Can’t Stand Sports Referees? Try and Be One, For A Change

John Tures in a referee uniform holding a basketball

Photo courtesy of John Tures

by John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

“Professor Tures,” the coaches asked. “Would you like to ref a scrimmage game?” When I said yes, I learned more in one afternoon than I did in a life of watching officiating from the stands or on television. I recommend giving it a shot, being a referee, or at least listening to a new one’s experience. You may realize that those who call the game really don’t hate your kid, or team.

1) Be Prepared.


As a Boy Scout, and a Boy Scout Leader later in life, that old motto really fits. You can’t simply react to the athletic events. I showed up early, and watched some of the pre-game practices. I had to decide well before the contest what would be a foul, and what wouldn’t. When would there be a penalty, and when wouldn’t there be…you have to think of those things, and see examples, beforehand. It’s too late in the game to make up your mind about those things.

2) Refs ARE Biased, But Not In The Way You Think.

I can confirm, 100%, that as a referee, you are or could be biased, more than you even realize. But unless you’re on the payroll of a team, or someone who owns several jerseys of the same franchise, or your kid is on the field, court, gridiron, or pitch, a referee is not going to favor one team over another.

But the officials will be biased toward whether there is too much contact, or will simply “let them play.” They favor tight strike zones, or broad ones. They feel the tie goes to the runner, or the infielder. It’s nothing personal. The best officials, I feel, are the ones who are consistent. At least the players, and yeah, the fans, know what to expect. One who isn’t biased, and changes his or her mind every time, is justifiably hated by all in attendance.

3) Third Person, Not So Omniscient.

I got to realize something pretty quick in the game: how much you have to pay attention to. With ten players out there, having to watch foot work, the hand checking, what’s happening to the ball, and what’s happening away from it, even a team of officials is going to miss a lot. Recognize that, and make sure you don’t miss the big stuff. Always keep your head moving. And for those cheering at the game, know that the refs are only human, and if they’re like me, probably don’t mind instant reply. The goal should be to get it right.

4) Even-‘Em Up Calls. They’re Real!

I used to wonder if refs who overlooked fouls, or made bad calls, would give the other team an “even-‘em-up” call to try and bring balance to the force. It’s totally true. After making or missing one, you want to show you’re not favoring one team. But that only lasts about three minutes of game time. After that, you’ve probably forgotten who you needed to favor.

5) Please Don’t Kill The Zebras.

When I asked one parent for any advice before I blew my first whistle, she said “Don’t go to the parking lot alone!” Just understand that after reading #1 through #4, you’ll probably understand that referees aren’t out to get you, your family or your team. They’re just trying to make the game they love a fair one. And if you still think refs stink, try and see if you could do it better!

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own, and do not speak for LaGrange College faculty, students, staff or administration. He can be reached at His Twitter account is JohnTures2.