Photo Credit: Bob Messina

There is nothing like throwing a perfect game as a pitcher or calling the perfect game as a referee. Just like in baseball and other sports, calling the perfect volleyball game is a lofty goal and nearly impossible to reach.

In your postgame discussion with your co-official, have you ever asked or been asked, “Were you feeling it today?” Everything was clicking, the communication between you and your partner was ESP-like. When you had a question, your partner was there with the answer. Just a wink or a nod and you knew that your fellow referee was in perfect sync with you and the match. When there was a questionable call, you knew exactly what your partner had and were able to explain it to the captain or coach without conferring with your partner.

Treat every match as a critical match. It can be the first match of the year, senior night, the rivalry night in the middle of the season or the match against former teammates from the spring that creates the need for extra focus. When we walk into the gym to referee, we need to assume that the match that we have the honor of working is critical.

As we prepare for that match, we must clear our minds of the events of the day and leave our worries about tomorrow in the pockets of the clothes that we hang in the dressing room. As you change into your referee attire, you begin to focus on feeling the game. You change from your everyday life to the mindset of a facilitator for one of the greatest sports in the world.

Share Expectations with Your Partner

Begin by sharing your expectations of the match with your partner. As you walk onto the court, continue the conversation with your partner about the ground rules and any information that you have about the play of the teams. If there are confusing alignments for service receive patterns, try to unscramble them by sharing cues and tips. Start feeling the game with team-building and collaboration.

You also can unlock the mystery of the needs of the coaches by listening to them during the meet and greet, and whenever they have a question during the match. Don’t assume you know the question; actively listen and then respond using the language of the rules. Give the coach your undivided attention and a respectful answer that projects the confidence that you have in your partners. Every match is a new opportunity for building new or existing confidence that the coaches have in you and your partner.

If you “feel the game,” then you begin to get a sense of the impact players that are on the court feel for the match. The great server, the incredible defensive specialist/libero and the go-to hitters are all key elements for the continuous chess game that the coaches will play. Be prepared for the service pattern to shift at the last second to get the better passer in position to counter the great server or give the go-to hitter the opportunity for a one-on-one with the opposing block, while having the confidence to know that the reception pattern is legal.

As the pace quickens and the intensity of the match grows, keep in mind that you are there to allow the players to exhibit the talents and skills that their coaches have cultivated. We are not there to make a call, we are there to call a fault when it occurs. When the match has developed its natural flow, there are typically fewer infractions to call, so be sure that you don’t act on a feeling of expectation to make a call.

Feeling the game includes holding the participants to a certain behavior standard as well. Referees, players and coaches must respect the game, and act accordingly. As a referee, you are feeling the game effectively when you can draw the line appropriately to allow a reasonable expression of emotion by the participants without crossing the behavioral line.

If the flow of the match allows the players to play and the coaches to coach, then we can truly be an accent to the match that is truly a non-factor. We meet the primary needs of the game by keeping everyone safe, allowing for fairness of play and continuing to be an integral part of the sport by being the equal partner of the three-legged stool of coaches, player and referees.

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