Volleyball – Mind Your Business

This Is Your Brain on Officiating

By Gloria Cox

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a match feeling like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, singing, “If I Only Had a Brain?” Hopefully not, but have you ever wondered if you have the correct brain for officiating?

Do you find it easy to make a quick decision based on a minimum amount of information or do you need time to gather all of the details, process and ponder, and then render a decision? Does your brain retain information better when it is received visually or do you need to hear the facts? Do you dwell on mistakes and rethink your decisions or do you accept that, even with your best effort, you will make mistakes and move forward? The good news is that we can help our brain improve in the areas that are important for officiating.

When training to become an official, we read the rulebook, go to clinics, watch matches, discuss volleyball, etc. I discovered long ago that I need to write down information in order to remember it better. It is not sufficient for me to hear the instructor at a training session or even see the information on a screen, even though I know that I am primarily a visual learner, but the act of writing it down seems to imbed the information into my brain. I have a friend who says that most of the things he has learned over the years have been from discussions, where he can review and analyze situations with other officials. Another friend watches matches, studies the calls of the referees, watches their methods and that helps her decipher what she has read. We all have brains that can benefit from a variety of learning methods, but knowing what works best for your brain can help you optimize that process. 

Do you have difficulty clearing your mind of the day’s events and focusing at the beginning of a match? Experiments have been conducted where people had greatly improved results if they began thinking about an activity before actually performing it. Watching the warmup and talking about the upcoming match, rather than your post-match dinner plans, can be more beneficial than we might realize. Think of it as priming your brain for the match. Of course, it goes without saying that preconceived ideas about the outcome of the match can prove to be detrimental to the process. 

Do you have difficulty falling asleep at night because your mind will not let you stop thinking of the day’s events? It is important for an official to be able to let the previous point go in order to completely focus on the upcoming point. People who tend to be perfectionists may have the most difficulty with that, but a referee needs to have full brain power for the current point without sharing some of that power with past points.

Officials need to learn to look forward during a match with the understanding that, despite best efforts, all decisions may not be perfect, but nothing can be achieved by looking back during the match. 

Do you study a menu at a restaurant as if a test will be given later? Or do you look at it, decide fairly quickly what you want and wait for the waiter to return to take your order? Probably the most difficult aspect of officiating is gathering information quickly and making a snap decision. Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestselling book, Blink, says, “Snap judgments and rapid cognition take place behind a locked door.” In other words, we do not always understand the process of seeing a situation, recognizing a fault and reacting appropriately, but officials do it all the time. Gladwell says further, “It’s one thing to acknowledge the enormous power of snap judgments … but quite another to place our trust in something so seemingly mysterious.” We have all been challenged about a decision and questioned ourselves about what we saw, but our whistle “just went off” because we recognized a fault and acted accordingly.

Since we have filled our brain with training and knowledge, we need to trust our brain to help us make the right decisions and not question that process. When an entirely new situation arises, your brain will automatically draw on the experiences of past matches and apply that knowledge to the current situation.

A young referee, who was complimented after a match on a job well done, commented that he would feel much better about each match when he had “more matches under his belt,” so that he would not be surprised when a new situation arose. He was wise beyond his years. 

To answer the question posed at the beginning of this article, we all have the correct brain for officiating, but we need to:

1. Discover our own best method of getting information into our brains.

2. Prepare our brains before the match by discarding thoughts of the day and focusing on volleyball.

3. Train our brains to make one snap decision after another without dwelling on past decisions.

4. Train ourselves to trust our brains to make the correct decisions even though we may not always understand the process.

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