By Joan Powell
The referees’ game management style is noticed by all participants, as well as the spectators. The way the referees conduct themselves in those first minutes after arrival serves as a glimpse into the tone of the match.
All prematch communication with the coaches should be cordial yet business-like. The referees should greet each coach together and introductions should be brief. The first referee should provide information, such as the ground rules, the team’s serve/receive status and answer any questions concisely and courteously. It is important to spend an equal amount of time with each coach to avoid any misperceptions.
The referees establish their credibility early by being approachable. There may be situations in which you are familiar with a team member, but refrain from engaging in any non-match conversation. Never sit at the scorer’s table or on either team bench.
Prematch communication extends to the coin toss. That is not a time to show the coaches and captains how much you know about the rules. Simply state the necessary information — ground rules, jewelry and equipment, special pre-match ceremonies, etc. Early in the season, it may be necessary to explain a new rule, but be brief. Make that meeting as succinct as possible. Once again, the first referee sets the tone for the match in that meeting.
Time management is crucial because there are established protocols that must be adhered to in a timely fashion. A simple reminder to a coach regarding lineup submission is much better than penalizing a team for a delay.
Preventive officiating outweighs a punitive attitude. The warmup period is a good time to check for illegal equipment like unpadded braces, music devices or jewelry. The neoprene bracelets or hair ties on players’ wrists continue to be popular. The best way to handle those situations is to address the player or the player’s coach with, “This is my least favorite rule, but I have to enforce it.” You will be surprised how positively the coach and player will respond. The dividends are much better than with comments like, “That’s illegal, take it off.”
During the match. In order to maintain good court management, the referees ultimately need to make decisive, consistent decisions and use proper signals in order to increase confidence and reduce controversy. After all, the whistle and signals are your means of communication; those non-verbal communication skills are important. Constant communication between partners is vital.
“Centering” is the best means to encourage and maintain contact with one another. After every fault, both referees should lock onto each other with eye contact, unless the first referee needs to gather information from a line judge. Centering allows the second referee to communicate additional information when needed, and it will allow both referees to observe any taunting that may take place through the net. Referees should practice centering until it becomes second nature. Remember there is a difference between eye contact and eye communication.
Sometimes your signals are not enough to explain a call. If verbal communication is necessary, the first referee needs to be professional and use concise answers when conversing with the captains. The second referee uses similar language when addressing the coaches. Coaches should not be allowed to yell across the court to the first referee. A good partner will preempt that behavior by stepping toward the coach to redirect the coach’s attention — it may be necessary to step between the coach and the first referee. Both referees need to be aware of their words and body language. The referee who uses the “talk to the hand” gesture will be perceived as rude. Know and use the language of the rules or simply respond with the facts.
It is inappropriate when a referee simply replies that the call was made because that’s what he or she saw. Coaches have the right to ask questions as long as they do not delay or continually interrupt the flow of the match.
If a coach enters the substitution zone to question a call, the second referee should simply and politely walk the coach out of the area. The referee may have to remind the coach that his or her question can be addressed, but the coach cannot come into the substitution zone. That restrictive boundary also pertains to the scorer’s table. Intervene immediately when a coach approaches the table for information. Requests for the next server, number of timeouts used or substitutions remaining need to be directed through the second referee.
Remember, coaches may stand to coach, but not to officiate. If questions or comments pertain to judgment calls, especially ballhandling, simply respond, “Coach, I will not entertain discussions about judgment.” And then don’t allow any further interruptions from a coach regarding judgment issues.
Never discuss one of the crew’s calls with a coach or captain. No coach has the right to question or talk to any of the other officials. Both referees need to protect their crew. There should be zero tolerance for any participant who questions any line judges or the score table crew.
When dealing with unsporting conduct, some things need to be ignored (an opinion, a coach talking to his/her assistant coach). Some things need to be addressed (judgment calls) and some things need to be sanctioned. When misconduct needs attention but has not risen to the point of needing a card, referees may need to use alternative methods to deal with the behavior. Sometimes a simple “look” will do, other times a discreet headshake or a light whistle will suffice. If a card is necessary, it is displayed like any other call — without any added body language. Once the card is administered and recorded, let it go and move on. And remember, under all rules codes, a yellow card is simply a warning.
One group that cannot be penalized is the crowd. An official should never address any fan, even though sometimes tempted. The rulebook is specific with the way to handle an unruly spectator. It states that the referee suspends the set until the host management resolves the situation.
In the absence of a designated school administrator/supervisor, the head coach from the home team shall serve as the host management. When working USAV club events, the tournament director may need to be involved.
After the match. Each rules code addresses the verification of the final point and what transpires after the match is complete. The referee(s) should immediately leave the court together, unless assigned to work back-to-back matches. Do not engage in any conversation with participants or spectators following a match.
If at all possible, the referees who are assigned to junior high, high school or collegiate matches should meet for a post-match debriefing and share honestly about their performance. Much can be gained by discussing calls and no-calls, as well as game and court management skills.
The good officials understand our mission: Keep volleyball fair and safe by employing sound match control techniques. Those referees know the black and white of the rules, but they also know how to administer the gray areas. And best of all, they know how to communicate with their partner, their entire crew, as well as all participants, without being a controlling referee.
Joan Powell is NCAA national coordinator of volleyball officials, former president of the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials, and a former longtime USAV and NCAA referee.