How to Referee Basketball With 10 Important Tips

Instead of simply watching a game, why not go the extra mile and learn how to officiate a match? Besides getting some cash on the side, you will also get the best seat in the house. With a bit of practice, you can quickly learn how to referee basketball games.

It doesn’t matter if you are a basketball purist or a regular courtside fan. The primary condition is that you know the rules of basketball.

After that, you qualify to officiate a game. But that won’t get you too far ahead of the curve, either.

Anyone who knows the basics can referee a game of ball and call it a day. For those aspiring for bigger and better things, take a look at this list of essential tips.

Understand the Role of a Basketball Referee

It's not rocket science to learn how to referee basketball games.

However, you are better off acknowledging the responsibilities that accompany the role. For starters, remember to part with all forms of bias. To be fair, you shouldn’t favor either team.

Like in other sports, basketball officials enforce the rules of the game. As a referee, your primary objective is to ensure fair play on the court. You should also maintain order and, where necessary, punish fouls so that the most deserving squad wins. 

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In general, there are two basketball referees – the lead and trail officials.

Each individual covers a different section, and together, they monitor the whole field at once. So, as a referee, you’ll often rely on your partner. If something slips by them, it’ll usually result in a referee’s omission.

  1. Study the Rules

Learn the rules of the game to know how to referee basketball matches. There are tons of guides compressed into rulebooks. The NBA has unique procedures which you should learn if you want to scale up as an official. 

Besides knowing the dos and don’ts, you should also master how to apply them. Refs communicate with other officials using gestures.

Therefore, learn the different hand signals and when you can use them in a game. Keep practicing these gestures in readiness for in-game situations. 

  1. Join the NASO

Besides knowing the ball rules, you have to be part of a team of referees. Being part of the National Association of Sports Officials is pivotal for the advancement of your refereeing career. There are multiple training resources you can exploit to nurture your progress, too.

You can still referee without going to class. However, you’ll only officiate minor league games. To move further, you should enroll in a training course to understand a referee’s perspective. All completed courses receive a certificate. 

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After getting certified, you can officially referee a game. The junior platforms give you a chance to hone your calling skills and develop an officiating mindset.

Naturally, you’ll start by ruling the youth games. After that, if you display the right expertise, you’ll be called up for more significant events.

  1. Be Physically Fit

Basketball is physically demanding. Hence, you must be able to keep up the pace. Most of the time, you’ll be running across the court with a critical eye on the player’s actions. Those athletes will be at the top of their game, and so should you. 

Dashing across the court throughout the game is taxing on your joints. It would be best if you keep your weight down throughout the year. Maintaining a healthy body allows you to have a longer and stress-free career. Also, don’t forget to warm up before the game.

In the lower leagues and at the local park, there may be a single referee. Being in the proper position allows you to monitor the match.

Therefore, if you're officiating such a game, you must match the players’ pace. You won’t cover the entire court multiple times with a dad-bod, especially on a rebound.

  1. Be Confident

The referee is the authority figure in a game. That’s why players and their coaches will not protest your decisions.

Besides knowing the rules, you must make firm decisions. Small acts like blowing your whistle can relay your constant on-court presence.

A good referee should show vigilance exactly when a player might expect a drop in their mental focus. Nothing gets by a good referee, and players won’t even gamble on such an event. Instead, they’ll play without ever doubting a fair ruling.

A confident referee can stop a situation from spiraling out of control. Naturally, teams can get evenly matched. Tempers often flare up in the heat of the moment. You should quickly call a foul or time-out to de-escalate these tensions.

  1. Get The Right Gear

Refereeing is a physical job. You’ll be running for 95% of the game.

Besides keeping fit, you’ll need the correct equipment to be comfortable while doing so. Additionally, there is a particular dress code that you must respect as a basketball official.

Refs usually wear comfortable sneakers. The shoes allow them to sprint when needed to keep up with the players. FIBA officials normally wear black shoes paired with black trousers and socks. Your shirt top can be grey or black.

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Your general appearance should reflect the confidence that mirrors your in-game decisions. This dress code also makes it easy to tell officials apart.

The most critical piece of equipment, however, is a whistle. It sends out a clear message when communicating with the players. Learn how to blow confidently so that your decisions do not seem uncertain.

You might also like: Best Basketball Whistle for Referees

You’ll also need a pressure gauge to test the balls. Moreover, you’ll need a small notepad to keep tabs on the scores, fouls, and other stats.

  1. Expect Additional Tests As You Level Up

When starting, you only need a basic understanding of how basketball works. However, this knowledge isn’t sufficient as you go up the ladder and into the big leagues. That’s where officiating tests come in.

Your local refereeing association will most likely offer the tests. However, different leagues have independent exams for potential officials. And even if you are looking to get into the college leagues, you must show that you are a capable referee first.

  1. Always Remain Calm 

Sports referees are constantly under pressure, especially during a big game. A single decision may send ripples felt all across the season’s length. Also, players and coaches from either team will always have something to say once you blow your whistle. 

It would help if you withstood the pressure of a basketball game and did not yield to external influence. To do so, you must aspire to remain calm throughout the four quarters. 

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Remember, officials have access to much more information that guides their decision-making. Firstly, you have the best seat in the house. Secondly, you can rely on your fellow officials’ input and game replays. 

Therefore, your decision should stand even if the players and coaches have different opinions. You are the only neutral individual on the court, so you must act accordingly.

Granted, you might make incorrect calls. However, the post-match review allows you to identify wrongly awarded fouls and throws. And once you accept your wrongs, you’ll avoid future errors.

  1. Be Ready to Accept Your Mistakes

Even the most experienced sports officials start from scratch. Therefore, as you learn this craft, you’ll routinely fall prey to incorrect calls, especially if you are the only referee on the court.

When officiating lower league games, you’ll sometimes have to work alone. While you will not be as efficient as two people, you should make full use of the post-game review session.

If the game is on video, make sure you catch all the angles, especially on fouls. 

Gather as much information as you can about your decision-making, positioning, and subsequent calls. Constantly ask yourself whether it was the right call. And when in doubt, seek an experienced ref’s opinion on the matter. 

Big NBA games use more than two officials. The referees also utilize extensive video replays showing various angles of the game. Therefore, there is a much smaller margin of error as you move up the ranks.

  1. Your Growth Requires Consistency

After reading this article alone, you won’t know how to referee a basketball game yet. While you’ll understand what it takes to be an official, your success won’t come overnight. You’ll only get better at what you do through excessive training.

As you referee more basketball fixtures, you’ll encounter different situations. Even unorthodox types of fouls that aren’t in the rulebook. 

The first game will wrack your nerves, especially when calling for fouls. You might not be entirely sure of each decision then. However, as you progress, your confidence levels will improve significantly. 

Once you reach the big leagues, you’ll realize how high the stakes can get. Even with that much of a burden, it’ll all be a bit easier if you maintain a firm grasp on things.

What to Avoid When Refereeing a Ball Game

A basketball official ensures fair play in a game. Most of the time, you’ll be watching for fouls. Therefore, avoid fixating on the ball too much. 

During a big game, there are different referees with unique objectives. Each covers a specific section of the court and relays useful information live. Hence, everyone should keep their focus completely on their assignments.

Officials must be alert during the game. You have to be aware of the goings-on in your zone. Also, avoid reacting to a play outside your primary sector.

Why Become A Basketball Referee

Firstly, once you know how to referee basketball tournaments, you can turn it into a career.

NBA refs have a decent income with plenty of benefits on the side. And even if you are in it as a hobby, you can earn extra cash officiating local high school games. 

Secondly, a basketball referee is often an active member of the community. You can use your expertise to teach local kids the secrets of basketball. 

Lastly, sports officials typically have the best seat in the house. And, as your career progresses, you may witness some legendary plays unfold right in front of your eyes.

What Does It Take to Become an NBA Referee?

Every aspiring basketball referee aspires to make it to the NBA.

However, progress doesn’t come easily. You’ll need commitment to learning the game, officiating skills, and substantial experience to hone your abilities. 

Naturally, it would help if you started at the bottom to get a feel of it all. Youth leagues, whether high school or college, are a great place to referee your first match. After that, you can try your hand at pro-am games, then the D-league, before joining the G-league.

The NBA hosts some world-famous sportsmen and women in their prime. Obviously, you must be fit to keep up with the likes of LeBron James. 

It would be best to have a clear mind every time you step onto the court. Big games attract thousands of fans, and the stakes are infinitely higher than in junior leagues.

Expect to make monumental decisions that impact the careers of players, coaches, and teams in general. Your experience will come in handy in those moments.

Referees are not the most popular individuals in the game. However, being popular isn’t vital to being a good basketball referee.

You are better off having a resolve about what’s right and wrong in a given situation. You will make fair decisions by not compromising and remaining committed to such principles.

Nevertheless, be prepared for angry stakeholders. Coaches and players will most likely voice their dissatisfaction with your calls.

However, after dealing with angry parents for years and years, a little courtside noise shouldn’t bother you at that point.

Finally, be ready to travel across the country often. Crisscrossing the US during an NBA season is pretty exciting. On the flip side, you’ll have minimal time to spend with the family when on duty. 

Final Thoughts on Basketball Refereeing

Refereeing is fun and can be a financially rewarding occupation if you get into one of the major leagues.

Still, it would be best if you put in the work and strive for perfection. With more games under your belt, you’ll also get better at eliminating wrong calls.

Additionally, your confidence improves after each bout. Soon you’ll be ready to referee basketball games with an eagle’s eye, ensuring an enjoyable and impartial contest. 

Joshua Bast


My name is Joshua Bast and I have been playing basketball ever since I was 7 years old. I love the game play, I love the feeling whenever I score a basket, but what made me fell in love was the camaraderie with my team mates. This blog is dedicated to help any up-and-coming basketball players maximize their potential.

Joshua Bast