I’ve received a question from Tim, who’s had a sad experience with a particular referee. Here’s what Tim wrote:

When would you file a complaint against an official?

I had 2 negative games with one back to back where in the first game a simple travel(slode because of a slick floor) call was called at one end and not the other end. I ask during a time out why the other travel was not called. The ref looking at the player with the ball that commited the travel, told me,”I don’t know what your talking about!” and walked away.

The second game was much worse. The ref when questioned about a callrefused to even look at me. Of course realizing my previous game made my comments a little louder. I was almost through the first quarter and he managed to talk to me. Told me I was yelling and he was not going to deal with it. He would toss me. Never would address my concerns si I was shot from there. The parents and others in the stands continued to express their displeasure with this ref. I expressed my displeasure with him after the game and he said he would remember me! You know what that means.

In a game my son played in, I was not there because I was coaching another team at the time. A teammate was called for traveling on a fast break and had just released the ball to my son. My son bounced the ball with both hands hard however it never went into the air as he caught it with both hands. His coach called him over and told him he could not do this and why. He is 12 years old. However as play was about to start this same ref stopped and caled his number and said he would toss him if he caught him doing that again. This was loud enough that the fans clearly heard this and was like, what is this about? Now a professional ref or a ref sensitive and caring would have walked over to him and explained to him and only him why he is not allowed to bounce the ball hard, ect.

I am in the process of filing or learning how the process of filing a complaint against this ref. If there are rules for players, fans and coaches there has to be a code of conduct for a ref. I have had concerns before but never an issue like this.


Thanks Tim for sharing your experience with me and the readers of my blog! This is a tough situation you have encountered and I will try to give you an advice on how I would handle this issue.

To give you a quick answer to your question: Yes, I definitely would file a complaint with the National Association or the district.

First of all, I think that the majority of referees are doing a great job in governing the games, at least in the leagues I coach in. Most of them try to conduct games in a way to uphold the spirit of Basketball and at the same time help younger players adapt the complex rules in a positive and understandable way. This helps our players to learn the game in a comfortable way and good referees are a vital part of it.

Like in any sport, there will always be less than average skilled players, and as a matter of fact, there will be mediocre referees, too. When it comes to the rules, you are at the mercy of the referee for most of the time. Let me explain. Most of the calls refs make are based on what is known as a “Factual Decision”.

Factual decisions are part of the rules of many games and are essential to enforce these rules properly. Referees have to decide within a split-second whether to make a call or not. As I am an active referee, too, sometimes it is hard to make decisions quickly and correctly at the same time. So, to make use of the rules practically, the decision of the referee has to take effect immediately, without the players being able to officially protest during the game or afterwards. This is a vital part, because otherwise players and coaches could protest the whole game, if they feel they have a disadvantage.

The crucial part of factual decisions is: The calls of the ref do not necessarily have to be correct, meaning not according to the rules! There’s no video replay, no discussing and basically no taking back of decisions made. These are “Factual Decisions”.

Of course a referee can correct his own call, but this rarely happens. For example, I never correct foul calls or technicals, but if my refereeing buddy has a better angle of seeing which player had outed the ball and I make a wrong call, we consult, and, if necessary, I take back my decision. This how to ensure a fair environment and enforce the rules according to the spirit of the game.

As you described, the ref in question had not only made biased calls, denied explaining his calls to you, but also threatened you!? This is really serious and something which can’t be tolerated. As players represent their team and in turn represent their clubs, referees sort of represent the official side of the association or district.
I agree totally with you: A good referee does not only know the rules of the game. He also knows how to enforce them to uphold the spirit of the game, the particular sitatuation and by conducting the game according to the age and skills of the players. Or, as Coach Enbom puts it to words in his article: »Good referees in early ages help the players to get better!«

Good referees …

  • make sure, that the game is conducted according to the rules set by the association or disctrict. Knowing the rules helps to minimize “off-court distruction” like debating or even fighting. It also helps prevent injuries caused by letting the game slip.
  • explain their calls in a respectful and professional manner without being cocky or arrogant. It is important for everyone involved to know, that they are all part of this great game. Disagreements are a part of it, but don’t make a drama out of it.
  • help younger players understand what they are doing wrong in a sensitive, positive and understandable way. In the end, we all have to deal with these players in the future, so why not make it a great experience for everyone involved.
  • make sure, that they do not attract too much attention caused by their behaviour. Don’t stand at the core of the game.
  • create a positive game athmosphere and try to uphold it. Being friendly, shaking hands before and after the game makes it a pleasurable experience. Smile more often and you’ll see, how friendly others can be.


I hope this helps to answer your question, Tim. Please let me know, if you have further questions, I’ll be happy to help!

Best wishes,

[info_box]Picture credit: Will FolsomCreative Commons Attribution[/info_box]