Zen and the Art of Officiating

I went through a phase of my life where I was reading as many self-improvement books as I could. My belief was: the more books I read, the better person I would become. You can be the judge if they work. One of those books was the often referenced Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. While the book has little to do with Zen or motorcycles, the sections on quality showed me how it is found in all facets of our lives. During our careers, quality is something a lot of people seek. The quality of our relationships will determine our happiness.

As a basketball referee, quality officiating is a key component to a successful game/season/career. It's not the only factor (communication skills; appearance; and location) but if you can't officiate well you won't make it long in the business. Quality officiating is defined differently by each participant in the game.

Players, Coaches, Athletic Directors, Officiating Directors, and the referees might use a variety of phrases to describe quality officiating:

  • Consistency
  • Nobody notices the officials
  • Everyone is mad at the officials
  • Let the players play
  • No ticky-tack calls
Refereeing the perfect game is impossible. There's always at least one out-of-bounds we miss, one 50-50 call we get wrong, the foul we miss or worse, the foul we called that wasn't there. Quality changes over a career. It also changes during the game. No official wants to have a bad call in the last minute of a game that can affect the outcome. Our quality must be high during the last 4 minutes. We can use a phrase to remind ourselves, such as "high certainty."

Flow is another self improvement book I enjoyed. It talks about being in a state of heighten focus. In officiating, we constantly talk about getting the players into a flow and doing our best to keep them in a flow. Flow makes our games more enjoyable to the players, coaches, and fans. It's the 15 possessions in a row without a whistle. It's the moment you realize everything is working in the gym. We should also strive for flow within the crew. Referee partners that know each other helps, but we have a system in place that helps facilitate the flow. As soon as a partner starts to lose focus, it must be addressed. Ignoring it will only exacerbate the problem.

Officiating lends itself to improvement. The old phrase says that referees are supposed to be perfect during their first game and then get better. Let's hope we keep getting better at whatever we do.

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