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Dealing With Attitudes: Managing Difficult Situations as a Referee




The role of a volleyball referee is a demanding one. He or she must not only enforce the rules but also deftly handle challenging situations that may arise during matches. And rest assured, they will arise. Something as simple as a score check or lineup check can devolve into a majestic display of frustration by the coach, players, and spectators. From managing coaches and players to dealing with spectators, navigating these tense and emotional moments requires a blend of professionalism, composure, and effective communication. Self assessment time: How do you manage conflict? Really dive deep; revisit some matches that you can remember that were particularly challenging for you. What happened? What when right? What went wrong? What would you have done different, if anything?


Let's take a more in-depth look at the world of managing attitudes and big emotions on the court and some techniques you can employ to help you navigate these scenarios with grace and authority.


Situation 1: Coach Yelling at a Referee

We have all been there. A coach starts yelling at you from across the court in distain and disagreement. You hear it coming your way. You ignore it at first. Which is the appropriate action. Most of the time they are just letting off steam as a knee jerk reaction.


What is the coach saying? Is it passing bluster that is all bark and no bite? Is the coach just expressing disagreement with your call and moving on? Most vocalizations from upset coaches are benign in nature. So, as a calm and confident referee, you ignore it, focus on the match, and continue on. Maybe you hear it, tuck it in your back pocket, and revisit it later when you reflect on the match. But in either case... you move on without missing a beat.



The exception to this is when the moment doesn't pass or occurs with more and more frequency during the match. A referee must know when enough is enough. Knowing this takes time, practice, and experience that is refined over time. You probably wont get it right the first time. And you definitely wont get it right EVERY time.


First and foremost, remain composed. Listen attentively. The only match going on is the one right in front of you. So give the coach a little latitude in expression. You never know, the coach might talk themselves out of whatever they reacted to. When it comes time to respond, do so with confidence. But be careful of arrogance. Be assertive but not a dictator. When you respond, be sure to reflect the coach's concerns or problem back to them. A lot of problems can be handled when the complainant feels heard and understood. Avoid escalating the situation by responding in kind. Instead, calmly explain your decision, citing the relevant rule if necessary and the language of the rules book. Words or phrases like "simultaneously" and "plane of the net"should be used instead of "at the same time" or "above the net." Use active listening techniques to show attentiveness to their concerns and a willingness to address them within the framework of the game's rules.


Situation 2: Coach Yelling at Players

If this should happen to the point where it becomes a distraction to the match then it is should be addressed. Take another inventory of the situation. What is the coach saying? Is he or she belittling, berating, insulting, or hazing the player? Or is the coach coaching in a highly assertive manner? If a situation like this needs to be addressed, approach the situation with empathy and understanding, recognizing that coaches are often deeply passionate about the game. Actively listen to the coach's concerns and acknowledging their emotions. Then, calmly remind them of the importance of respectful communication, highlighting the impact their behavior can have on the players. The goal is playing volleyball. Sometimes even just saying that can get a match going again.



Situation 3: Spectators Yelling at the Officiating Team

Sometimes the officiating team becomes the target of harsh words and excessive heckling from the spectators. A vast majority of the time this situation should be ignored by certified officials. But what happens when that heckling interferes with the match? Line judges and the score table is often the target of some misaligned or confused spectator. This happens more often when the line judges are players (sub-varsity matches). Simply put, spectators are nothing more than a mere distraction. Always listen to the players, sometimes listen to the coach, and never listen to the spectators... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Maintain focus on the game when dealing with spectators who are yelling at the officiating team. Do not let the distractions affect your judgment. If the behavior is disruptive to the match (sometimes students can get a little carried away), seek assistance from the host school or match director to handle the the situation. Keep calm and avoid engaging in confrontations with spectators.


Situation 4: Tense Disagreement with a Fellow Referee

In the event of a tense disagreement with another referee, it's essential to handle the situation with professionalism and respect. Listen carefully to the other referee's perspective and avoid interrupting or dismissing their concerns. Use open-ended questions to clarify misunderstandings and seek common ground. If necessary, consult the rules book together to resolve the issue based on the game's regulations. If possible, obtain closure after the match so as not to delay the match too long.


De-escalation Techniques

To de-escalate emotional situations, remain calm and composed, speaking in a neutral tone. Use active listening to demonstrate understanding and empathy. Avoid making accusatory or inflammatory statements. Offer solutions or compromises to address the underlying issues. Seek assistance from event officials or security if the situation escalates beyond your control.

De-escalating emotional situations requires patience, empathy, and effective communication:

  • Remain calm and composed, speaking in a neutral tone.

  • Use active listening to demonstrate understanding and empathy.

  • Avoid making accusatory or inflammatory statements.

  • Offer solutions or compromises to address the underlying issues.

  • Only address the immediate issue.

  • Seek assistance from host school or match director if the situation escalates.

Sanction cards and when to use them

Sometimes actions escalate to warrant the use of your sanction cards. Don't be afraid to use them in the context of the rules. No coach wants to be responsible for the team losing points because of the way he or she is acting. When a referee issues a yellow or red car it is not because the referee wants to. It is because is because it is earned in accordance with the sanction protocols of the rules book. However rare, a referee must know how to implement them.


Self-Care and Reflection

After a particularly tense match, it may necessary to practice some self-care and reflection to decompress. Engage in activities that help you unwind and relax, such as meditation, exercise, or spending time with loved ones. Reflect on the match, identifying areas where you can improve and learning from the experience to become a better referee.


By employing these strategies, one can effectively manage difficult situations as a volleyball referee and ensure a fair and enjoyable experience for all participants. Remember, the role is not just to enforce the rules but also to maintain the integrity and spirit of the game.


What do you think? Let me know how you handle tense situations or if you have a story to tell. What do you do to unwind or decompress?


See you on the court!

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