By: Cole Shelton
Officiating any sport is difficult, let alone professional sports. People are always watching and criticizing your calls no matter what. But, that is why they do it because they are the best at it.
Like other professional leagues, the National Basketball League of Canada get the top Canadian officials to officiate their league, and it is a hard process to become a referee in the NBLC. I talked to six officials to answer some questions about being a referee in the NBLC.
Cole Shelton: How did you get into officiating?
Jen Lloyd: After playing basketball in University and professionally in Belgium and Australia, and coaching High School and College basketball in Nova Scotia, I was approached by Reg Jewkes and Keith Finck in Truro, Nova Scotia to officiate in the Truro area.
Scott Critch: I actually started officiating when I was in Grade 9 so around 15 years of age. I was asked by a coach of one of the teams in my high school to help him out on the court. I did. That was 1986 and I have been officiating ever since. I starting taking it seriously 10 years later in 1996 when I came across our provincial referees association. After that I started to attend summer camps and various national and international certifications.
Matthew Boyle: My father was a referee and he got me into reffing at a young age (15 years old). I played the game from 8 years old until my University days and I wanted to stick around the game I love. After my playing days were over, I really caught the bug of officiating and started to take it seriously.
John Grilli: Just after completing university a friend who had recently started refereeing suggested I get involved as I had been playing basketball in HS and university.
Geoff Astles: I started when I was 25 (now 49) after I was done playing university basketball. Wanted to stay involved with local basketball but did not have the time to coach but had the time to officiate. I enjoyed it right from the start doing grade school and high school ball.
Jason Stiell: I started when I was 15, I was transitioning from being a house league player to playing for the one of the best inter city programs in Montreal. One day when I was at DJ sports house league a ref didn't show up and they asked me if i didn't mind reffing an under 13 boys game (and I did) and I was hooked. Soon after I would be a regular ref at the house league and quickly moved up to officiating the senior men's division. When I was 16 years old I was approached by the Local referee association MMBRA (Montreal Metropolitain Referee Assoc.) and ask if i would join them. Once certified and officiated real games I realized there was opportunity for advancement, so I took it as a challenge (and here I am today)
CS: What was your experience before the NBLC?
JL: I am currently on the University / College panel for the NSBO, and have attended AUS and ACAA Championships. I officiate all levels from U10 to High School, boys and girls.
SC: Before the NBLC I worked mostly USports, local and provincial mens and high school level basketball. I also had the opportunity to travel within the Americas to work international games in Argentina, Uruguay and the Bahamas.
MB: I am entering my 20th season as an official. Before the NBLC, I was working minor basketball, High School, College and University basketball in Canada.
GA: Prior to officiating the NBLC 8 years ago, I had been officiating Canadian university basketball for 12 years (now in my 20th year) as well I was FIBA carded official for 10 years with Canada and had did the gold game at a U18 FIBA America's tourney in San Antonio featuring Kyrie Irving. I have been to 5 final 4's at the University level and done 3 finals. Also have done 5 OFFSA gold games in high school basketball.
JG: I refereed university, community college, club and HS basketball for a number of years.
JS: Before working the NBL, I of course worked Locally in Montreal and provincially in Quebec officiating both University and College games. I was fortunate when I was younger to also have worked in the U.S. Prior to working the NBL I officiated in the ABA and did 2 years as an NCAA Div.2 and 3 official working 3 conferences. During my stint working the NCAA and ABA I was actually living in NYC. I also got the opportunity while I was there to be a part of the NYC Pro-am which had some of the top basketball on the east coast. We were taught NBA philosophies and mechanics by former and current NBA staff members. I also attained my FIBA License (International official) in 2012.
CS: What has it been like being a referee in the NBLC?
JL: Officiating in the NBLC has been a very positive experience. I have improved my on court referee skills such as fitness, positioning, rotations and teamwork. My strength continues to be my ability to communicate with players and coaches. My decision making skills are better; I am able to be patient and see plays start, develop and finish.
SC: For the most part it has been enjoyable albeit challenging at times. Officiating NBLC games often requires more than six eyes but the crews do their best to be fair and impartial while at the same time respecting the ability of the players and adhering to maintaining respect of the NBLC game. It is a tough job but at the end of the day the integrity of the league is what has to be kept in mind even when making difficult decisions.
MB: The NBLC has been one of the greatest learning opportunities I've had as an official. The game is so fast, so physical. You need to make accurate decisions at a rapid pace and on the move. This league has allowed me to train my play calling and also solidify my game management skills. These players have played in the top leagues in the world and you are expected to be just a skilled as them when it comes to our profession. I absolutely love it.
GA: I have really enjoyed working the NBLC, as I have been involved since the league started. The first 3-4 years were very challenging for various reasons that I choose not to discuss, however, the last 4 years have seen a great improvement in the direction we are going. Credit goes to Mike Falloon.
JG: It has been a won experience contributing to the high level enjoyment and entertainment that the league provides its fans. The look of wonder and joy in young fans faces has made it a wonderful endeavour.
JS: For me it has been a blessing, the NBL is the best basketball in the country and to work it is a privilege. The league has seen its ups and downs and officials are heavily criticized, but its all in a days work. As an official you strive for the best and what better way to challenge yourself then with the strongest, fastest and most talented players playing in Canada right now. Officiating in the NBLC has helped me become a better official not matter what game I go to now.
CS: What advice do you have for other referees who hope to officiate professional basketball, one day?
JL: Be a student of the game. Watch game tapes, especially of your own games. Review rules, interpretations and watch video clips. I feel I have an advantage because I know basketball; I have been involved with basketball my whole life as a player, coach, teacher and now as an official; I know the game. Go to games. Observe others; ask questions. Give your top effort during EVERY game, no matter what the level. Be positive with players, coaches, fans and fellow officials. There is always someone within the officiating family who is willing to help you improve, give you feedback and advance. Enjoy each game. WORK HARD, be a GOOD person, and have FUN.
CS: What is the biggest challenge you face?
SC: I believe that all officials no matter what league are now facing increased pressure to be perfect. Everybody these days have video and can record every play and decision that an official makes when on the court. Our decisions are made very quickly and many people believe that our sport is the most difficult to officiate due to the quickness and lack of time we have to make a decision. Fans, players and coaches really need to accept the fact that at times we may not have made the correct call. My goal as an official is to reduce those number of instances to as low a number as possible but still realizing that we make hundreds of decisions in a game and undoubtedly some will be incorrect. Getting this message out and for this to be accepted on some level is something that can help the game evolve.
MB: The biggest challenge we face as officials is staying mentally focused and sharp for 48 minutes every game. We often ref a lot of games during the weeks of the season and do a lot of travel. Staying sharp is really key - getting a lot of nutritious food, the right amount of sleep and keeping our bodies in top physical form so the we can keep up with the players. The game can be exhausting both mentally and physically, so the biggest challenge would be to give each game its due, both mentally and physically.
GA: I think the biggest challenge is knowing what to call and not call as well as knowing how to communicate with coaches and players and using the tools you have to try to diffuse a situation from escalating and not just using the technical foul to solve the issue. Don't get me wrong a tech at times is warranted but sometimes we can do things to prevent that from happening. The players are great to deal with but at times they have ego's that need to be managed and you have to know how to deal with those issues.
JG: I love the challenge of communicating with coaches and players alike in a variety of intense and potentially volatile situations. Emotions run high but I know that it is not normally a personal thing but rather everybody working hard to win and give their best.
JS: As earlier mentioned as an official we are striving for perfection attempting to get every call right, however this is a tough task, the game is played at a very high pace players are trying to trick you and bait you into calls, coaches are working you for a call, theres a physicality aspect to the game. There are so many factors that go into officiating an NBLC game, but to answer the question One of the challenges is the "strive for perfection" although its unattainable (because no one has officiated "the Perfect game" The criticism we get as officials, I am devoted the art (Yes I said art) of officiating it's almost a full time Job. Fans think we do it for the money or just as a hobby therefore they don't respect what we do as officials and are quick to call us incompetent. Officials spend countless hours on the road, reviewing game tape, learning new rules and or interpretations, working on bettering themselves as an official. At this level it is definitely not a hobby or pass time. So the second part of my answer is the challenge to make fans aware That "Yes" we may have made a mistake or missed a call BUT we are really working hard both on and off the court.