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Another Season is Over

Although it has been several months... congratulations is still in order. We all made it through another season. Did this one fly by faster than others, or is it just me? Well, I suppose this season did go by faster than last season, considering it was only my second season as a referee.

We've all heard it many times before, and we'll continue to hear it for the rest of our careers: be a student of the game. But what about the off-season? It can be argued that this is when you dive deeper and harder than at any other time of the year. Let's face it, are you really concerned about studying the rule book during the season... or at week 4? Probably not. Depending on how active you are on the court, between games, your full-time job (or your retirement activities), kids, household chores, and normal adulting things like paying bills, grocery shopping, and taking care of other responsibilities, I'm sure your desire to study the rule book wanes during the season.

So, what better time to relax, refresh, and realign with the game you love so much than now? Most of us have probably taken some time off while others jumped head first into the USAV season. But if you did take time off, I hope you let your mind unwind. Shake off the tension and stress from this past season and reset. But remember, like almost everything in life, this is a perishable skill. In other words, use it or lose it.

Even knowledge, skills, and abilities that have become second nature can use a good dusting-off before they are employed in front of a live studio audience again. Use this time wisely because, without a doubt, the new season of fast-paced scholastic volleyball will be upon us before you know it. And if you are officiating club ball, then you might need a little more time to settle back into the "NFHS way" of doing it when the time comes. If you are a multi-code official, the PAVO rules comparison has quickly become my go-to reference for reinforcing rule knowledge and technique.

If you are anything like me, you probably have some sort of journal or record book that you use to keep track of your season. If you are in your first season, then there is no better time to start than now. I didn't start until after my first full NFHS and USAV season. I had to do a little research to get past matches and information, but it was totally worth it. I liken it to a dive log. If you are a diver, your dive log contains all the important information about your diving history just like your match journal can have.

Having a journal or record book makes this first part easier: self-reflection.

Self-reflection is a fantastic place to start this little post-season journey. And no better place than by taking a look at this past season. Ask yourself a couple of questions:

  1. How do I feel about my officiating this season overall?

  • This is the time to determine if you are happy with how the season progressed. It is also a good time to reflect on your overall job performance. Don't get too bogged down in the details just yet. We are just warming up. Make a note like, "I really enjoyed this season and felt fulfilled and satisfied with my performance," or "this season was really tough for me to stay motivated overall. It wasn't my best season, but I am determined to improve." This will help get those self-reflection juices warmed up and flowing for more critical reflection.

  1. How many matches was I assigned, and was I able to officiate more or less based on my availability and schedule?

  • Sometimes life gets in the way. But wait… does life get in the way, or is it just LIFE that is life-ing? We all have obligations outside officiating. If you say that officiating is all you do, then you have cracked the code and need to write a book about it. But we all have bills to pay, families to commiserate with, pets to feed, jobs to tend to. The key to this question is simple: did you strike a reasonable balance between officiating and everything else? If so, how can you maintain that balance? If not, then how can you improve on it for next season? This might mean taking more games. It might mean taking fewer games.

  1. What are some areas of strength (both subjective and objective)?

  • This is where you get to pat yourself on the back. What are some things that you did well this season? For some, it may be whistle technique. For others, it may be signals. And for others, it can be rules knowledge. Maybe you had a dust-up with a coach or player that you handled well, or you handled confrontation well during the season overall. Or maybe you have the self awareness to know that YOU were the CAUSE of some of the confrontation... Maybe it is a combination of these… or some other things entirely. Maybe a coach, player, or fellow official complimented you on an aspect of your officiating that you were consistent with all season long. Your strengths noted here are attributes that you want to, at the very least, continue to maintain for the upcoming season. Be realistic and candid with yourself.

  1. What are some areas to improve (both subjective and objective)?

  • If your first thought is, "pshhh, I did great. I don't need to improve anything," then go ahead and hang up your whistle. Doctors, lawyers, pilots, and just about anyone else in a career that requires constant adaptation, learning, and improving call it a "practice" for a reason. I suppose that is why they retire; because they finally got it right. Take off the kid gloves. You should be open and receptive to critique, input and feedback from your peers. Super-duper honesty time. Did a coach, player, or fellow official mention something to you that you can improve? Did you hear the same heckle from the stands from different spectators throughout the entire year? We all know not to listen to the peanut gallery, but maybe...just maybe, there is a little merit to it if you were hearing it all season.

  1. How did I navigate the internal and external challenges I faced this season?

  • Internal challenges can be some of the best ways to shape and improve yourself as an official. When a person has enough self-awareness to recognize, analyze, and confront internal challenges, then the potential for growth is much greater. Think about it: if you can truly recognize and acknowledge an internal challenge, then you are in a better position to overcome that challenge. For instance, maybe you are a little soft-spoken or introverted on the court. Officiating is an inherently extroverted position. You have to stand up in front of a whole bunch of people in the course of your duties. Not only that, you have to interact with coaches, players, other officials, and staff. Recognizing that this is a challenge for you and genuinely acknowledging that it is can help you overcome it. Something as simple as rehearsing a pre-match conference with your chicken and duck can help you be more confident on the court.

  • Likewise, external challenges can also help you grow. Did a player or coach confront you about a legitimate rules violation, but you were not 100% sure of the rule? Did you witness a rules violation and fail to act on it when you should have? Did you relent to an overzealous coach just to maintain peace or the status quo? External challenges can be some of the most difficult to overcome because they routinely affect more than just you; they affect the people around you.

This can be just the beginning of your self-reflection. The ball is in your court. Dig deep and really get that critical thinking hat on and evaluate the season. Start from the beginning and progress to the end. What were some high and low points of the season? What was your favorite part or match? Reflect on your partners and their techniques. What did you like or not like?

Taking time for self-reflection is essential for improvement. And now that you have beaten yourself up, then patted yourself on the back, then beaten yourself up some more, it is time to dust yourself off and prepare for the next season. It surely doesn't have to be done now, but the last thing you want to do is wait until the night before your first match to read up on the rule changes for the new season.

As the next season approaches, start getting your mind right. Get pumped and motivated. Remember why you are here and doing what you are doing. You love it. It is fulfilling. You are part of a great team of people who have the same desires and drive as you do.

Getting back into the swing of something after an extended hiatus can be daunting, but you can start with simple things that will never change, like your uniform. Make sure your uniform is ready. That means clean and complete. Zip it up in a garment bag and keep it wherever you keep it. My complete uniform (including shoes and socks) and equipment always stay together and in the coat closet during the off-season. Then, I take my uniform and equipment out of the closet, and it stays in my car for the remainder of the season. One less thing to worry about. Keep all your equipment in one place. Do you need it for anything besides officiating volleyball? Where else are you going to use that net chain?

Once the tangibles are taken care of, you can focus on the intangibles... knowledge! It is a good practice to read the rule book from cover to cover at least once before the season starts. Refresh on some of those game procedures that you struggled with and reinforce the things that are steadfast and persistent. Keep an eye out for those rules changes and make sure you understand them as well as have the ability to apply and explain them using the language of the rule book if the need should arise.

Finally, practice and refine those physical skills that are necessary for the game. They are your bread and butter! Knock the rust off your signals. Use a mirror. Your pets won't cut it for this one. You need feedback. Honest and real-time feedback. Hand your significant other a rule book and tell him or her to critique your signals. How is your whistle technique? Don't go blowing your whistle around the house like my 3-year-old that thinks it's the greatest toy to ever grace God's green earth, but a couple of sharp blasts will give you the confidence to know that you still got the air in your lungs.

Remember, you have a whole family cohort of referees with varying years of experience. If you need to tap into some advice, guidance, or knowledge, there is always someone around to help you out. Whether you are in your first year or on your fifteenth season, a good referee is always learning.

See you on the court!

Disclaimer: My opinions are my own and my individual idiosyncrasies and nuances should be taken as such. It is up to the individual referee to be exhaustively familiar with the rules and apply them in the spirit of the sport. Comments are always welcome, but if you have a question about a rule interpretation or are confused about a rules application, please seek the guidance of your association rules rep, mentor, rank representative, NFHS section rules committee chair, or other knowledgeable source.

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