Howell Offers Helping Hand In Sweden

19 February 2010

Many bases must be covered for a basketball game to run smoothly.

One of the people in Europe who makes sure that this happens is Mick Howell.

A former referee, Howell is a FIBA Europe observer and instructor and FIBA Commissioner.

He is at the heart of what takes place before, during and after games.

An Englishman, Howell now resides in Sweden and shares his tremendous experience in basketball with referees.

Here, Howell gives some insight into his background, and the pivotal job he does for European basketball.

Mick, you recently left the United Kingdom for Sweden to work with referees. What is your history in basketball, both as a player and as a referee?

Mick: I first started playing basketball at school and then in the early seventies formed a club in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, called the Jokers Basketball Club. As the name suggests - it was purely social. We then decided to join the local league to get more games but to do that, we had to have two qualified referees of which I said that I would be one and attended the necessary course. This is how I started refereeing and I liked it so much, I eventually did more refereeing than playing.

How did it take off from that point?

Mick: I then worked my way up the qualifications for refereeing and started doing the national league games in 1976. I was then invited to become a FIBA referee in 1984 but 10 days before I left for the clinic in Malta, I broke my ankle. This put me back two years. I went again in 1986 to Pula, in Yugoslavia, and then to Athens, Greece, in 1987, and became a FIBA referee. I refereed all over Europe doing various games. I went to the Youth Olympics in Denmark and refereed the final and in 2001, I went to the World Student Games in Beijing. This was the biggest tournament that I attended and I decided that it was time to stop. I had completed 25 years in the English domestic league. My son was playing cadet level and I wanted to go and see him play. He made the England Cadet B team, but never quite made it to the main team in 2003.

So you then made a change and became a FIBA Commissioner? What did that entail?

Mick: I decided to apply to become a FIBA commissioner and went to Budapest for the clinic and passed. Currently, I am a FIBA Europe observer, instructor and a FIBA commissioner, still travelling all over Europe, probably doing more now than ever before. I was a commissioner in England until they decided not to have them in our leagues and I then became an observer. I was also the assistant supervisor with Will Jones looking after our top group of referees.

Why was the decision made not to have Commissioners in England?

Mick: The reason there are no commissioners in England in both the British and the National Basketball League is one of cost. The clubs voted against having them and I think this is very shortsighted in the development of a referees as it was a good way of helping the referees with some feedback. Now, only if an observer comes and watches the game do they get any.

A lot of basketball fans probably do not understand the role of the commissioner. Could you give a brief description?

Mick: As a commissioner of a game, my job is to make sure that the game is played fairly according to the rules. Outside of the playing, i.e. advertising, playing court, equipment, etc, and also to ensure that the table officials remain neutral and correct and to give feedback to the referees as well.

Now you find yourself in Sweden and live in the beautiful city of Sodertalje. How did you wind up there?

Mick: For my job (in England), I was working in the brewery industry running pubs and lastly a hotel for many years and this was a very demanding business but after the loss of some close friends, I decided to make some big changes in my life. I have a friend in Sweden that I have known for a long time and he wanted me to come and work in the Swedish Basketball Federation trying to help develop the Swedish referees. After a tough decision, I decided to leave my family and head off to Sweden and I arrived at the end of November. I had on previous visits met a girl and moved in with her and immediately started to look at basketball games. I had been going to a tournament called the Scania Cup for the past 15 years, first as a referee and then as an instructor, so I know a lot of the Swedish referees. I started to talk to them straight away after the games and gave them some feedback on their performances. I am doing some commissioning and also some official observing with the future plans for me to work with the federation to head a group of observers collating all the reports and highlighting referees that need to be seen more and help in certain areas. Also, to run some clinics to educate them. At the moment, there is a big gap between the top referees and the group below.

Do you think it's fair to say that games are refereed differently when, , for example,  comparing games in America to the games in Europe?

Mick: I do think that the game is played differently all over the world but I believe that all the federations are trying to improve their referees with the help of observers and instructors with clinics and during tournaments, Sweden being very advanced in this. The referees in the top league can referee a game and when they get home, download the game on the internet and look at it so they can self-evaluate themselves after every game.

Behind the scenes at major tournaments, like EuroBaskets, and something the fans won't know, is that the referees receive a lot of feedback on their performances and also learn ways to improve.

Mick: During major competitions all over the world, we have a system in place for education and feedback for all the referees that are officiating at the various tournaments. This is the instructors. They collect DVDs on the games, look through them and show them to the whole group in a meeting every morning with discussions about situations.

What has the challenge been like to leave your home in England and to move to Sweden?

Mick: The biggest thing that I have had to overcome, apart from missing my children (Mick's son is 21 and his daughter soon to be as well), is the cold. I went to one game and it was minus-20 (Celsius). I also miss my golf, which is my other passion. But as soon as the weather gets better, I will start playing again.

Speaking of your other passion, a golfer may get the putting yips. Does a referee ever lose his confidence? If so, is that the time for the referee to stop and to take up another profession?

Mick: I have not heard of a referee getting the yips like a golfer, but I do know some people that have decided to stop but for many different reasons.


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