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FREE THROWS - 2-Man Trail Movements


Michael Leavitt Blog I have been working with some new officials that are going through the overwhelmed stage in their early careers. I stress the importance that they learn to do their mechanics the right way and this will avoid the need to break bad habits later. I wish that was the way I had done it. Instead, I am still purging little things I have been doing wrong for years. Let's address one of these in this entry...

As the Trail official in a 2-man crew, what should we be doing during the administration of free throws? Where should we stand. What signals should we be making? How should they be made? And where should I be looking to find the information? 

NASO basketball mechanics illustrated 480I have two great resources for mechanics.  The first is the NFHS Officials Manual. It is produced every two years and is a wealth of information. This should be a newer officials daily read. Further details and information can be found in the must have book "Basketball Officiating - MECHANICS ILLUSTRATED - 2 and 3 Person High School Crews" by Ken Koester. This book is published by Referee Magazine and the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO). I believe this $19.95 book is a must have for all basketball officials.NFHS OM



Let's first look at the NFHS Officials Manual on page 40 to see the responsibilities of the Trail official during the free throws.

FreeThrow Trail

I find this information very helpful to know where to stand and what to do. But what it does not explain is the finer details of what to do. So what is a new official to do? They watch their more senior partners and do what they do, never knowing if it is the right way. And they keep doing it that way until told differently. This usually happens by a Varsity official and/or evaluator at a camp where they learn for the first time they are doing it wrong. Now the bad habit is identified and it can take the rest of their season to try to rid the habit, in favor of getting it right. I was left in that position and experienced the derogatory comments numerous times. Breaking bad habits also distracts from what we really should be doing, which is watching the plays and getting the calls right.

So using the NFHS Officials Manual information alone, I am left with the following questions.

  • 1) What does a "wrist-flick" look like?
  • 2) Which hand should I use to do the wrist flick?
  • 3) Which arm is to be used to start the clock?
  • 4) How do I go about closing down after the release?

Yes, I have developed an extensive library for basketball officiating resources over recent years and I am always looking for exact guidance. I have joined NASO for that exact reason.  The monthly Referee Magazine with the bonus content for members makes the $118 yearly membership fee worth it. There are added insurance benefits, travel discounts, and a 20% discount off their resource library are icing on the cake. The key benefit is the added learning that helps me perfect my game for basketball, softball, and baseball. I gloss over the other sports covered in their magazine, and focus on the sports that I currently officiate.



Take the info learned from the NFHS Officials Manual and add it to what is laid out in the Mechanics Illustrated book...

Free Throws Trail


Do not come into the lane to administer the free throw; the lead administers all free throws.

Pick up the visible 10-count with the arm farthest from the basket. Using your outside arm ensures the wrist flick doesn't distract the shooter and shows the count clearly to bench personnel, etc. When showing a visible count as a trail during a free-throw attempt, the count should be less demonstrative than your normal visible count so as not to distract the shooter and draw unnecessary attention to the official.

On the last free throw, use the "stop the clock" signal with an open hand raised directly above the head immediately after the shooter releases the ball. Use the same arm (furthest from the basket) to ensure the timer clearly sees the signal.

During the flight of the try and with your arm still raised, penetrate slightly toward the endline using a two-step crossover move. The movement ensures good angle on rebounding action. If the shot is good, lower your arm. If the shot is no good and the ball is to remain live, use the "start the clock" signal as soon as the ball is touched by or touches a player.

There is no need to signal a made free throw.


This information still did not describe a wrist-flick, but id did clearly describe which arm and hand to use for the count and the start the clock signal. It also helped to better illustrate how to close down on any rebounding play following a missed try.

Did you pick up on the guidance?

10-COUNT - Use the arm farthest from the basket.

STOP/START THE CLOCK - Also use the same arm farthest from the basket.

CLOSE DOWN - Use the two-step crossover move - See the diagram above

Those three pieces of mechanic advice make this book worth the sales price. Never again will I have to wonder, and if I am ever questioned or critiqued I will have a solid gold reference source. Implement these mechanics into your game as you see appropriate. Your mileage may vary.

Make it a great game! Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah


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