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Interview with Zachary Watson

My name is Zach Watson and I am currently a program assistant for Competitive Sports at the University of Florida. I am the supervisor of basketball officials, league coordinator of sand volleyball, event coordinator for the 2-person golf scramble, and the sport club liaison to the Wakeboard and Tennis clubs. I began officiating in Fall 2009 for intramurals and have been working ever since. This past season was my second doing high school basketball and I officiated several district tournament games this season.

The most important trait for a new official to have is confidence on the court. I firmly believe that a loud, confident official can sell any call, and players will believe a confident official if you project that on the floor. Most of the time it takes a while to develop this confidence, but if you have this trait to start, you will rise to the top very fast.

If a student wanted to officiate for our intramural program, they would just need to attend the rules clinic at the beginning of each semester. During this clinic, you are taught the basic rules that each sport has and you are required to take an online test after. Some positions are very hard to come by, generally there are 115 scorekeeper applicants and only 25 spots available, while others are generally easy to obtain. All of the softball applicants that took the quiz were hired as umpires. If a student did not want to go through the intramural route, the other option would be to jump directly into high school basketball. This route does not give you the training and connections that intramurals does, however, and I would not recommend it.

My favorite position on the court is absolutely the C. The C has more court coverage than anyone else, so they can really make an impact on the game. If a partner misses something, the C is always there to help out. A veteran official once told me “A strong C means a strong crew” and I firmly believe that. Plus, it looks really fantastic to have a great foul call at c on your side of the basket.

Technical fouls are only to be used to make a game better. There is no set amount of times I will call a tech per season, it really depends on the players actions. There are certain actions that are automatic technical fouls, such as any loud demonstration against an official, but if a player is subtly complaining, a warning needs to be given first. A good rule of thumb is that if the players on Court 4 know that a player on Court 1 is upset with an official, that player should probably be given a technical.

Zach Watson, supervisor of basketball officials discusses second half adjustments with official crew. Photo by Chris Lee. Zach Watson with crew

The level of play does not necessarily change the amount of technicals, but the situation does. In intramurals, we let players get away with a ton more than high school players get away with, but in high school, coaches are given the most leeway of all. If a player has any loud reaction to a call in high school, he should receive a technical foul, but in intramurals we listen to players a little more, because they don’t have coaches to make the argument for them. Also, a coach’s job is on the line in high school with every call you make, so we allow them to be a little upset, but anything over the top needs to be dealt with.

The most difficult part of officiating is trying to manage games. Judgment comes with experience, and mechanics can be shored up in any camp or classroom training session. It is very difficult to prepare for unruly coaches and players. You can listen to all the stories you want, but nothing prepares you for being in the thick of things. The only way to get better is to ref more and more games, and even then, you need the right kind of personality to effectively deal with tough situations.

I feel that I have a very good court presence on the floor. The best way to establish this presence is to just be loud and show confidence at all times. Players will recognize this and immediately believe any call you make if you sell it hard enough. New officials can imitate this by just using their voice at all times, yelling colors on out of bounds plays, emphatically telling everyone you are shooting two after a foul, and telling players to knock it off if they start acting up. New officials can’t be afraid to do these things and they could learn some of those by watching me work.

Mechanics are the essence of what we do. If you see an official with sloppy mechanics, you will never believe his call. Think about what you do if you see an official raise his arms to call a block, but change it to a charge last minute. You freak out, not because the call wasn’t right, but because the official looks indecisive. Every time your mechanics are sloppy, you look indecisive, and people do not believe you.

Block/charge plays are by far the hardest to make as officials. First, the official must identify that a collision is coming before the contact, the he must establish whether the defender is legal or not. If the defense is legal, he must determine whether the offense goes to and through the defense. If the defense is not legal, the official must determine if the contact was enough to alter the offensive player in any way. This is a ton to look for, so officials miss these calls more than any other. The key to getting these plays right is to identify the secondary defender early and recognize the contact is coming. If you do this, you will get the majority of these right.