Some inexperienced second referees lose focus at times and turn their attention away from the net too soon to watch that great defensive play in the back row. As in other sports, officials have their own roles and responsibilities and volleyball is no different. In basketball, the lead and trail officials each have their own primary role during crucial points in the contest. The lead official may miss the ball going into the hoop, for example, as his or her primary focus is on player contact under the basket. In baseball or softball, one umpire may be watching the runner touch the bases as the other is watching for fan interference while the fielder is playing the ball.
As the second referee, your primary focus during play at the net should be on the net and the players near the net. The first referee’s attention follows the ball and watches that first ball contact, the line judges focus on making needed line calls, and you’ve got the net play.
A good suggestion for new officials as they learn their role as the second referee is to force themselves to count to three during play at the net. Usually, net faults aren’t missed during the phase when players are approaching and preparing to make a play near the net; it is after the ball has left the area, but the players have not.
If you force yourself to stay focused on play at the net by slowing down and using a 1-2-3 count, you may find yourself seeing those net and centerline faults that coaches and opponents are looking for. If there is a fault, you will have a much better chance of making that call appropriately.
The “1-2-3” process helps form good habits for second referees. As you say the number “1” in the sequence, watch the top tape during the attack and blocking action of the involved players. As you say “2” to yourself, watch the body of the net as the players are returning to the floor. And saying “3” reminds you to watch the bottom of the net and centerline as the players are clearing out and transitioning to their next play. Most, if not all, of the time you will not see the first team contact when the ball travels away from the net, but you will learn to be aware of it and quickly pick up the play as you transition to the blocker’s side after that first team contact.
As you increase your ability to focus appropriately, you will see net contacts better. Now, you must decide if the net contact meets the criteria of a net fault. Had the player completed a play on the ball and started to transition to the next play? Was the player’s contact with the net outside the antenna, with no interference with play? Or was the ball driven into the net with such force that it caused the net or antenna to contact the player? In those three scenarios, no net fault has occurred. When coaches point out that a player contacted the net in any of those situations, you might want to compliment them on their keen sense of sight and reaffirm to them they are correct about the net contact, but then explain why that contact does not constitute a fault.
One hint for newer referees is to have a quality response ready before the situation presents itself. It takes practice and a lot of preparation. Know the words of the rulebook. When the coach has a comment, you can acknowledge the comment but don’t necessarily have to respond to it. A guideline to follow is: Comments don’t need answers, but questions do. And if it is not clear whether the coach or captain is making a comment or asking a question, you can ascertain that with a sincere, “What is your question?” If it’s a question, answer it. Keep it short and sweet: “I saw her hit the net, coach, but in my judgment the contact was outside the antenna and did not interfere with play.”
When you have free time away from the court, create scenarios in your head and imagine how you would respond to questions pertaining to a variety of situations. In officiating as well as other facets of life, remember that quality responses come from well-prepared minds.
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