Green and blue image of an athlete on the court, zoomed in on the hand and basketball.

March is an exciting time of year for basketball fans — but who doesn’t love a buzzer-beating underdog victory.

The spotlight shines bright during this month, so basketball referees may get extra attention and scrutiny. People often like to good-naturedly complain about referees (believe me, I’ve heard many, many referee jokes).

But I can vouch for the skills and dedication it takes to be a basketball ref, since I’ve been refereeing at various levels for about eight years. And I’ve put many of the skills I’ve learned as a referee to use in my role as a marketing data analyst.

How I became a referee

I started refereeing as a freshman at the University of Iowa when I worked intramural games. I enjoyed it, and it was a fun way to earn extra money. After a few years, I became a supervisor and led referee training. That’s also when I started refereeing junior high and junior varsity games in and around the Iowa City community.

During my senior year of college, I moved up to refereeing varsity and high school games. Before that, being a ref was mostly a side gig to make money. But the move to a higher level of competition intensified my interest in refereeing. For the past several years, I’ve refereed high school varsity, Division III college, and junior college basketball games.

Being a ref at the college level requires more than just enjoying the game. College refs must attend an annual camp where we take a test, watch game film, discuss rules, and are assessed by conference representatives. You get hired for future jobs based on how you perform at camp.

Basketball season is also long. From Thanksgiving through early February this year, I worked 50 nights of games. It’s important to really enjoy something when you spend that much time doing it.

Basketball player jumping and following through on shot in red uniform with Ben Miles reffing on the sidelines.

Using referee skills at work

So what have I learned as a referee that has helped me at work? Quite a bit, actually. Referees must be cool under pressure and have the ability to manage difficult situations.

Here are some of the top referee skills that I rely on at work:

  • Communication: For the most part, coaches just want to be heard. I have to be willing to genuinely listen to their side of the story and then explain my point of view based on what I saw on the court. A lot of patience is critical to being a good referee. I may not be the most experienced referee on the court — just like I may not be the most experienced associate at our agency — but I’m able to learn from different groups and sources and then put that information together in a way that makes sense.

  • Planning: Before every game, I sit down with the other referees to hash out a game plan. We talk everything out — how we think the game will go, what problems we think we might encounter. This preparation really paid off at a recent college game where I was paired with two referees I had never worked with before. It was an intense, tight game. But thanks to our pregame prep and strategy, we felt like we had it under control the whole time. The conference assigner was at that game to evaluate us. He told us afterward that we did a perfect job with the game we were given. Whether it’s on the court or at the office, having a strong pregame plan sets you up for success.

  • Teamwork: One of my favorite things about being a referee is returning to schools where I’ve worked games before. There is usually a welcoming vibe from the coaches and players, and you form a camaraderie with other referees that you work with often. Even when I work with different referees, I like talking to new people and learning from them. A big part of refereeing is creating relationships with coaches and other officials, so they feel comfortable with your judgment. I enjoy that same spirit of teamwork at 2RM, where I learn from other teams and associates and take on new challenges.

  • Conflict management: I’ve dealt with my share of irate coaches and parents, but luckily things at work don’t usually get as heated as they do on the court! Refs can take a lot of flak during games, so it’s important to be able to talk to players and coaches in a way that keeps them calm while they air their frustrations. Learning to manage difficult situations helps keep them from becoming worse.

Skills on and off the court

In my years as a basketball referee, I’ve built skills that help me on and off the hardwood. As my experience grows, so do my confidence and enjoyment of the work and relationships. And that’s a lesson I can take from the court to my coworkers and our agency clients.

From left to right: Ben Miles in referee uniform with two other referees.

To read more about the importance of building strong relationships, check out this 2RM blog with advice for building client relationships.