Give the ref a break

Believe it or not, referees have a sense of humour too!

Over the past few years, the number of referees across Ireland, not just in Northern Ireland, has dwindled significantly.  Referees are essential to the sport; they facilitate the game of basketball, yet it would seem that no-one wants this task…Why is that?

Strangely, it is actually relatively easy to get people to do an introductory course to refereeing but the big issue is holding on to these people.  The issue with the retention of referees is 2 fold – firstly you have players, who can’t afford the time to give to officiating and therefore the best we can do is to keep them involved at club level so that they may come back to refereeing at some point. The other issue, which is far more concerning, is that many young people starting out can’t handle the pressure or extreme criticism that they are being dealt in their early games.

Most young officials, and indeed older officials, would often cite the verbal abuse as their main driver for hanging up their whistle.  As a community we need to create an environment that is welcoming to new officials and a place that people can feel at ease to learn and grow as referees.

Unlike players, referees do not have the ability to practice in a gym for a few hours a week; we have a standard set of rules, mechanic and criteria to work on that sets us off on our journey.  After that, our training is on the court; seeing plays, seeing fouls, calling violations and adding these calls to our library of situations, so that the next time they occur we are better prepared to make the right call.

At any level of basketball, there are numerous pressures placed on an official, both internal and external.  Coaches and players at all levels need to recognise the responsibility they have to the development of officials and nurturing talent.  In the same way you encourage young players, you need to encourage young referees.

Recently,  Northern Ireland passed 23 new officials at the introductory level, these referees will be calling games you are competing in or spectating at.  Hopefully, these young people will be refereeing games 10 years from now in the Men’s Superleague or making their international FIBA grade. Next time you’re at a game, I encourage you to approach a young referee, shake their hand and give them credit for doing a difficult job – it means a lot.



After a successful schoolboy career in St. Malachy's College, Paul moved on to on/off stints as a varsity player and local league player for UUJ. Having completed his refereeing course as a junior in summer 2000, and doing the odd game in Belfast, Paul soon realised that he was becoming a better official than he ever would be a player. He hung up his boots for the preference of a whistle in 2004 and began refereeing consistently as part of the National League Panel. In 2006, he won the "Young Referee of the Year" award from Basketball Ireland (exactly 100% more awards than ever received while playing) and in 2008 moved to the panel of referees for the Irish Men's Superleague where he has been a regular fixture for 4 seasons.


  1. Mike Calo

    / Reply

    Good stuff Paul. Refs do a hard job and in most cases are pretty good. I think the most important aspect of reffing is communication with players and coaches. If there is running dialogue then it is easy for guys to understand calls and missed calls and I think that would cut down the bitching and complaining. Very insightful either way.

  2. Andrew Sanders

    / Reply

    Good piece.

    I think the main problem is that the on-court relationship between players and referees has been on a downward spiral for a number of years – players don’t treat the referees with respect, so they get little back. It’s incredibly difficult for a referee to be completely impartial (as they might for a total stranger) if a particular player has been getting on their case for a number of games…or even years. This is particularly the case in basketball in Ireland (or, indeed Scotland) where everyone knows everyone.

  3. Paul Bullock Post author

    / Reply

    Thanks guys – The referees committee is always open to discussion on calls and specifics in order to better educate everyone – including the referees. I am excited about what we can do on TCC!! In general, I have a good experience of the local league in NI and the respect of the players…but there is always room for improvement and possible means of feedback from both sides.

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