Skip to content » Tips » How To Referee A Basketball Game – The Key Points & Rules

How To Referee A Basketball Game – The Key Points & Rules

officiating a basketball game
Last Updated on: October 1, 2023

officiating a basketball game

Being a basketball referee takes time, patience, and a great understanding of the game. Sure, anyone with a little knowledge can call the local Friday evening game at the public court but to officially call a game of ball you will need to go through a few more steps. Knowing how to referee a basketball game properly will allow you to get further in your desired career and will make you a better official when it comes to the way players think of you. After all, to have teams listen to you, they must respect you and your authority.

To be a good referee, you must first learn what it takes to officiate a basketball game. The physical aspect is one of the most overlooked aspects of officiating and is what makes many newcomer referees quit. Some of the other very important aspects of this line of work is being objective and fair to both teams, control the game and its players, and keep their safety your number one priority. You have to be the figure of authority on the court and should act with confidence. Remember to always be impartial and never act on your emotions. 

Here, I will teach you some of the key points of officiating basketball games and what you need to keep in mind throughout the games you call. There are specific requirements and steps you have to go through to officially be a ref in basketball and I’ve pointed some of those out in the Related Questions sections of this article. Now, let’s dive into what it actually takes to become a ref and do your job well.

What It Takes

Before you actually decide that you want to referee basketball games, there are things you need to consider and keep in mind. Those are:

  • The physical demands
  • The mental demands
  • Ref training
  • Needed items
  • Fees, certification, and income

good positioning

In terms of physical demands, you shouldn’t overlook this. Calling a basketball game can be as tiring as it is playing the game, even more. Officials are constantly moving and there aren’t any windows in which you can rest as you will always have to adjust your position as the players shift theirs.

Fun fact, a basketball referee runs 2-3 miles on average during a game. Never forget to keep proper hydration and eating properly before a game as this will keep you sharp and charged during the whole game.

Mentally, I’d say you get it easier than the physical aspect. There are often 3 referees that constantly change their positions during the game but that also means that your responsibilities also change. You will also be very close to coaches, players, and fans so you will have to learn not to get easily distracted. Focus is the key to good officiating. Verbal criticism is also something that will be flying your way quite often, so learn to ignore it.

To train yourself better, you can join a local officials association where there are often lectures and courses on various topics. They will also most likely help you with the items you will need to have, such as:

  • Black referee shoes
  • Black socks
  • Black Slacks
  • V-neck shirt which is striped (black and white stripes)
  • Whistle with a lanyard

The last important thing is certification and of course your salary. Both those things depend on the level you want to officiate. Usually, refs start from the “bottom” which is Youth Basketball. Later on, they move to High School, then College, and finally professional basketball leagues.

Now, let me share some of the best tips for young referees you can find out there.

Be Confident

When officiating a game, you are the main authority figure out there and you call all the fouls and game violations. This means that you dedicate the flow of the game and not the players or the coaches. This is why you should referee with confidence and let everyone know who is in charge. Blow your whistle firmly and strongly so that everyone knows you mean business and your calls aren’t to be argued. Be loud so that everyone on the court can hear your decisions and calls.

Have Good Positioning

ref position

Positioning is vital to a good referee as it is what allows you to see well what exactly is going on. If there are fewer referees at the given game, constantly having a good position is crucial. Your tempo should match the one of the players and you should be as fast as them when moving on a rebound.

Check out how to build a basketball court by clicking here.

Keep Things Under Control

If players get on each other’s nerves by elbowing or pushing each other don’t let this escalate to something worse. Call the foul before it gets ugly. Even if you have to call a technical foul, do it – it is better than having a situation spiral out of control. Timeouts in order to talk to the affected players is also a good idea.

Cover Your Spot

Whenever you are assigned to a position you should stick to it. Don’t follow the ball or the point guard dribbling all over the court – cover your area and focus on whatever is happening there. Officiating is a team effort and the other (or main) referees will sometimes depend on your decision as you would have had a better angle at a given situation.


Communication is key when you want to issue the right calls. You will earn the players’ respect when you ask your fellow referees about a call you aren’t sure about or didn’t see right. This is why there are more than 1 referees on the court.

Whenever a colleague referee makes a call, you should always back him up no matter if you think the call was wrong. If you sure it was, mention that on the next timeout instead of arguing in front of the players. If the error is very obvious, call a timeout and discuss it with the referee that called it.

Be Impartial

No matter which team you like more, you should never side with anyone out on the court. Your job is to be objective and apply the rules to the game in an impartial way without your personal decisions and feeling getting in the way, which brings me to my next tip I want to share:

Don’t Let Your Emotions Control Your Calls

Never view fouls or rules infractions as something personal. Any time you are enforcing a call, be neutral both with your facial expressions and body language. Many referees give in to their emotions and that is conveyed through the tone of their voice or the obvious expressions they do. I get it, fouls can get ugly but your job is to control things on the court and not pick sides.

Keep Safety A Priority

The player’s safety is your number one priority. As I said, try to quickly defuse dangerous confrontations between players and whenever there is a rough play make sure you send a strong message against it by calling a technical.

You Will Make Mistakes – Never Make Excuses

Nobody is perfect and this is especially valid for referees. Sometimes the angle from which they view the game can be different from the one which is best to call a certain situation thanks to a bad position. Split second decisions taken under pressure can be awfully wrong but this is just a part of the game and the job. No referee is perfect and that cannot be expected even from the NBA officials. Sometimes you will call the wrong call but don’t try to justify it by making it up to either of the teams later on.

There is just one last tip I want to give you, which it seems that nobody else does…

Warm Up!

You are just as active (sometimes even more) than most players so you should take your time to warm up properly before a game. After the game is over and your job is done take your time to properly stretch. Your body isn’t something you can eventually change so take good care of it. An injury in this line of business can not only sideline you but take away your source of income so treat this issue with great caution.

Want to know which are the best portable basketball hoops for your driveway? Check out this full Buyer’s Guide.

Related Questions

How Do You Become A Referee?

In theory, all it takes for you to become a referee is a certification corresponding to the level of basketball you will want to officiate:

  • Junior
  • High School
  • College
  • Major leagues

Usually you have to start your way from the bottom and get to the top but if you are very good and have a lot of good recommendations you can get certified for higher leagues from the get-go.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Referee?

In a lot of USA states, you can be as young as 14 to officiate a game. Most high-level games will demand you to be at least 18 and have graduated High School, though. Still, this varies heavily from state to state, so I suggest you check your local requirements instead of taking my word for granted.

Do NBA Refs Get Paid Per Game?

No, the referees in the NBA games are on contract salaries and earn anywhere between 100,000 and 550,000 US dollars per season. A season for a referee includes full 82 games. Women’s basketball referees average around 500 dollars per game, and averagely 16,000 dollars per year which is way lower than what refs do in the NBA.

Final Words

Knowing how to referee a basketball game will make your job far easier. The essentials tips you need for this line of work are the same throughout all the sports and need to be remembered whenever you step out on the court. Once again, your two main qualities should be being confident and impartial. Everything else is just additional steps to being a well-respected and known referee.