Nine out of ten fans watching basketball games are following the ball. Wherever the ball goes their eyes follow. Ball watching, unfortunately, is a problem for many officials as well.

Usually, basketball officials are fans of the game, but we have to be able to separate the fan and official when we’re officiating.

An official that consistently ball watches, will consistently miss fouls and violations and or call fouls and violations he/she shouldn’t.

A ball watching official has to be aware of his/her responsibilities. Depending on where you are on the floor you’re either primarily on the ball or off. In this article, we’ll take a look at the problems that come from ball watching and go over some solutions as well.

Why Ball Watching is a Problem

Regardless of what position you’re working, you have a primary coverage area (PCA) on the floor that you are responsible for. Your PCA is clearly defined in the manual. It doesn’t matter where the ball is on the court. Your responsibility is to officiate in your primary area first and foremost. 

When the ball is outside your primary, you should allow your partners to worry about the on-ball action. When you follow the ball outside of your primary you’re leaving a certain area of the floor uncovered. This can lead to problems. 

Basketball is a physical game. Off-ball action can be especially physical because players are trying to get open or get better defensive position and not get beat. Players understand that officials don’t always pay as much attention to off-ball activity, so they often try to get away with sneaky illegal tactics.

This is why it’s very important to be on the alert. Everyone pays attention to the ball, and most times, on ball action only involves 2 players (A1 and B1). If all the officials are watching these two players, who’s monitoring the other eight players?

There’s actually more going on away from the ball than on. But we sometimes get caught being a fan and turn our attention to the ball handler.

Fans watch the ball, officials focus on their primary coverage areas. 

Why Do Officials Follow The Ball?

There’s a number of reasons why officials watch the ball.

It’s a bad habit

A lack of focus (Too relaxed)

Unsure about their primary coverage area

Don’t trust their partner(s)

Let’s be clear, every official has bad habits. If ball watching is one of your’s, be committed to getting better. I’ll go over some ‘how to’s’ later in the article.

Before each game, mentally commit to being focused for the game.

Even the best officials will have a lapse in focus from time to time. It’s important to recognize it as soon as possible and get back on track. It only takes a second of slipping (looking outside your primary) to have a disaster. The sneaky grab turns into a quick elbow, then the brawl.

All because you took your eyes off your PCA to watch the ball handler for a split second.

Players often watch us and wait for us to look away to do their ‘dirt.’ The lane area is where a lot of the illegal, sneaky off-ball contact will occur.

If you’re unsure about primary coverage areas, review them in your manual for each position. It’s just that simple. Study it and master it, it doesn’t take much to study a diagram.

Are you ball watching because there’s no one in your area? Ok, find the next closest matchup in your secondary coverage area to officiate.

Watching the ball or being a fan of the game can be hypnotizing. Remember, we are officiating and not watching the game per se.’

Trust is a must, whether you’re working with a veteran or a newbie. You should never assume they can’t handle the game. Blowing your whistle on plays in their area consistently helps no one. Let them handle their business and make mistakes as we all do. 

How to Stop Ball Watching

Are other officials telling you you’re ball watching?

Watch film of your games to see for yourself. It’s very important to see yourself work, so you can see your tendencies for yourself.

Pausing the recording when the ball is outside your Primary coverage area helps a lot.

Do this throughout the video to see exactly what you’re looking at.  Once you confirm you are ball watching, you are more likely to focus on your PCA in the future. You’ll remember seeing yourself ball watching on film and quickly make the adjustment. 

Trying to break any bad habit takes focus and commitment. Depending on how long you’ve been ball watching will probably determine how much of a challenge it will be for you.

As always, you can ask other officials to help you by watching you work. You want to ask them too specifically watch your head and eyes when the ball is outside of your primary. Maybe they can even take pictures of you as well.


Two eyes on the ball are more than enough. If the ball is outside your primary area, let your partner(s) have it. I promise you, you’ll get many chances to officiate on the ball during the game. 😉 The good officials love catching off-ball illegal contact. This is what separates you from the average.

Getting these fouls early will almost guarantee a smoother game for you.

As stated earlier, everyone in the gym is watching the ball. The average fan can make a ruling on fouls and violations on the ball. You’re better than that. Don’t get caught up being a fan during your games, or you’ll end up with a player on the floor with blood dripping from his/her face and you have no clue how.

It’s a terrible feeling to have a player on the floor in front of you and you have no idea how it happened. Or a fight breaking out in your area and you didn’t see what started it all.

Be conscious before every game to focus on your primary and leave the ball handler alone unless he/she is in your area.

Tell yourself you won’t call a common foul outside your primary unless it’s the last 4 minutes of a close game. Master that first. Mastering the basics should be your primary concern. The great ones have mastered the basics and are consistent in these areas. That’s what makes them great. 

It’s not rocket science. We officiate basketball, keep it simple.

Know your responsibilities and commit to focussing on what you’re supposed to be doing for the full game. Discuss the importance of this concept with your partner(s) in the pre-game so you all are on the same page.

This is part of preventative officiating. Nip ball watching in the bud and it will save you a lot of headaches in your games. Guaranteed!

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