Friday, October 31, 2008

2 games and 1 coaching last week

The last two weeks were pretty busy, and I couldn't find time to write about my games. Today it is a very slow day at work, nobody is in the office and I have basically nothing to do, so I decided I would let you know how things went last weekend.

On Friday I had a game in 1st division with a referee observer at the game. We got off to a pretty good start, but lost our concentration and a bit of our confidence midway through the second quarter. In the 2nd half we got back to where we started, which made it an "ok" game. I think that this is kind of typical for average games. One of my mistakes was a legal tip where I called a goaltending and counted the basket even though the defensive player tipped the ball only after it had touched the rim (so it was a perfectly legal play). This situation is an example for plays that do not happen very often, and may cause big trouble when we get them wrong. Other examples are backcourt violations (especially now that the rules have been changed). How can we prevent such things? The best solution for such situations, which we cannot practice during games, is visualisation and imagery. Take the new (FIBA) backcourt violation rule. Depending on whether a player is dribbling or holding the ball he is allowed to do different thins between frontcourt and backcourt. I think I haven't had one situation in a regular season game so far where the new rule applied, but I had one in a pre-season game, and I am not sure I would make the correct call under live conditions. So far I have not cared too much. Other stuff has been more important. But now it is time for the fine tuning, so I will try to find such situations on tape, and watch them over and over againg, imagining myself making the correct call.

Back to the games. On Saturday I coached two less experienced referees in a 3rd division game (comparable to junior college or a very good high school game). I was really impressed with the way they handled the game, given the fact that it was their first season on this level. Still there was one point they needed to understand, and this is important for everybody. Sometimes we use "feeling for the game" to explain why we didn't make a call in compliance with the criteria, or "because we didn't want to decide the game". And I do agree that we need a lot of feeling for the game. But often we cover up mistakes using such phrases. In this case there was a clear unsportsmanlike foul on a shot for a field goal. The defensive player just grabbed the shooter's arm and pulled it down from behind. That is clearly not an attempt to play the ball, nor is a normal basketball action. Therefore, an unsportsmanlike foul should have been called. Still, a good performance from those two.

And then, there was still one more game to go on Sunday. Another one in 1st division. Back in the gym where I went for my first game this year, and it was on the same level as the first game. Our crew did an excellent job. I worked with the same crewchief as on Friday but the results were even better. He had changed his pre-game and the way he lead our team a bit, based on our feedback on Friday, and it worked very well. And we kept our concentration throughout the game, no blunders, no missed calls or phantasy calls. Just a very good basketball game. So, altogether I had six games in 1st division as of now. Three of them went exceptionally well, two were ok, and one was below average. I am happy with that, but I'd like to hear what my assignor thinks. I should probably call him.

This weekend on Saturday, I will be going home, leaving this place where I have lived for the last three months, going back to school in my hometown on Monday. But before university comes one more game on Sunday. I'll keep you posted.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stressed out

Sunday was tough. I got up late, around 9 a.m. and had breakfast at my hotel. Then, after getting packed I took a train at 11 a.m. The train was 5 minutes late when it arrived, and I knew that I had to catch another connecting train and had only 10 more minutes between arrival and departure at the station where I had to change between the two of them. Anyway, of course I was late, and the I was stranded. In a place where I could only take a train back to where I just had come from or to some distant place that wouldn't be of any help getting to the city where I needed to be. In order to get there on time I had to rent a car, then I drove 120 miles, and arrived on time for coffee and pre-game conference with my fellow referees. Never mind the 100 Euros I spent on car and gas, but I hate driving to a game and arriving just in time. It's tiring. You can't take time off, you can't take a nap as you would on a train. You can't watch tape on your laptop or write a preview for your game log and blog as you intended to do. ;) Anyway, at least I was there.

The game was not that good. A lot of run n gun, many turnovers, one coach who wasn't happy with his team and the referees. For one, I was crew chief and I think I did ok in this rather unusual role (I am never crew chief in 1st division). Yet, I was not happy with my performance, not at all. I made a couple of mistakes, like two mystery calls, I felt tired, I lost my concentration midway through the game. But what I hated most about that game was the way I handled the unhappy coach of the away team. I was emotional, and showed that he really annoyed me, questioning every single call against his team. This can not happen, but it did. :( I wanted to let him know after the game how I felt about this, but he wouldn't talk to any of us then.

After the game I drove home through the night. I had to drink a lot of coffee and take a short nap at a gas station. Did I tell you that I hate driving to and from games? Especially after games when you are really tired and your brain feels like a bowl of milk soaked cornflakes.

So, after the game I swore, once again, that I would never again drive to a game, if I could avoid it. And I will always take an earlier train, just in case, you know?


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Game 4, Oct. 18

Wow. What a game! Double overtime, last field goal right on the buzzer decided the game, excellent team basketball from both teams, great coaches, and a top performance from our crew. If I had to choose between this game and the first game this season I would say this one was even better. There is nothing I can say right now that didn't work. Everything seemed easy, as if the game was played in slow motion. I guess that's the same experience players have when they talk about the basket that seemed to be as wide as an ocean. Sports psychologists call this phenomenon "flow". So, for the moment I'll just leave it here, and enjoy the feeling! I'll write more after today's game, though. Cheers.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Preview, weekend Oct. 18/19

It was a very busy week at work and on Wednesday I had an exam, so I haven’t spent much time thinking about basketball the past couple of days, with the exception of one game which I watched Wednesday night after my exam. I tried to talk to our referee instructor and assignor this week to get some feedback on our performances in first three games. As he can download all the games it was even possible to send him a list of scenes I’d like to talk about. Unfortunately, he has a full-time job in addition to being a referee instructor which made it impossible for him to answer my question, yet.

Now, back to the future, that is the two upcoming games. I got one game in 1st division today and one in 2nd division tomorrow. The game today is between two teams who have not played in the playoffs the last three or four years. So usually you wouldn’t expect a very good game. But both team got off to pretty good starts into the season, and hope to extend their respective streaks. They play quite different styles of basketball. The home team will probably play a run-and-gun game, since they are a bit undersized in the paint without their starting center who will miss the game due to injury. They have the best power forward in the league on their roster, though. Their second most important player is their point guard, who is lightning quick but a bit undersized and will have problems containing his opponent who is far more athletic and the top scorer of the away team. The last and probably most interesting player from a referee’s point of view is the away team’s center. He is a good scorer and top rebounder and he is tough as nails. That means that there is always something going on around him. I wouldn’t say he is a dirty player but it hurts a bit playing against him, I guess. So, this guy will probably dominate the paint without an equally strong opponent on his position, but, and this will be interesting, he is a poor free throw shooter, which means that the home team will probably just send him to the charity stripe a lot!

My goals for today are basically the same as for the last couple of games. But there are some things I didn’t like much about last weekend. First, I was not very well prepared. My game preview were rather short, I didn’t work with the FIBA instructional DVDs, and I didn’t have much time before the games for myself, because everywhere I went I went with either another referee or with a friend of mine. This will be different today as I am already on the way. I will arrive 6 hours before the game and therefore have plenty of time to relax and get ready for the game. The other point I didn’t like much was our call selection and the lack of consistency, especially in my 3rd game, last Sunday. I wrote about this situation where we had the same kind of charge/flop situation on both ends of the court and one time I called a charge and the other time nothing (while probably both of them were floppings by the defensive players). Oh, and then there is one last thing which didn’t affect my performance but confused my partners. Last weekend, I didn’t write my pre-game notes in a notebook, but used my laptop instead. For me this was more convenient and saved time, but it didn’t go all too well with my partners, even though nobody said anything until I asked them how it felt for them. So, today, I will write everything in my notebook and use this instead of the computer. Today I got time for this :).

So much about the game today, tomorrow is a different story. First of all, I have never befire met the other two referees. Second, even though rules, interpretations and points of emphasis are exactly the same in both leagues, the style of officiating is totally different. In 1st division we have a way more business like attitude towards our games, this means friendly and open, yet firm and with a no-nonsense mindset. In 2nd division on the other hand, many referees (especially those who have been there longer) are more of the buddy type who will always try to explain everything he does, and, if possible, avoid conflicts at all cost. The main reasons for this are that gyms are smaller, referees do not travel as far (to save the league some money), and thus see the same teams more often than we do in 1st division. There are also less coachings, so referees do not get much objective feedback, but try to avoid anything that causes a team to report their names to the assignor using video material that supports their subjective criticism. Because of all this I asked my partners for tomorrow’s game to meet two hours before the game which will give us time to get to know each other, and discuss what we are going to do on the court in even greater detail than in other game.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What a weekend - Review games 2 and 3

I had forgotten how tiring these weekends are. Even though I slept in a very nice hotel and didn't need to travel too far, two games on this level on one weekend are quite a piece of work. How must it feel to do this a whole season travelling incredible distances between games as referees in the NBA or Euroleague do?

But what about the games? Both games were pretty close and had great intensity and a lot of hussle plays. Knowing the teams and their respective coaches this was something we expected beforehand. What's interesting about this, is the way we called the games, since one point of emphasis for us this season is to control handchecking against the dribbler, illegal plays away from the ball (such as moving screens from the offense or bumps from the defense to defend cuts through the restricted area), and rough play in the low-post. This is due to a trend towards more physical play and an increased focus on defense in the past couple of years. This caused a bit of confusion for both teams and referees. The rules have not changed in this area, neither have interpretations. So, what's the point then? Are we, for example, supposed to call each contact with two hands regardless of the impact it has on the game? Some referee crews embraced this idea of calling everything and "cleaning up" the games while others still tried to apply advantage/disadvantage. As I already wrote, my understanding is that advantage/disadvantage remains one of the most important aspects of refereeing and calling fouls. I think that the increased emphasis on "good and clean" defense is aimed at those referees who got too much into idea of basketball as "a men's game" where a lot of contact and even rough play should be allowed and a referee's performance would be measured by the number of no-calls he has in a game. I think that these wars of defense are unattractive for the spectators. So, call everything then. Right? No, because freethrows aren't exactly spectacular either! The art is to apply the criteria and be consistent doing it, and advantage/disadvantage is part of it!!! And that's what we tried to do. Draw a line between good, intense defense and rough play. Call everything that's illegal as soon as it has an impact on the game. In Saturday's game it worked out pretty well. Again less than 40 foul calls were absolutely enough to control the game. I've already reviewed the game tape and even found a couple of calls I'd like to get back because they were not necessary. Therefore, on Sunday I wanted to make sure I'd blow my whistle only on plays that had an impact. For example, on Saturday I had to call off an open dunk because the defender grabed the offensive player for a split second and I blew my whistle exactly at the time when the offensive player got free and dunked it home :( In addition to the application of advantage/disadvantage I was focused on our teamwork on Sunday. As I wrote in my preview the constellation (read the composition of the team) was . And unfortunately, I was right. It started right at the beginning of our pre-game conference. Our crew chief wanted to start with a pretty short review of the new rules (unsportsmanlike foul, backcourt violation, goaltending) but instead of a short recap we ended up in a heated discussion that took almost 15 minutes! Nonetheless, when we went inside I felt pretty comfortable. I was aware of my feelings towards my partners and their strengths and weaknesses and I tried to focus on my job and trust them. In the beginning this worked out just fine. The first 15 minutes were a piece of cake, but the the game became more intense and we kind of lost our self confidence and started calling too much. We didn't adjust to the game's higher intensity but made a 180 degree turnaround, now calling almost every single contact. And of course in a situation like that one's mind begins wandering again "why did HE (not) call that?" I think I managed it ok and didn't pay too much attention on my partners, but I lost a bit of focus and made a handful of stupid mistakes down the road that could have decided the game:
1. I called an offensive foul on a center, leaning into his defender while dribbling in the low-post, which sent the defender to the floor. My partners suggested it could have been a flop but I am not sure, so this will have to wait until I get a copy of the game tape.
2. Then there is exactly the same situation at the other end, and I am the lead referee again. And this time I am sure it is a flop and call nothing which causes a massive reaction from the defender, his coach and the home crowd. Instead of assessing a Technical foul for the combination of flopping and then provoking such a reaction I did ... nothing! :( Not to mention that we had already warned the team and its coach because of an earlier flop, so it would have been easy!
3. After being too strict on the defense in the 2nd quarter we tried to get back to where we started the game, but in the end we missed a couple of calls because we gambled too much and were just lucky it didn't come down to one of those calls deciding the game. Home team won by 1!

I think it's obvious that this game stood out a bit because it didn't go as smoothly as the first two games. I am looking forward to watching the DVD of this game, and then I will probably post a bit more.

So far, I am happy with the way the season started. Even though the last game was not exactly brilliant I had a lot of fun and I enjoy being back on the court after a long off-season.

One last sentence for today, I hope that you enjoy reading this and I would be glad to hear what you think about my posts, no matter where you're from or on which level you referee!!!


Saturday, October 11, 2008

2nd game of the season, today

as promised, here are my goals for today's game:

2nd Game Oct. 11, 2008:
• Plan to reduce stress before the game.
o Get there early. If possible, go to the hotel before the game and spend some time alone to get ready for the game.
o Sleep a lot the night before.
o Eat healthy.
o Chat with a friend …
• Consistency/High quality calls consistent with the criteria and points of emphasis
o Search for the best possible spot. Move constantly but make decisions from a stationary position (don’t rush).
o Apply criteria from the first second. Game starts with a jumpball ,not after the first foul call from your partner.
o Focus on your primary area of responsibility, trust your partner, be ready to help if absolutely necessary for the game.
o Be ready for changes in style of play, intensity, and so on. React as soon as possible without being overly strict.
o POE: hand checking, off the ball fouls, low-post.
o Apply advantage/disadvantage, especially on attempts for a fieldgoal, passes and penetration.
• Communicate with partners during the game
o Have a lot of meaningful eye contact. Give each other feedback using nonverbal communication. Try not to lose eye contact due to too narrow a focus in phases with more pressure and higher intensity on the court.
• Be open and communicate proactively with players/coaches. Allow positive emotions.
o Before the game take your time and feel yourself. What’s your attitude towards the game, how do you feel? Try to create a positive feeling. Ask your partners before the pre-game conference to give you time for this.
o During the game, be approachable. Do not run away from players/coaches who ask questions in an acceptable way. Relax!
o Be aware of your own feelings and thoughts, all the time.
o Treat coaches equally. Emotional, dynamic coach vs. Teddy bear, grandpa type. The rules shall be the same for both of them.
• Have fun and try to reproduce the feeling from the first game of the season. Enjoy yourself!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Doubleheader this weekend

After a long weekend of watching and coaching young referees last week, this week I will referee on both Saturday and Sunday.

Both games are not too far away from where I live, so I won't have much trouble travelling. Still I will stay in a hotel after game one and take a train to the City of game two on Sunday morning. Only this time it is a two hour trip, not six or seven as usual.

What do I expect? Game one: Two good teams, one of them still unbeaten, a fairly small gym, sold out (3000), and a close game with the home team relying on their energy and team spirit, while the other team has the bigger names on its roster. Game two: Two teams that didn't start their season too well. Though, the home team won a huge game against one of the top teams in the league on the road last week.

Personally, I think that the two most interesting aspects of these upcoming games will be the headcoaches of the teams (and their behavior/style of coaching and communicating with the referees) and the crews in which we will referee. These coaches are either well known for their hot temper, or for their finesse and their ability to outsmart not only the other headcoach but also the referees while being the nicest person you could've imagined, ever. All of them have been coaching or playing in this league for many years now, so they know us as well as we know them. And that makes working with them very interesting, not to say difficult.

And then, there will be some interesting referee crews, too, I'd like to say. The first one is straight forward, one high profile crew chief, probably the best known in the league, and two fairly young referees. I think there won't be any problems in this crew. Everybody knows his role on the team and will do what's best for the team. In my second game, on the other hand, things might be a bit more complex. I don't want to make a self-fulfilling prophecy here, but with a very young crew chief, and a referee on his side who is 20 years older (but not nearly as talented or successful), and me of course ;) this could go anywhere. Sometimes our ego gets in the way of a good team performance, and one of the situations where this is most likely to happen is when two or more people meet with different views regarding their roles and their relationship. Even though the three referees always need to work together as a team of equally important crew members to be successful, teams also do need a crewchief with leadership quality and who will be respected by the others as a "primus inter pares" (First among equals). So, everybody must agree on their respective roles and competencies. If you have a different opinion here, please feel free to comment. I'd love to hear what you think about it. By the way, this is not only between the crew chief and a referee. I had a game myself, where I screwed everything up, because I didn't think much of the other referee and couldn't trust him the way I should've done. This led to wrong long distance calls from my side, and cost us the game, in the end. Fortunately we had a psychologist there as a referee coach, who helped us sort things out after the game.

Ok, I think I will post my goals for the upcoming games later today or tomorrow morning before I leave.

So long, cheers.