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Blog posts of '2016' 'April'

Working in a Fishbowl

Last year in school, Gaby, my oldest daughter studied idioms - you know, those little phrases that mean something other than the individual words.  Well, this posed some challenges in our house when it came to homework as Gaby, just like her mom, is a direct communicator.   However, we overcame those stumbling blocks and are now ‘having a ball’ learning and using idioms as much as possible in regular conversation.

How does this relate to referees or officiating? 

‘Humor me for a minute.’  One day, Gaby asked me what it means when someone is ‘working in a fishbowl.’ 

Since both Rahn and I have been in sales most of our careers, I explained a bit about sales jobs, sales automation tools designed to help sales people measure and achieve their quotas and how, in sales, performance is relatively transparent by looking at the numbers.   Well, then I had to explain what "the numbers" meant. 

Gaby responded, "OK."  Basketball officiating has taught me the various meanings of "OK," so I tried another approach.  We walked downstairs to look at our fish tank.   

I attempted to draw the parallel that everything those little fish were doing could be viewed and tracked by anyone, if someone REALLY wanted to...kind of like the sales automation tools used in the workforce.  Gaby replied, "Well, it's not quite the same, Mom.  We can see what they are doing but they seem unaware of us.  They almost look trapped.  In fact, I don't think they even have goals."

So I asked her, "Gabs, you know when you are watching mommy referee, isn’t that like I am working in a fishbowl?"   She replied, "Mom, NO!  You are not trapped and you get to do whatever you want because you are in control of the game.  Those fish aren't in control of anything!"  

I smiled knowing I wouldn't be able to let that perception continue.  We talked for a bit about the two professions (sales & officiating) and we discussed how our work and our performance  are relatively transparent to those interested in viewing and understanding it. 

All that from one idiom!

As referees we do 'work in a fishbowl' pretty much every time we take the floor.  And, no, we don't get to do Whatever we want.  

Whether there are 25 or 25,000 people watching the game we perform our work in front of an audience.  Our performance is judged in real-time (and, nowadays, re-judged by many different people post-game via the film).  There's a system in place we use during the game and as long as everyone on the crew understands the system and works it, we can pretty much accomplish the goal we were hired to achieve – to facilitate a fair playing environment in accordance with the rules of the game.  

Nowadays, we have a ton of visibility in our profession and there appears to be a demand for high performing referees.  Most games are on TV or streaming on the Internet, and with replay monitors giving us the ability to review certain types of calls, the spotlight on the importance of getting our calls correct on the floor is evident.  Long gone are the days of just making calls and moving on to the next.

Anyone who's gone to the monitor recently knows that you are hopeful you got the call right on the floor because sometimes the angle(s) we get on the monitor may not provide the "indisputable evidence" we need to overturn/change a call.  We train to get these plays right and yet when we go to the monitor we are relying on folks elsewhere to get us the angle we need.  The final decision rests on our shoulders, yet we aren’t always able to derive the accurate call from what we see on these monitors. Sometimes there’s two angles or three, four...and so on, and sometimes the system just doesn't work to give us any good looks, the monitor is too small or not HD and the view is just unclear.  Different venues have different capabilities, and it’s still not consistent at most levels from site to site.

In monitor review situations, I would rather NOT be in a situation like the “fish in the tank” as Gaby understood their situation, in control of nothing and at the disposal of the system.   Since we choose to be officials, want to referee the games AND the system wants us to get the call correct, here's my simple solution to a variety of monitor-related issues:

After the crew does it’s best to make the right decision on the floor and communicate that ruling to the teams and the table personnel, the review process typically begins and referees have a protocol they need to follow.  Within this protocol there are items that have to be checked off the list for the crew to move forward efficiently and effectively.  What if the instant replay technician (or the producer) has a checklist as well?  Their checklist would include each available angle, and each angle gets checked off after being viewed by the officials until the decision can be made accurately (i.e. the decision may be determined from first angle or last available angle, when it takes more than one or two).  In this situation, the Referees can walk away from the monitor being able to make a decision that is consistent with what can be deduced from all the available information.  

Sounds a whole lot better to me than an officiating crew walking away only to later get a clip of the commentators seeing an angle the crew never saw - especially when the decision the crew made would have been different had they been able to watch the same angle/view those sitting at home saw.  Although we do ask them if they have showed us everything, a more formal procedure would be to put the final check on those that have the film – the officials would not able to leave the monitor until they have confirmed all angles were viewed.

Putting in place a "system" for the producers and the replay folks would seem to make the whole system work more efficiently with more people being held accountable.  Although it may not ALWAYS lead us to the accurate call, as sometimes the angle on camera is just not there, a systematic process puts a few extra fish in the bowl to help approach accuracy.

 

What's Obvious Mean Anyway?

All season long we, as referees, chant the popular mantra drilled into our heads from Day One at Officiating 101: Call the obvious. 

But what does that mantra mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, “Obvious” is an adjective and the word carries a few meanings but most notably the following two:

  1.        Easy to see or notice
  2.        Easy for the mind to understand or recognize

Don’t both definitions seem relatively obvious…? LOL. 

However, if you were to poll 100 referees on a set of plays, you would receive varying answers on what’s “easy to see.”  Then there’s what is actually “noticed” by referees when we are each highly focused on different aspects of the game taking place at the same point in time.  Or, possibly members of a crew are not focused enough or not focused on the right stuff.  And, in the end of the day, who knows who understands what?

Maybe it just ISN’T that OBVIOUS afterall! 

So, how do you translate the mantra into actual in-game performance by YOUR crew night in and night out – even during the off-season games you officiate.  How do we all determine what’s obvious and judge plays with all the subtleties that exist in the game of basketball, especially since we know that what we actually see in our game is based on the angle we have at the time the play occurs?  And if it was easy for one referee to see, is that enough for any of the three on the floor to blow his/her whistle regardless of where the play takes place?? 

Last season, in a pre-game, a great discussion around this mantra came up.  

We talked about a play that is obvious is one that the majority of people recognize regardless of where the play takes place (in your primary or secondary).  If the play takes place in your primary, needs a whistle and you see it, blow your whistle.  If it takes place in your secondary, needs a whistle and you see it, give your partner a chance to blow, when he/she doesn’t have a whistle, blow yours and make the call. 

Using that interpretation of obvious, here’s how I categorize plays to dictate my decision-making: 

Whistle plays - Well, in objective terms, these are plays where the option to blow our whistle or not blow our whistle just doesn’t exist.  These plays must have a whistle!  Turns out, these are not the plays that referees usually have trouble calling, regardless of whether the play takes place in one’s primary or secondary.  It’s only when a crew loses focus that a whistle from one of the three referees doesn’t come.  Typically, the entire place will explode – even the team that benefits from the “no whistle” recognizes a mistake has been made.  When we do have a whistle, we may go to the film and realize we didn’t see the whole play AND we may even get this play incorrect.   It doesn’t matter – the crew must still have a whistle and call the play based on information known at the time.

Face-value plays – These are plays that just don’t have any middle ground (In the women’s NCAA game , some examples are:  clear block/charge, five-second count for throw-in, ball hits the rim or it doesn’t, 10 second backcourt call, secondary defender in RA trying to take a charge on a play starting outside LDB, etc.).  These are plays that have answers.  Regardless of the game situation and other plays that have been called throughout, these plays are to be called for exactly what they are…when they are actually observed by one of the three referees.  When anyone goes to the film, he/she will agree with the decision made by the referee – provided the referee sees it and calls the play for what it is.

Plays with Options – These are plays where you blow the whistle if contact determined illegal, don’t blow the whistle if deemed incidental, for example.  These plays may be influenced by the game situation (e.g. physicality, intensity, take-fouls at the end of the game) and how the crew has been responding to similar plays all night.  The teams and players adjust based upon how the game is called when it’s called consistently.  You and your crew must have awareness to understand your options with these plays.  In my opinion, this is truly where the separation among officials occurs.  It’s the piece of the game that cannot be explained in clear and exact terms - and that drives our critics crazy.  Different games and crews may make different decisions on plays with options.  It’s where game flow can be defined or completely lost.  When the film is reviewed in isolation (i.e. play for play), the person reviewing the play may not agree with the decision made in the game, but when the game was actually going on - the call fit and teams and players buy-in and make the necessary adjustments. 

Eventually, the adjustments made by the teams when we are all consistent on these plays with options, makes our decision-making easier – as we have witnessed in the NCAA tournaments  for the last few weeks.  The crews have been able to call the obvious for the most part, freedom of movement seemed to exist, and the games were great to watch! 

We have to be able to follow our rules and guidelines and respond to plays accordingly, AND, by the way, keep the game running smoothly at the same time.  Plays with Options, in my opinion, are those opportunities to create the FEEL that the game was fairly played and officiated AND that the team that played the best that night won the game.

The game is an experience – it starts out 0-0 and in the end one team wins.  We are part of that experience.  The goal is to narrow the variability in how referees perceive plays to create more uniformity in our decision-making.  That is done through training and skill-share development.  We must engage each other and collaborate to make this happen.  We will always have plays with options, but engaging your crews in discussion surrounding various game situations to flush out any possible confusion and/or faulty thought process, in a non-judgmental way, is NOT optional.  This is what gets people engaged in the overall performance of the crew.

Please share some of your decision-making techniques and processes you use to bring accuracy to the games and your crews!  

Have a great off-season!