converge on the play, while the third stays back to observe. In a two-person game, one official should converge. After the alternating-possession throw in, be sure the scorer changes the arrow’s direction.
A timeout cannot be granted to either team while opponents have their hands on the ball. Have a slow and steady whistle regarding timeouts, but a quick and decisive one regarding a held ball. Neither coach will take issue with a held-ball ruling, especially after your calm explanation that each player had a firm grip on the ball and safety is always a priority. But your conversation with the coach will take on a different tone if his or her player is down on the ground bleeding, the recipient of an elbow — a result of letting players decide possession instead of the official. The coach will be justifiably furious and may end up crossing a line that never needs to be stepped over. It is a technical foul not soon forgotten by the receiving coach and administering official.
The time on the clock and the score of the game have no significance in ruling a held ball. Be consistent with this decision in each game at each school. Do not let the players play through a held ball. There is no better demonstration of the rule to your friend in the stands than to see the play, enforce the rule, avoid injury and maintain control of the game.
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