Three Dead Ball Mechanic Tweaks By Billy Martin

Here are three amazingly simple things you can do (starting today) during a “dead-ball” to make you look better as an official.

While it’s significantly more important to focus on “live ball mechanics” such as primary coverage areas, rotations, and communication — there are a few extremely simple mechanics that can improve your “look” as an official with very little effort.While these simple “mechanical tweaks” might seem trivial to many folks — the attention to detail can be the “image of difference” when being observed live or on video.  So here they are.

Tweak #1:  Holding the Dead Ball

While watching an NBA game a few years back I observed the official holding the ball after a time-out in his fingertips – right about shoulder height with the label of the ball perfectly aligned for the crowd (and photographers) to read.

Holding the ball on your fingertips at shoulder height during a dead ball.

This caught me as being “intentionally”  done versus just an accident.  The referee was waiting for the teams to return to the floor and begin play.  His demeanor and stature while holding the ball in this manner demonstrated confidence, power, and professionalism.


There was attention to detail in every aspect of his game and I quickly adopted this tiny little visual trick.

Instead of holding the ball at your waist (or hip) which is a less powerful position you might consider holding the ball above shoulder height:

Prior to tossing the jump ball to start the game / overtime periods.

During time-outs when spotting the ball.

During lengthy delays prior to inbounding the ball.

I would even recommend putting the label of the ball in it’s proper position for reading. (It’s the icing on the cake)

Tweak #2: Spitting the Whistle Out of Your Mouth

This is an easy one that some folks have extreme difficulty with.   Whenever the ball is dead – the officials should “spit” their whistles out of their mouths.  This is most important for the calling official to drop the whistle after blowing to start their preliminary signal (at the spot of foul or violation) without the encumbrance of a plastic object in their face.

If your partner blows … keep the whistle in for a moment in case it’s needed … but then drop it while you switch to your next on-court position.  Never walk around with the whistle in your mouth.  

In fact you might not even realize you are doing this unless reviewing a game video of yourself.Always think about dropping the whistle when it’s not needed.

Tweak #3: Lock Down in the Reporting Zone

Working with some new officials recently I noticed the huge tendency to “walk & talk” when reporting a foul to the table.  

The remedy is quite simple.If your FEET are moving — your LIPS should be still.

When your FEET stop — your LIPS can start talking.

This simple but effective technique will make you look so much better when reporting fouls, time-outs, etc. to the table.  Plus, it’s the approved mechanic that many folks seem to forget.

The same thing goes for your foul calling sequence at the spot of the foul.

Come to a COMPLETE STOP – after your whistle and “fist-up” signal to stop the clock.

Drop the whistle (remember Tweak #2)

Feet are still (at the spot of foul) and now you can verbalize the color and number with your preliminary signal.

Lips stop — and now you can move to your next spot, which is the reporting zone for table communication.

Rinse and repeat.  Same thing over again.  

Feet are still and you can start talking to the scorer from the reporting area.One last thing to consider.  

If the actual “scorer” is not giving you eye-to-eye contact while reporting the foul — just STOP and wait for him/her to look up.

Many good score keepers will pre-record the foul to stay ahead of you but it’s important to minimize errors and gain that eye contact directly with the “person on the pencil” before speaking.

.While these tiny tweaks might seem insignificant, when you incorporate them into the total officiating package, professionalism will be raised and create the “image of difference” referee.

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