Friday, March 17, 2006

This one ref camp...

I'm set to go to camp this summer. It wasn't a sure thing, since I'm going to be extremely busy (with fun stuff...traveling a bunch), but the weekend of this a nearby camp is available, so I thought I'd head down.

The last time I went to camp, it was a large, regional camp, and it was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I remember there were way, way more games, and the games were the best basketball I've ever officiated--wildly intense. How good were the games? I saw Tara Vanderveer scouting a game. That good. And it didn't take long for me to feel completely overwhelmed.

But I remember this camp. I remember it for three reasons.

Two of them I'll call Bob and Jack. The third was my final decision to stop "running wrong."

Bob and Jack were evaluators. I think I was evaluated by 8 or 10 different evaluators that weekend, all of whom were incredibly experienced (some had done Olympic gold medal games, several final fours...we're talking the real deal). I remember a few snippets from other evaluators, but mostly I remember Bob and Jack for being awful and magnificent evaluators.

Let's start with Bob.

Either during halftime or after a game, he came on with a suggestion for positioning. I had heard something that I felt was contradictory from another evaluator, so I stepped in and started to ask a question. He interrupted my question: "Yeahbut, yeahbut, yeahbut. That's a lot of yeahbut. Don't come to me with excuses." Okay, fine, whatever. He's an asshole, but he's a better ref than I am. I can still learn...I'll just shut up since he doesn't want me to talk.

Not ninety seconds later, he gave me some sort of advice on mechanics. I nodded and said "OK." There was a brief pause, and then he said: "What, no questions? You're just going to accept what I say without comment?" Unbelieveable...I was criticized for being too chatty and for being too quiet within seconds of the same conversation. He didn't care what I said or did...he was going to ride my butt regardless...which made it impossible to take him seriously.

It's worth noting that, while I remember a lot of good advice from that weekend, I don't remember what (probably legitimate) suggestions this guy made. I only remember being barked at for contradictory personality traits.

But then Jack arrived.

Jack had a huge reputation for absolutely laying into officials. He was a punchline. During our morning meetings, the clinicians would read letters from the previous year's campers--people offering us encouragement. One sent what he called a momento from Jack--a giant pair of briefs with a giant tear in them where the butthole would be. Yup...Jack tore him a new one. Every day, as I chatted with people in the break room, they'd talk about how Jack laid into them. Then my turn came. I was ready to take it.

It never came. Jack loved me.

As we officiated that game, we wore a one-eared headphone with an antenna. This way, Jack could talk to us while we us a running commentary. It was a little bit distracting at first, but once I got over that, it became very helpful. A few minutes into that game, I had an illegal screen down low, away from the ball. I called it. And as I did, Jack is shouting in my head: "Great call! Great call...Great call." Wow. I made a permanent note to myself: call the illegal screen down low away from the ball. I was ready for abuse from Jack, and instead, I got a bunch of love.

Later, I asked him about his rep. "Gee, Jack...I hear you're this rough guy, but you're really a big teddy bear. What gives?" He told me that yes, he's hard on people, but only on people who think they're hot stuff. "Not you," he added. "You want to call a good game and you want to learn. You, I'll be nice to."

And he really was.

The main thing he did is finally pushed me over the edge to admit I had a problem. The problem: I ran wrong.

Yup. You read that right.

Through my first four years of officiating, that was the main criticism I'd get from evaluators.
"Great calls, good positioning, you know the game, but there's something else we need to go over...[awkward pause]...Has anyone talked to you about your running?" Every game.

At first, I was defensive. Who gives a rip about how I look if I'm making the right calls?

Next, I became frustrated. Everyone had different advice about how I was running "wrong." Get me knees up. Run heel-toe. Run just on toes. Pump the arms. Stand up straighter. Get up higher. Blah blah blah. I never got the same advice twice, so I never learned anything.

When I got to camp, this continued...only instead of hearing it three or four times a week, I heard it three or four times a day. It was very, very difficult to endure. I was busting my butt and getting called funny-looking. I was not looking forward to how Jack, with his reputation, would handle my running.

I never had anyone approach the problem like Jack did, though.

He said to me: "Man, I'd put you on any game. Any game. You know the game, and you want to do well...I see you're good. But people are going to judge you on your appearance, so until you take care of this running problem, they won't know what a good job your doing. Do what you've got to do, but get this fixed." For the first time, when someone brought up this issue, I didn't feel like a freak. I felt like a guy with a problem to solve, and that made life a lot easier for me. Thanks to Jack--gentle Jack--four years of frustration were channeled into resolve at that moment. I was going to learn to run.

I had saved up hundreds of dollars to buy a tan overcoat. I decided I'd rather learn to run. I bought a bunch of sessions with a personal trainer who was a running specialist. I called her the Mad Russian. She was very patient (although once she actually laughed while watching me attempt a running drill...I was that bad). She ran me ragged. She shouted repeatedly: "Run on your balls! Run on your balls!"

In three seasons since then, I have not had a single evaluator remark on my running.

So camp? Well worth it. I'm not going to quite as big a camp as I did last time, but I'm smarter now than I used to be...which means that I can learn more, not less. I hope I learn as much this summer as I did last time.


At 11:33 AM, Blogger BBallRef said...

I'll go to camp, too, this summer. I'm really looking forward to doing this (never did it before). Referee camps are not as common in Europe as they are in the States. It is just not such a big business (I think one day it will be, though). The camp I'm going to will be held by Alan Richardson from England. Check out his website He has a lot of educational materials for referees on his page.

Good point, by the way, about being evaluated. I really appreciate every bit of coaching I can get, but if someone tells me one thing, and then contradicts it with his next sentence, or tells me how good I did this thing, and then goes on to bash my partner and how bad he was at it, only because my partner doesn't ref where I ref ... I hate that!


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