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Do I a Detect Double: Digging Deeper into the Double Contact Rule...Change...

Updated: Mar 15

We all saw it coming. It has been talked about, debated, discussed, and dissected for a long time now. The dreaded double contact rule. So let's take a look at some aspects of this rule. I will speak from both sides of the net, but you decide: is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Have you ever watched international play and found yourself yelling at the TV becuase you think a double contact should have been called, but it wasn't? The gurgling around the club arena has been going on for some time, but this year has seen a sharp uptick in people talking about it. This is mostly the rumblings from people around the tournaments, coaches, players, Facebook, and other nefarious mediums.


USA Volleyball (USAV) is going to change the double contact rule for the second team contact, aiming to provide more leniency in its application. Supposedly, this adjustment comes after extensive discussions and analysis of the rule's impact on the game. And we have ALL seen that impact. No referee WANTS to whistle a double contact on a championship match loss in a white-knuckle, bare-fisted brawl of a game. That could very well mean that the match was decided by the referee and not the skill and determination of the players.

For the longest time, the double contact rule for the second and third team contact was strictly enforced, often leading to controversial calls and disrupting the flow of the game.

But this is mostly relegated to our rather sheltered American viewpoint. Meaning, pound for pound Players and coaches frequently expressed frustration with the rule by yelling at referees and arguing against it. This also left a lot of room to critique the individual referees applying the rule in an inconsistent manner. Some refs call it loose; other tight. In tournament play, teams become more focused on which referee they have than on playing the ball for fear of minor ball handling faults being penalized, too many calls, or none at all.

With the new adjustment, it seems USAV aims to strike a balance between maintaining the integrity of the game and reducing the frequency of questionable calls. Under the revised rule, referees will be encouraged to consider the context of the play and the intent of the player more-so than every before when determining whether a double contact has occurred. Was the ball over controlled/under controlled? Did the ball come to rest? Was there a great feat of athleticism involved in obtaining the contact?

While the intention behind the change is to provide more leniency and improve the flow of the game, I have heard and read the gripes and comments that some argue that it may have unintended consequences. These critics of the rule change argue that it could undermine the integrity of the game by allowing more leniency on the second team contact, leading to more subjective calls and inconsistency in officiating. Kind of like "widening the gap" of calling a fault. Others have said "whats the point of having a specialized setter? Now everyone can be a setter." The concern is that the adjustment could lead to a decline in skill development, as players may not be held to the same standard of technical proficiency across the board. Even though as a referee we all know that we judge each contact witht he ball on its own merit regardless of the player making that contact.

However, supporters of the rule change believe that it will lead to a more natural and fluid gameplay, allowing players more freedom to make plays without the fear of being penalized for minor infractions. The idea seems to be aimed at letting the players relax more on the court during play. This, in turn, will result in better application of player skill and ability. I have heard coaches, players, and parents alike welcome the adjustment, and praising USAV for taking steps to "improve" the game.

As with any rule change, there may be an adjustment period as players, coaches, officials, and even parents and spectators adapt to this new inevitable interpretation and application. It will be crucial for us referees to monitor its impact on the game and make adjustments as necessary to maintain fair and consistent officiating. That key word being consistent.

But let's break it down into something that is a little more poignant, practical, and common sensical. USAV's decision to adjust the double contact rule for the second team contact is a step towards finding the right balance between maintaining the integrity of the game and allowing for more natural gameplay. Think of it this way:

What happens when a player mishandles a set? Well, one of four main things happen:

  1. a broken attack resulting in a down ball on the attacking side (most likely into the net)

  2. a broken attack resulting in an out ball on the defending side

  3. a broken attack resulting in an out ball on the attacking side

  4. a broken attack resulting in a free ball for the defending side

I sense a theme here...

Here is my no frills point of view on this whole concept. I love volleyball. I often share in my pre-match conference

USAV is moving to allowing a double contact on the second team contact. I believe the reason is when you shank a set you don't get a successful attack. The idea behind this transition to to allow the athletes to play more volleyball and have the match be decided more on the skill of the players and less on the judgement of the referee. When I blow my whistle, ask yourself did I WANT to stop play or did I HAVE to stop play...

How does it apply to school ball? Let me say it this way: as goes FIVB, so goes NCAA, so goes USAV, and so goes NFHS... So, if watching for that double contact is something you are concerned about, give yourself a break. Let them play volleyball. Are you counting boards on an overlap looking for a rotation or position fault? Why waste more brain power laser-focusing on a set? Watch the contact, ensure it doesn't contact one hand......................then the other........... and let play continue.

What do you think about the pending rule change/application?

  • I support it and plan to apply it myself.

  • I support it but won't change the way I call faults.

  • I don't support it but I will apply it.

  • I don't support it and will not change how I call faults.

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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