What makes a top-class referee? Personal development, dealing with conflict and understanding the game

Referees are a vital component to a successful basketball match – but there much more to it than simply applying the rules. 

Alexandra Belkner and Jon-Paul Heron are the latest refs to upgrade their officiating status and are in the process of completing the Level 4 Referee award.  

The seasoned Level 3 referees, who have both looked after senior NBL and WBBL games, want to officiate at the highest domestic level, but becoming the crème de la crème of domestic refereeing is no walk in the park. 

The course is a season and half long, candidates must have plied their trade in at least 15 NBL Division One games and pass a rules and fitness test – and they’re just a few of the prerequisites.  

Understand the feelings and emotions of the game

As part of the assessment phase of the course, Belkner and Heron were observed refereeing some of the senior games at this year’s National Cup Finals. But initially the pair started their day with an on-court session looking at the mechanics and positions of referees – the lead, centre and trail positions – before being passed onto senior officiating aficionado, Alan Richardson.  

“The first session with Alan was all about how you manage the game in terms of your posture, your personality on the floor and trying to remove all of that and de-emotionalise everything,” said Heron.   

“We did another session on dealing with conflict, he added.  

“There’s quite a lot of emotions in the game from coaches and players. And there’s certain times you get questions and it’s about how you respond to those questions. It’s about understanding feelings and the emotions of the game.” 

Belkner poised to make a call at the 2021 National Cup Finals in Manchester

'I want to be the best referee I can be'

But what’s the difference between the levels? What do you need to know that makes you a level four ref as opposed to a three? Heron says it’s about a higher level of game management.  

“It’s about dealing with those other aspects of the game that are not just the rules. It’s not just how you interpret the rules but how you administer them and how you let the game and players develop.” 

“For me, it’s about personal development as well,” said Belkner. “I personally want to be the best referee I can be, and level four helps with that goal.”  

The next stop in their officiating journey is refereeing in the BBL, but Belkner also believes her job is to give back and help support the next generation of British basketball officials.  

“It’s important to pass on our knowledge to younger referees. I’ve been reffing for quite a few years and I’ve received support over the years, I think it’s quite important really to give that back to new referees or people who want to improve.”  

Want to get into officiating? Hear from Alexandra and Jon about why they got involved and how refereeing helped them to understand and play basketball better.

Basketball has the power to change lives. The #GameTime campaign will aim to raise awareness of the positive impact that our sport can have on people no matter who they are or where they are from. 

Basketball England aims to engage one million people in basketball via the Commonwealth Games 2022, 3x3 and more.  

Whether you want to: 

  • Support Team England 
  • #GetInvolved as a player, coach, official, volunteer or fan 
  • Or improve your local court with #ProjectSwish 

...regardless of age, gender or background, across every part of the basketball family, it's #GameTime!