Getting Your Referee Program on the Right Path

During 11 years experience being a referee advisor and seven years of primary teaching experience, I have learnt a number of things around the education of referees. In this article, I will share with you the key things that have been implemented to transform Hawthorn’s referee program from what it was in June 2014 to Victoria’s Referee Program of the Year.

Written by Andrew Cavell


The initial observations I made as I arrived in June 2014 set out a number of significant challenges that within 2 years have all been overcome. These challenges include:

  • A lack of any structured training, coaching or promotion system
  • No minimum age for referees
  • Untrained supervisors who were actively refereeing while supervising
  • Only 20% of active referees were registered with the Victorian Basketball Referees Association (V.B.R.A)

The following are the key changes that were made at Hawthorn within 2 years, and are the specific changes I would prioritise if I was to work with a new association.



Referee Advisors can be hard to find, attempting to find someone who has a spare 20 hours per week they can put into their role alongside their current job (normally a full time job not within the basketball community). My greatest asset that was developed at Waverley (2013 Referee Program of the Year) and at Hawthorn (2015 Referee Program of the Year), is the ability to create teams that can work independently of my involvement. These are the teams that have been developed successfully at Hawthorn and Waverley:

Development Committee (DEVCom)

Responsible for the development and improvement of performance of referees with guidance from the advisor:

  • Qualified and unqualified referee coaches and educators (named Referee Development Officers or RDO’s)
  • Meet monthly to look at referee promotions, schools, referees in need of support and a monthly focus for development
  • One RDO assigned to each shift per fortnight for at least two evaluations and can report back to the advisor about different referee’s development

Referee Branch

Voted in by the referees to represent referees with the association and they work to improve the happiness and retention of officials:

  • Develop policies and procedures around expectations such as uniform, attendance, performance and referee discipline
  • Implement a registration and WWC management process for referees
  • Develops events and initiatives to improve referee happiness including social events, attending BigV matches, referee monthly or annual awards.
  • Meet on a monthly basis with many members having unique roles around selling stock, registrations, finances and social events.


Supervisors work as the delivery staff for every match-day:

  • Each multi-court venue has off-court supervisors (where possible) while single court venues have active supervisors refereeing games as well
  • Trained on a seasonal basis, regardless of the level of previous experience, after applying for a position and agreeing to a position description as set out by HBA
  • Mid-season review has been implemented this season to support supervisor development
  • Supervisors are responsible for venue management, referee support, management of spectators/parents and other game-day challenges

Elite Referees

Consists of Junior Panel and Senior Panel referees:

  • 8 x junior panel referees 2016 (zero in 2015)
    • 4 x first year local Hawthorn A Grade referees
    • 2 x previous Junior Panel referee returning to support
    • 2 x Ringwood Branch A Grade referees sourced
  • 2 x first year panel referees awarded medal games at the recent Junior Classic
  • Meet twice per season (one mid-season and one end of season) to review their current experiences


One person completes the rosters for each shift throughout the week, this person works for five hours per week directly with myself so we can work towards appropriate mentor, referee and supervisor pairings to appropriate matches.

IMPROVING BEGINNER REFEREE TRAINING13327642_10153535266436296_1600055759582784655_n


For those who have worked with me, I like structure, as I believe, structure yields predictable results. Over many years I have trialled many different approaches to the beginner referee school and feel, with every school, we have improved our ability to train and retain our referees. The key things, I believe, that should be in every association are the following (all of which have been introduced at Hawthorn over the last 2 years):

Group Interview

  • A session to meet anyone who would like to be referee which gives you the opportunity to filter out individuals who are not suited to refereeing. Those not suited take a long time and many mentor payments and generally, even if they pass, do not stay in refereeing longer than 6 months.
  • Introducing a minimum age of at least 14 years of age. The older a participant is, the more skills and resilience they have. There are always exceptions to this rule, but each association has the choice to choose a 12 year old, or two years later the same child at 14 years old. Which would be easier for you to train and retain?

Mentor Training

  • A mentor is appointed to each trainee for the duration of their training (where possible). Pairings can be deliberate after meeting them at the Group Interview. For example, the weakest mentor with the strongest trainee and strongest mentor with the weakest trainee normally yields the best results across the board
  • Any referee who is appointed as a mentor paired with a trainee must be trained as a mentor. This occurs each season and every referee is invited to give some people the opportunity to step up and put their hand up for higher responsibility

Green Shirt Program

  • This Basketball Australia initiative, paired with a zero tolerance policy, is a great way for your community to identify those learning and ensure they have appropriate expectations
  • Trainees are usually very keen to get out of their green shirt and into their stripes and this can support motivation to keep on learning and improving

Weekly Expectations / Term Long Training

  • Trainees have building blocks to their development that are very predictable. Each week the expectations rise in line with learning new things each week in the theory sessions:
    • Week 1: Call out of bounds, complete all signals to the scorebench
    • Week 2: Call any violations observed
    • Week 3: Call some fouls observed
    • Week 4: Call more fouls and charge/block
    • Week 5 – 10: Improve on the above areas until they are completely independent of their mentor
  • Slow down to speed up. With the right training, referees take control of their own performance and development, and in the long run this means they can manage themselves more independently. This will greatly improve your retention.




There are a number of other development programs that are running to keep referees looking towards their next promotion and create an environment of development and achievement in your association:

Ongoing Development

  • RDO’s and supervisors are aware of C Grade, B Grade and A Grade competencies. Any C Grade referee is regularly reminded to work towards the B Grade skills, such as using their voice in matches, in particular, with younger children’s games.

B Grade School

  • This operates three times per year (February, May and December)
  • Any referee who could be promoted is invited and recommended to attend, even if they are not skilled enough yet
  • Operates low grade men’s matches even though most participants have not refereed men’s matches before
  • Each school has between 8 – 16 participants

A Grade School

  • This operates twice per year (March and October)
  • Referees are shortlisted by all supervisors. Shortlists are finalised by the RDO’s and the DevCom. Invitations then sent out.
  • Operates in top grade men’s matches
  • There is a maximum of 8 participants per school

There are a number of different things you can introduce into your referee program to improve your referee training and retention. If you are facing some challenges, then at least trial some of the initiatives above and see if they make a big difference to your association.

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