Clearly, line judges have become a critical part of the officiating crew. As the game gets faster for both boys and girls, line judges must continue to hone their skills to provide the best decisions possible. Just like the referees, line judges must learn from every match, so check your ego at the door. Let’s focus on a couple of basic elements to help put you in the best position to make the right call.
As a line judge, you should take a base position at the corner where a sideline and end line intersect, about a foot away from the court. When a ball lands close to a line, you should lower your stance to get closer to the line, as it will position your eyes directly down the line. It also helps establish your muscle memory to automatically get your eyes to the line before the ball.
The other added benefit to this position is that it will help you to recognize if you must move to get a clear sight line for a particular play. We have all seen situations where a player attempts a pancake save on a ball near the sideline. From a good base position, you will hopefully quickly recognize the need to adjust your position up the line and slightly out from the court to get the proper view. When you see the ball down clearly, make the call. If you are not 100 percent sure, simply move back to base position. If the first referee determines that the ball contacted the floor and makes that call, that’s OK. The referee’s perspective is different.
This is the part where you need to avoid letting your ego get in the way of preparing for the next play. You can’t start dwelling on “did I make a mistake?” You will have plenty of time later to assess your decisions, discuss them in the postgame conversation and learn from these experiences.
Make Your Call
Remember, regarding making in/out decisions, you are only responsible for your end line and sideline. One of the most confusing situations for fans and coaches is when the line judges are showing two different signals, which can occur appropriately on a ball that lands in one of the corners away from both line judges. In this case, each line judge must call his or her respective line, so please don’t ever mirror your partner just to be consistent. A ball might land in on your sideline, but out on the end line that the other line judge is responsible for. It is critical that the first referee gathers all the information to make the final decision. Remember, the ball only needs to be out on one line to be judged out.
If you are new to line judging, it’s important to be confident in your calls. Most first referees will tell you to be bold with your calls; it helps increase the confidence of the coaches and players. Process what the call is in your mind, then make your call distinctly and assertively.
It is important to have a consistent process for watching for foot faults on the serve. One of the recent changes in line judge technique eliminated the responsibility of calling foot faults on the server on the team on the opposite court, even when he or she is in contact with the floor outside the sideline hash mark extended. That responsibility now lies solely with the first referee. You may have a pre-match conference where you can ask the first referee if you can use a discreet signal if the server is outside the sideline hash mark upon contact, but most first referees prefer to make that call without help. Foot faults on the team on your side are still your responsibility.
My technique is to look at the first referee until he or she extends one arm to prepare to authorize service. Then my eyes go directly to the end line to watch for a potential foot fault. Just like making an in/out decision, if your eyes are stationary, your call will likely be more accurate. If your eyes are moving with the server’s action, your focus may be off.
Maintain Your Composure
Just as when you are a first or second referee, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the match. It’s important to control your emotions by keeping your breathing consistent. Stay calm and have fun.
Paul Wilk, Aurora, Ill., worked as a line judge for the 2019 IHSA Boys’ State Finals. He is a member of PAVO and has been a referee for 10 years.
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