Friday, May 20, 2011

Good Game Management = Good Customer Service

Before I graduated from college, I had worked as a cashier at a nearby McDonald's.  Since I graduated from college, I continued to work in capacities involving customer service from technical support (post sales service) to sales engineering (pre-sales service).

As I walked home a couple of Sundays ago from officiating some games, a random thought popped in my head regarding how managing a basketball game was similar to doing customer service.  In any customer service situation where a potential or existing customer has an issue, the service representative will do their best to make the customer happy.   It usually goes something like:  "I'm sorry that "XYZ" has occurred but I will do my best to address the situation".   For potential customers, maybe there will be concessions in terms of price to entice them to buy.  For existing customers, some form of credit is usually issued.

When it comes to officiating basketball, game management in terms of handling coaches (most of the time) and players (to a lesser extent) is vital.  The teams (players/coaches) are our customers.  The officials have a responsibility to officiate the game but also to address issues, concerns and complaints as they occur.

Just like customer service representatives, I know that officials generally don't like difficult coaches and players.  Alas, like the customer service representatives, we also have a responsibility to do our jobs.  Maybe we don't quite have to do our jobs with a "smile" but we still have to do it.

One thing I've learned recently is that even if a coach is irate, they are reasonable if you have an answer to their question.  I had two coaches upset a few weeks ago on the same play.  It was a 9 AM game so both teams were a little sluggish.  The offensive player drove to the hoop.  The defender slid her feet but fell down.  The offensive player (in my opinion anyway) stumbled as well.  On the way down, the offensive player tried to brace herself as she fell so accidentally hit the defensive player as well.  However, the offensive player also threw the ball away.

All in all, it was a no call in my opinion.  Neither coach was particularly thrilled.  The defensive coach was mildly annoyed but his team got the ball so he didn't say much.  The offensive coach was not happy but I gave him my explanation.  He disagreed but life went on from there.

I guess it's fortunate I have a customer service background.  Dealing with irate coaches and players can be a pain but in reality, it's not that bad.  I've learned to stay calm, let people vent, address the issue and then move on.  You can do the same.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Basketball Game Scheduled.....Wrestling Match Broke Out.......

I was officiating a 5th Grade girls basketball league championship tonight and it was an entertaining affair that went into overtime with the final score was 21-18.

Alas, that was the end of the good news.  The problem was the game was played at a very small venue.  The court size itself was not quite high school regulation but for 5th graders, it was fine.  The main issue was the lack of spectator seating.  The fans for both teams were packed all around the sidelines and endlines for the game.  There was hardly room along the sideline for inbounding the ball.

The lack of space ratchets up the tension and intensity for the game.  These 5th graders were NOT high level players.  Thus, they were probably nervous and it didn't help to have a hundred or so fans cheering every move as the game went on.

The other issue was the poor play of both teams.   There were a few decent players on the floor but the passing, rebounding and other basic skills were a little lacking.

I don't blame the players or coaches for this.  This particular league relies on volunteers for coaches (usually alumni, parents or other interested parties).  Some coaches are good but others are just not that experienced.  Also, practice time can be limited so it's tough to develop players skills.

However, one thing I wish coaches would emphasize less is the "grab the ball" mentality.  This causes kids from 3rd to 8th grade to try and tie the ball up for "held ball situations".  The score was 21-18 and there must have been at least 20 (if not more) "held ball situations" that we had to whistle tonight.  I called some quicker than usual because I didn't want the kids to accidentally hurt themselves trying to wrestle the ball away.

All of this being said, I had fun officiating it.  These kind of games are easy to work.  With some many fans around, I just tune every body out and focus on the players.  In fact, sometimes I feel that in the midst of chaos (players all over the floor, parents and coaches screaming), I'm the calmest guy in the building.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Backboards, Angles and Small Gym Dimensions

Officiated a 7th grade girls basketball tournament today and had an interesting day.  The tournament was held at a high school I was familiar with but in the auxiliary gym instead of the main gym.  The high school's basketball teams always play in the main gym so I assumed the auxiliary gym was just for practice.    However, having been to other schools in the area who also had second gyms, even I was surprised to see the layout of the auxiliary gym.

The court was not quite full sized in terms of length though the width looked to be regulation.   There was no room on the sidelines.  The coaches, players and scorekeepers were basically right on the sideline.  The fans were on the other side of the court and there was a bit of breathing room but not much.  On one end of the court, there was a wall on one side of the court literally a couple of inches from the court.  On the other side, there were pipes protruding out a few feet from the end line so some pads were put there as protection.

The final surprise was that the gym had FAN SHAPED backboards.  I've seen these before and even played on some in pickup ball.  However, I am not sure any of these kids had even seen or played on anything less than a glass backboard which most gyms use for games.

Given all of these weird conditions in the gym and plus the first game was at 9 AM, I think the teams came out a little sluggish.  Both teams struggled offensively as the rims and backboards were not as soft as the usual ones the kids were used to.

I think even my partner and I came out sluggish as well.  The play was sloppy and we tried our best to call stuff but my partner and I were admittedly second guessing ourselves a bit early.  The reason was the gym dimensions were throwing off usual officiating angles.  The fans and coaches were annoyed but didn't understand that even officials need to adjust to gym conditions as the players do.

Regardless, my partner and I talked a lot during halftime and made our adjustments.  It was obvious we weren't going to get our usual angles so we just had to help each other as much as we could.  The lead official took the brunt of the responsibility because the trail had trouble following plays due to the confined nature of the court.

From the second half of the 9 AM game and into the rest of the games I worked today, things went fine and there were minimal complaints.  All in all, it was a fun day and I have some more fun tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"And 1!" (aka Where's The Foul Ref?)

Being a basketball official and also continuing to play pickup ball against both older and younger folks gives me an interesting perspective.   I notice a major difference between how the younger generation (30 and under) play versus the guys that are more my age.  The younger set tends to play more one-on-one and doesn't take open shots.  Instead they like to try all sorts of fancy moves.  Guys more my age tend to just take open shots and don't dribble as much.  Of course, we are all a lot slower and probably shooting is the only thing we do well these days!  The younger kids have plenty of energy and quickness and do all these fancy things that older guys can only dream of.

However, one of the things that I do find a little annoying is the tendency to yell "And 1!" after making a play or basket.  From the playing perspective, this usually means the offensive player felt he got fouled OR he is trash talking a bit to the defensive player that he can't be stopped without being fouled.

This also occurs quite frequently during games I officiate at all levels.  This is usually not trash talking but more of a "Where's The Foul Ref?" comment.    I have to say that I just ignore these comments most of the time.  I think players may have gotten some contact and may be trying to sell us on calling a foul.  If there was significant enough contact where there was no foul called, I am 100% sure I would hear about it more loudly than with just some "And 1!" comment.

Yet, I find it annoying because it shows the level of influence the NBA has on all levels of basketball players.  NBA players say the "And 1!" comment quite often and like everything NBA related, it trickles down to the lower levels of basketball.