First things first -- make sure you have read and understand the rule book recognized by your league. Then, before you can step on the floor, you must become aware of any specific adjustments to the rules made by your league. Youth leagues often tailor rules to fit their objectives. There may be specific league rules regarding substitutions or the type of defense that can be played, depending on age, competitive level or other factors.
Knowing how to apply those rules is crucial. Before you can understand the spirit behind the rules you must have an appreciation for them. That doesn't necessarily mean knowing them verbatim. More important is understanding how vital it is to properly apply the rules. Officials earn respect not just form knowing the rules but from understanding how they are applied.
Understand the intent of the rules -- not just the rule. Knowing why a rule is needed will help you enforce it. In some cases, the intent is obvious (such as player safety). In other instances, a rule is intended to ensure that neither team or athlete is placed at an unfair disadvantage.
You must make sure you're completely equipped before your first game. Do you have the correct uniform and whistle? Check with your league to find out what the expectations are. Will they supply your uniform or do you have to purchase one? Find out beforehand where such items are available.
If you work with an officiating partner, it's vital to get together at least 15 minutes before the game and discuss what each of you will be doing. Even if you officiate alone, you should plan to meet before every game with the coaches or league administrators to discuss expectations.
Understand your role before you work a game. You are officiating youth basketball. Call the game fairly and safely but remember, it is a game for the kids, so help them have fun.
Always remember that you're in charge. You are the authority on the court, not the coaches or the parents. Nobody should be able to sway your decisions one way or the other. Trust your knowledge, judgement and eyes. Others will question your calls but they have an interest in the game.
That doesn't mean you should become a tyrant, either. Listen to players, coaches and parents, but make your own decisions. It takes courage to make the right decisions regardless of who wins or loses.
Ensure the fundamental fairness of the game. Nobody else has that responsibility. During a game, it is not who is right, but what is right. In ensuring fairness, you owe it to everyone involved to make sure all your actions and decisions are in the best interest of the players and the game itself. If, under the rules, you can correct bad calls or other problems that might arise, you should do so.
Keep player safety number one. The rules not only empower but also require officials to penalize rough play. Even if a potentially dangerous situation is not specifically covered in the rules, an official is obligated to make whatever correction is necessary to ensure player safety.