The Final Whistle – Continuing the forward movement

Refereeing is a part of our game, and it’s a big one at that.

I’d like to think after more than 15 years of dissecting the good and bad side of players, coaches and clubs across all level of the Big V, what I’m about to discuss will be taken in the right way. I hope so, it deserves to be.

Over time I’ve tried to call a spade a spade, but with as much positiveness as possible, and I’m going to try and do the same now.

Basketball has evolved, quickly, over recent times and so has the Big V competition itself. The stakes are higher and the sheer competitiveness in the Big V has reached new heights.

Substantially, the referee department that provides access, education and development across the state are doing more and more in trying to attain the highest level of officiating that basketball in Victoria deserves. The Technical Officials Department has been created by Basketball Victoria, acknowledging the need for more resources to be made available for this important aspect of our game. The TOD now has five full time staff, expanding from previously, two full time Development Officers and two-part time Appointments Officers, and one part time administrative assistant.

Now, before anyone jumps to the position that referees and officiating shouldn’t publicly be discussed, let’s stop and try and tackle this topic head on and do it differently for once. Let’s grow up and be adults, because the fact is the referees are involved in every part of the game once the jump ball takes place.

Too many people run from this sort of conversation, but perhaps we need to listen to our coaches and players, and at least give them a chance to be heard because I’m sure many of them, if not all of them, myself included, would be the first to step up and help if they could.

And I think we can help with one small gesture, but more on that in a moment.

Firstly, I want to commend Basketball Victoria and the Technical Officials Department for the work it has done over the last 12 months in particular. The number of new faces coming through the refs ranks is exciting and highlights what has obviously been a concerted effort to increase the number of officials to take care of a league that clearly had grown far quicker than what could previously be catered for.

The associations out there should also be congratulated, after all that’s where the whole tutelage of referees begins.

When it came to delivering qualified referees, for quite a few years the Big V had become somewhat poorer for its sharp rise in team numbers. This is probably another topic some might not like to talk about publicly, but it’s about time we got our head out of the sand. The league grew too quickly.

But let’s talk about the here and now.

Tim Mills, Bill Mildenhall and the entire Technical Officials Department are doing a super job. We are seeing fewer refs having to double up on the same night or day each week, which is a vast move in the right direction. For a while there the pressure on refs to deliver up to four straight hours of total concentration was, at times, an insult to their ability and skills. It just wasn’t sustainable.

Along with increasing the number of referees on the panel, the TOD are extremely mindful of retaining the referee numbers. It is a frightening statistic that only 40% of referees who take up the avocation remain beyond one to three years. The principle cause of this poor retention rate is abuse and the lack of respect from all involved in the sport.

Credit where credit is due. We are heading in a positive direction and the demand on refs to keep backing up is slowing down.

What we all need to now acknowledge is that with increased referee numbers comes the need for patience because just like players the ability to improve and deliver consistently only comes with experience out in the middle. I totally get it.

But in understanding the need for patience, we also need to stop and listen to our players and coaches as well. Like refs, they too are important cogs in the wheel. I for one want them to know they do have a shared voice.

During the current transformation of one catching the other, that being increased referee numbers catching up with the size of the competition, we find ourselves in a period that leads to some frustration on both sides of the fence. It’s totally understandable. Hopefully, with increase quantity will also come increased quality. But it takes time, as there is no substitute for experience.

I’m extremely confident we are heading in a good direction. We are seeing more and more young refs come into the competition, cutting their teeth and building their experience. It takes time.

Speaking with Basketball Victoria’s Technical Officials Department, the crew have put in some great new initiatives to continue not only the improvement of the referees on the court, but also off it.

There are now 33 referee coaches, all of whom are Grade 3 or above grading evaluating and regularly coaching all referees between eight different levels of referee. In addition to this, five elite referee coaches have been identified to work with the referee coaches and essentially ‘coach the coach’.

There is ongoing conflict and communication video content being developed and made available to referees, There is regular education and training for all levels of referees, through online video, what’s your decision clips and articles on various aspects of officiating.while each week the Technical Officials Department review the online observations sent in by both referee coaches as well as delegates & coaches.

Right now, the Department are in the midst of mid-season reviews which reviews areas of concern, as well as adjustments to panel levels – just to name a few things on the radar.

So, in an attempt to be a little forward thinking I’ve just brought it all out in the open in the hope it leads to positive conversation, tempered expectations and an effort to work together. If you are reading this then the decision-makers above me have given this article the thumbs up and have decided to join me in taking a different approach. If that’s happened – thank you for stepping outside the square.

Remember, the more you practice and play (or ref in this case) at a certain level, the more you adapt and lift your ability and skill to match that level.

We all want consistency, but we need to support the process and back the fantastic work that has been done to lift numbers and bring more refs into this expansive league.

So now that this topic is out in the open, and hopefully as result the players and coaches can acknowledge that they are being heard, and they do have a voice, putting it out there publicly will help us do something positive to support each other.

Here’s what I propose we do at every game in Round 13 in the Big V …..

When each player and coach is introduced by the court announcer, as you run onto the court make the effort to make a small detour and run over and shake the hand of each referee before you go and high-5 your teammates and line-up for the National Anthem. It’s a 5-second effort, but what a fantastic visual sign to everyone else in the stadium that we are one and we are supporting each other and working together.

More importantly, it will show the refs that we as coaches and players are supporting them, and hopefully in return they too acknowledge that as a league we’ve been brave enough to step up and talk about this publicly.

A small gesture, but it shows we’ve all taken this article in and we want to step up and showcase the league and it’s growing pains in a positive light. And most of all, we are supporting our refs department as it works damn hard to increase the numbers and quality of its crew.

Who knows, it might actually catch on and become a standard part of the way we do our team introductions at Big V games going forward. Powerful stuff.

It’s all in our hands, so let’s shake a few this weekend.

The Final Whistle has blown!

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