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.