To blow or not to blow, is that the real question?

Referees make decisions.  Blowing, or not blowing, our whistle is “what” we do to communicate our decisions on plays.  As mentioned in the last post, understanding “why” we make decisions is relevant for analyzing in the film room to improve our decision-making process for the next time.  However, understanding “how” we make decisions is tricky and involves a fair amount of complexity.  Gaining this understanding can really help us on the floor when we are actually officiating.  

“How” do we make decisions? 

Before we can begin to understand that question, we must first choose a systematic framework to reference.  In life you may not be able to employ one system ALL the time, but in a confined time period (e.g. basketball game), having awareness of a process as it is happening will at the very least help a referee maintain concentration, capture focus and be present when making decisions.

One system that is used in many strategic decision-making processes is the OODA Loop, and it helps bring awareness to how we can strategically make decisions for better results during games.  OODA was developed by John Boyd and his initial idea was that the key to victory is to create the situation where one can make appropriate decisions more quickly than his/her opponents.   Whereas referees are to work as a team and our victory is not over an opponent (other than ourselves), the OODA process still has merit for our work on the floor.   

OODA provides a conceptual model for where a referee should direct his/her energy and attention.  One of OODA’s underlying principles is that all situations are uncertain and one must adjust his/her perspective to the world as it is instead of directing it to his/her perception of the world as it should be.  Using the OODA Loop has been proven to be effective in speeding up the time a person requires to react to what others are doing (e.g. the game in real-time).

The following is my adaptation of the concept and how Referees can use it on the floor:

O – Observe:                                     
Referees need to take in as much “current” information as is available.  Work the mechanics system to see as much of the actual game as possible.  Focus on your primary, but have an awareness of the overall game situation, the 10 players and your two partners, the offense/defense the teams are running, the clocks, etc. – the more you can take in, the more accurate your perception and understanding of reality will be.

O – Orient
Here Referees interpret the information taken in.  It is the stage in the loop that leads to the most problems in decision-making as it is where the observed data is experienced through the Referee.

A Referee interprets what’s observed through his/her eyes, experiences, analysis, perceptions and even his/her own traditions.  All of a Referee’s personal experiences offer the guidance he/she will use to make decisions.  Referees must constantly “re-orient” and revise their interpretation as the game is dynamic.  The more flexible a Referee is with regards to allowing the data available to influence their response, as opposed to employing a “pre-set” mantra, or philosophy that may no longer apply to the current action, he/she will make a better decision that fits THIS situation and THIS set of circumstances. 

A core tenet of ref-ology is to “ref THIS play.”  That tenet is applicable at the Orient stage in the OODA loop.  Instead of employing mental models rooted in theory based upon absolute truth, when a Referee allows flexibility, the re-framing of situations and employs many mental models to lead him/her to the best decision for THIS situation, he/she wins (i.e. the official makes the best decision – correct call or correct non-call).

D – Decide
Referees make decisions by noticing their environment and continuing to assess until the perception/understanding they have requires them to choose how to communicate with coaches or partners or players or the table and most notably to blow the whistle or not.  Referees make decisions based upon the information they are constantly bringing in during the Observe stage and the interpretation methods used in the Orient stage.  Based upon the feedback each Referee provides him/herself as new information arrives, the Referee may change his/her decision to respond and decide to just continue assessing for a more appropriate response or he/she will decide and take action.

A – Act
: Here’s where a Referee does what he/she decided to do.  Once the decision is made, it may be to blow, blow with cadence or not blow at all.  Following this action, a Referee will cycle back to observing.  One must quickly judge him/herself for the merit of the decision made and get back to observing.

At each stage you are feeding information forward to the next stage and following the action taken, based upon the call or non-call you make, you give yourself feedback and continue observing.  When decision-making is intentional, it’s a very active and mentally aware process.  It can be exhausting and Referees must train to endure a high level of concentration for an entire game – not just when the clocks are running.

Take an active and present role to ORIENT and Re-ORIENT to new information going on in the GAME as it happens. Consider all the stimuli you OBSERVE  as you referee the GAME.  Use as many mental strategies as you can to assist you in making the best decisions, but understand your decisions do come from a process.  Your decisions and how you ACT are relying on your ability to concentrate.   You can be present during that process or sit back and let it happen – it’s up to you and the level of concentration you can achieve.  Work the system (mechanics) we have been given.  When worked habitually, your concentration can remain with the GAME and the decisions we have to make in that individual GAME according to our rules and guidelines. 

The model is much more complex than I represented above.  See below for a few references used in this blog and for further reading about OODA.

Although we know we will not referee a perfect game, employ OODA (or another decision-making technique), continue to ref THIS play this season and be internally motivated to strive for excellence!

ref-ology’s “ref THIS play” site, otherwise known as Interact, will soon be available again for the 2015-2016 season.  Keep checking the website for enrollment details.

Have a great season!  Shelley


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