Line of the game
Today physical education and sport are regarded as one of the life goals, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, as a way to keep healthy, relax, «release» excess energy and adrenaline, feel the «drive», extreme sensations.
Due to the popularity of extreme sports starting from the mid-90s of the last century, many team sports found themselves on the verge of development crisis. Basketball in general and especially European basketball also fell victim of the tendency.
Basketball hit its peak of popularity in 1992 with Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the arrival of the so-called «Dream Team» from the United States and the beginning of regular NBA broadcasts. It was widely publicized, talked, and written about, broadcasted all around. However, gradually by the end of the 90s basketball lost a great deal of its fans and spectators.
It therefore became necessary to introduce some changes in strategy and rules to make the game more fascinating and spectacular. Volleyball, for instance, being in the similar situation, saw its rules changed dramatically with time being limited, and hitting and receiving the ball becoming less restricted. Moreover, beach volleyball was added to the Olympic program in 1996, thus quickly coming out of the crisis.
Basketball also responded to the situation. First of all, some of the rules were changed, some were introduced, which brought more dynamism, speed, and struggle; rules against provocations were developed; the shot clock time was reduced from 30 to 24 seconds, and then to 14 seconds in some cases. Street basketball became an official tournament; veteran basketball and basketball for disabled people were actively developed and it paid off.
Today, what we can observe is a vivid interest to the game: children actively coming to basketball sections, adult amateur leagues developing, street-ball popularity growing rapidly, veteran leagues and leagues for mentally and physically challenged people appearing.
People are eager to play and get pleasure from the game. This, however, requires qualified referees and their professional knowledge and understanding of the game, including a well-timed glance, sign, right decision, succinct reply, advice or tip. It is quite frequent though that after the game review one can say that on the whole there were no mistakes, but there were some inaccuracies.
Watching the game play-by-play, it is not always possible to determine the game situation and see the “LINE” of the game, what it lacks in this or that very moment, when the heat of the struggle is at its highest and a critical decision has to be taken, sometimes an extraordinary decision. Even if everything seems to have been done correctly, there may rest some aggression, unsportsmanlike emotions, anger, and feeling of offence on the part of one or both teams. It is often commissioners who have to deal with it. No doubt, they will approve of referee’s and umpires’ actions. But video analysis of the game, and mostly one’s inner sense, often allow to conclude that something in the game was off, missed, some things were not attended to or maybe the officiating was not consistent, the same situations were evaluated differently and all that resulted in indignation and disagreement of players and coaches.
What is it, “Line of the Game”? “Line of the Game” – is a very subtle feeling, almost on the molecular level, just as when a conductor of a large orchestra hears one false note and all his or her being is «twisted» in discontent. The reaction of the coaches, players, and fans to permanent errors in officiating is the same. How can one seize the “line of the game” in order to maintain control? This question is often left without answer. The main thing is to never stop trying to detect it, constantly search for it, strive to feel it, from game to game try to perceive the connection and interconnection between technique, movements, combinations, and, having found it, try to keep it till the end of the match in your hands.
This is often done at the instinct level, which is the pinnacle of officiating professionalism. Of course, this is the paragon to strive for, but understanding of the “line of the game”, the fair judging, and total game control should be present from the very first moment and throughout the game till its very last second. Every match has its own different “line”. One has to perceive it and hold on to it. That will bring success, luck and respect.
During game analysis one often hears from the commissioner or reviewing commission that a foul was called for a rude action, but not the initial rudeness that caused this foul. A referee lets the first rude contact pass without a call, which leads in response to roughness, even unsportsmanlike conduct and a disqualification or fight. Referees agree on this, accept the remark, review the playing moment trying to identify the origin of a conflict situation and its reason: why it was missed, ignored or tolerated.
So why do we not consider a whole game as a playing episode and perceive it rather like an undivided act, that cannot be broken into separate pieces, fragment from the very beginning till the final whistle? That is the question of quality, officiating mastery and authority, referee’s competence and experience. “Action, not reaction!” is often proclaimed at international seminars. Where does a narrow, episode perception of the game come from? Referees often fall into mistake of looking only at game moments, fragments, instead of having a deeper and wider view, seeing the whole process. This is most probably caused by lack of experience and professional assistance, basketball education, zeal, motivation and self-belief.
One might remember a commissioner say to a referee who has missed a foul play that they were too close and should have taken a step back or sideways in order to have a better view of the episode, see the “whole picture” from a different side or angle. That would allow to see how the game episodes arise and develop, reaching their climax – a good shot, a miss or a foul.
Such an approach should be adapted to the whole game: look from a different angle, move closer to or farther back from the ball, players and coaches. Feel its “breath” from the beginning to the end. If necessary, immediately intervene in the game, help and prompt, but not to interfere. This can be done not only by whistling but by referee’s presence, facial expressions, gestures, a smile, a phrase, or a look. The crucial thing is to detect the initial wrong action. It can be left without attention but you have to be sure that you have seen it and that the game is still under control. “I am here, I see everything, I am on the spot!” Then you will be ready to react in time to the response actions and maintain control of the game.
It is wrong to think that it is a trifle and one should only fixate rude and rough contacts that obviously influence the course of the game and there is no need to pay attention to small, insignificant contacts and fouls. Such small inaccuracies, contacts, errors, and concessions bring about more aggressive behavior and violations, because players and coaches become tired during the game, emotional levels wind up, and the audience also invites provocation. All this is reflected in players’ and coaches’ rough actions done in response.
Good officiating and game control do not necessarily mean a whistle; even a referee’s glance can sometimes give confidence that they are in the right place and are handling the game well, are ready to take measures and will not allow rudeness, etc. This is exactly what is referred to as the “line of the game”, its understanding. A missed conflict, foul, violation, flagrant, unsportsmanlike fouls – these are all consequences of small game episodes that referees chose not to ignore at the beginning, regarding them as insignificant contacts. But high is the price!
Often, it is not possible to resolve the conflict quickly and fairly. That is why, despite what is written in the rules, for referees games start long before their actual time: “bridges have to be built”. Only then one can count on scant words of gratitude regarding the officiating quality, objectiveness and fairness. And those words, being the highest appraisal of work, mastery and competence, are what every referee strives for.