Sunday, June 24, 2012

Youth Basketball: Refs Influence Game Outcome

Should refs feel sorry for teams being out played and as a result call a game differently then they normally would?

We have all seen it many times before. One team is dominating another team, so the refs limit the fouls against the inferior team. At the same time, the refs call a tight game against the superior team. I believe that the refs do this to keep the score reasonable and to keep the lopsided game moving.

This past weekend, my daughter's team breezed through a tournament and advanced to the finals as the number one seed .

As the number one seed, we played our semi-final game from 3p to 4p against the 4th seed. We won 38-25. The 2nd and 3rd seeded teams played from 4p to 5p. The 3rd seeded team advanced. Our team beat the 3rd seeded team by 10 points during pool play.

The gym was exceedingly hot when our team took the court with confidence at 5p. The other team fresh off their win looked over-heated and tired. Our team took advantage and scored immediately after the tip off. We scored 4 more baskets in the first 3 minutes of play to take a 10 - 0 lead. The head coach of the other team called timeout and berated his girls. It was embarrassing.

When the game resumed, one of the best players on the other team was assessed her 3rd foul and the hot headed coach stepped on to the court and yelled at the ref who made the call. The coach was assessed a technical for walking on the court. Our point guard buried the 2 technical foul shots and our team took a commanding 12-0 lead. The neutered coach retreated to the sidelines and contained his emotions for the rest of the game.

The game played on and our team continued to dominate possession. Our team was passing and cutting and beating the other team's man to man defense with ease, but layups and short jumpers were not falling. Still it was very obvious that our team was in control.

At the half way point of the first half, the other team called time. We were still winning 12-0, but should have been winning 24-0. After the time out, our opponent emerged and started employing a tightly packed zone. Our team kept trying to pass and cut in the narrow lanes, but met lots of resistance and tough physical play. The refs, however, were not making any calls. After several obvious fouls were ignored, our coach called timeout and talked to the ref. The ref told our coach to relax because we were obviously going to win the game.

Well, our team kept missing shots and got frustrated. Our frustration lead to fouls and the other team buried foul shot after foul shot. Our team was still dominating each possession, but soon it was a 1 point game.

With 2 minutes left in the game, our team went into a slow down mode. We passed the ball back and forth. Every now and then the other team would foul us trying to make a steal. We were not even close to the bonus, so after each foul we had to throw the ball in.

Sure enough while we were trying to runout the clock, one of the passes my daughter made was intercepted and lead to the winning basket with 16 seconds left on the clock. My little girl was devastated.

The Main Point

In principle, I do not have a problem refs controlling the speed and score of lopsided games, but not in a championship game between two obviously strong teams. We lost the game because our team went completely cold. The other team won the game because they never gave up. Unfortunately, the refs played a major role in the outcome and that is just not right.


  1. They kept hope alive for the opposing team, but they should have kept it real when the game became artificially close. You would think the referees would have called traveling, out-of-bounds, a technical foul - something - to keep the last shot from counting!

  2. So many thoughts ruminating through my mind after reading your post. Obviously, I wasn't there, so it's hard for me to comment on the officiating; but I always remember & teach kids what my grade school coach taught us - "you've got to learn to play through the officiating." Once players get distracted and flustered by how the game is being called, their goose is cooked. Appears your coach handled the referees non-calls appropriately, called a timeout & talked to the officials about the situation. Inexcusable for the referees to tell a coach to relax because his team is going to win the game.

    Have problems with any coach at the youth level who berates players or referees. Coaches have to be leaders & role models at all times. Getting angry & flustered is a choice - you can be firm and demanding without resorting to crasser methods.

    Even though I wasn't there, going to have to disagree with your assessment that your daughter's team lost because they went "completely cold." They lost because the coach decided to play not to lose instead of playing to win. Going to a delay game with two minutes to go at any level is a risky venture, with kids your daughter's age, it's a recipe for disaster. Understanding time & score is an important component of basketball, but also learning how to make plays & executing your offense under pressure should be valued by the coach, especially at the youth level. Sometimes you've got to be willing to lose as a coach to teach your players how to do the things necessary to win in the future.

    They lost because they lost their poise and confidence. You used the word "frustration." All teams go through tough spells. Basketball is a game of runs. It's also a game of mistakes & learning to minimize mistakes should be one of the focal points for anybody that coaches or plays the game. When things are going south, a coach must continue to emphasize staying in the moment, play the next play, to keep playing the game with the effort and intensity that was displayed at the beginning of the game. Don't let missed shots or turnovers on the offensive end result in frustration fouls on the defensive end. This type of mindset & discipline doesn't happen unless it's an everyday thing, a learned and taught behavior in a practice setting that is forged deeper into a players DNA/mindset by the intensity and pressure of the game.

    Created a teaching module based off John Wooden's definition of Poise - here's the link -

    The question I ask kids is "How do you acquire poise and confidence?" Answer - "You don't, it acquires you." Poise depends on one having self control and confidence.

  3. Although I definitely agree with CG2, I think what gets lost in this whole article is that these youth tournaments really don't mean much in the long run. Winning obviously helps, but losing is just as beneficial to the athletic and mental development of these kids. What's far more important is that the kids on your daughter's team learn to play through the whistle and that refs aren't always going to be fair. I strongly believe that your daughter's team is going to be far better having lost the tournament than had they won it. They're going to have a stronger knowledge of how to handle late game situations and they'll know about the importance of keeping composure. This whole experience was about as good of a hands on learning experience as any, and I think the tournament fees are definitely worth it when you receive an excellent teaching lesson like this one.

  4. I've never understood why basketball doesn't have a mercy rule like baseball (15 runs after 3 innings 10 after 4, etc.). Seems like that would solve some of the problems you see around issues like this, or the 100-2 scores that you read about from time to time.

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