Pati Rolf worked as the first referee for the 2019 NCAA men’s volleyball championship final, becoming the first female to do so.

Staying focused as a referee or line judge is of the utmost importance. Whether it’s a tight match or not, first point or last, long rally or quick kill, you need to be on your “A” game. When rallies and matches get long, it can sometimes be difficult to keep your concentration at the level it needs to be. Use these simple tips to help keep your mind and body ready for each point of the match.

Before the Rally

As a referee, keep focused on your routine. As an R1, the routine might be to scan the benches, scan the players on the court, scan the work crew and then one final scan to check if the setters are in the front row or back row. Then begin the point. When you start to go away from your routine, the mind starts to wander and then you are playing “catch up” the entire play. And that’s when you start to miss things.

As a line judge, make sure you’re holding your flag in a ready position without gripping too tightly. Center yourself behind your corner, take a few deep breaths and relax your shoulders. Reset your mind, clearing it from whatever happened in the previous point, good or bad, and locate your server.

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During the Rally

As a referee, staying focused during long rallies can be tough. The longer the play goes, the more quick decisions you may have to make. You may also find talking to yourself helps keep the focus during the point, and that’s OK. You might be talking in your head or saying things out loud when using headsets. It will keep you focused just by saying touch, confirming a good back-row attack or counting out the contacts on a crazy play. Even reminding yourself if the setter is in the front row or back row during the play will keep you focused and keep you from making the wrong decision during an exciting rally or close set. The last thing you want to do is worry if you made the right call (or no call). Even if something didn’t go right earlier in the set, you cannot think about it during the rally — keep your mind focused on the present.

As a line judge, you should be in your ready stance before the serve is contacted — flag parallel to the floor, knees maybe slightly bent, depending on whether the serve is on your side or the other, and eyes either on the line or the server. Staying in that ready stance is important as the point continues because you may need to move quickly to see a pancake or tip, to get a better view of the antenna or to get out of the way of a player. You may also need to get your body in a better position to see the hitter and blocker’s hands, depending on where the hit is coming from.

It is easier to move and see when your body is ready, and much harder to quickly get in position when you’re standing straight up. During long rallies, it might also be beneficial to talk through things in your head as you see them. Cue words like out, back, up, hands, touch or tip might help you keep a mini dialogue of what’s going on and help you stay focused through those long points.

After the Rally

As a referee, take a breath, relax your shoulders and begin your routine. Even though the point is over, you still need to maintain your focus. Don’t forget to scan the benches and check for subs or coaches that may need your attention. Shift your weight, relax your knees and reset to get ready for the next point.

As a line judge, it’s important to take a moment after each point to relax your mind and body. You just spent the previous moments with your body and mind working their hardest. While you don’t want to make any huge movements, especially with your flag, it’s OK to move around a little while you relax and reset. Take a small step back from your corner, re-adjust your feet, relax your neck, shoulders and arms, and breathe. It’s important not to look too stiff between points and a simple relaxation routine will help with that.

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Between Sets

As a referee, stay hydrated. If you are the R1, it’s OK to have one of your partners get you some water during a timeout or between sets. Don’t try to work your way through it. Take the time between sets and during timeouts to re-energize.

As a line judge, this is truly your time to recharge. Sit, put your flag down, get a drink and refocus. Even though your time is short, a couple minutes can really do the trick. Take a moment to reflect on the previous set. Is there anything you need to discuss with your partner? Is there a technique you need to tweak or a situation that you want to review? There’s not much time, so this is only for quick topics. Further details can be discussed in the postgame debrief.

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Staying focused during each rally should be a high priority for each official. No matter who is playing, where you’re officiating or the level of play, you need to be able to maintain your concentration. Whether you create an established routine between each point, or you just remind yourself to breathe, use these tips to help you achieve success.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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