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No, I'm Not Blind.

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

It is a total understatement to say I am excited about the Games next year. But if you were to guess as to why, you'd probably be off a little bit. I played volleyball off and on for the last 20 years. I started as an outside hitter, transitioned to a middle hitter, eventually filled the role of a setter with questionable ability, and even served as a coached. However, many factors took me away from the sport. I am back, but in a much different role: referee.

My oldest daughter played volleyball for a couple years, but the catalyst was soccer. She was playing in a game one day when I saw an advertisement soliciting referees for her school district. After looking into it I thought it could be fun and a great way to stay in the game, even after my daughter decided to stop playing volleyball the following year.

Becoming a referee was like stepping into the executive board room of a Fortune 500 company during an operations meeting and learning trade secrets. In a word, it was humbling. And before I knew it I was officiating my first match as the head referee. I have been in many "sink or swim" situations before, and I was up to the challenge.

Before I even blew my whistle on the court for the fist time I met a lot of great referees and got a lot of great advice. The bulk of that centered around one main premise: knowing the rules. A referee must possess a thorough knowledge of the ruleset for the game they officiate; period. That is a given. Every player, coach, and especially spectators EXPECT that an official will know the rules of the game and how to quickly and appropriately apply them during play. Behind knowing the rules is something equally important: confidence.

Confidence is something every official must also possess, but is not as openly talked about. For example: you will readily hear a disgruntled parent/spectator heckle a referee for what is perceived as a bad call. However, it took confidence to blow that whistle in the first place. Confidence to climb up that R1 stand. Confidence in knowing the rules. Confidence in his or her interpretation of the rule at that instant. Confidence when blowing the whistle to stop play. Confidence in every single blow of the whistle. Even confidence when a bad call is made, because sometimes it happens.

But there is something a little more pressing that I wanted to share. It is the value of the coach-player-official-parent relationship and its evolution over the last decade or so.

I have been to my kids' games. I am not much of a yeller/screamer/cheerer kind of guy. So, I tend to notice when certain spectators become unruly and a little too vocal. But now I am noticing from a different perspective, as a referee. Referees get heckled. That is a given, but the last couple of years has seen a rise in referee abuse. That abuse has seen the most increase in high school sports. And the bulk of the offenders are students. Sometimes it even gets physical.

Officials and referees are a very important part of any game. They are unbiased observers that only have the interest of fair play in mind. Two teams can come together having the best opportunity at winning when a referee applies the rules in a uniform and consistent manner creating a level playing field... pun totally intended. Without a referee, games have a pretty consistently high chance of favoring one of the competing teams. Referees add balance.

I was heckled at my very first game as an R1. It was early on in a deciding set of a middle school match. I blew my whistle to stop play on a ball handling call. Ball handling calls, especially in volleyball, are the single most difficult calls to make. Essentially, it is the most prevalent rule that an R1 is responsible for. Ironically enough, it is the rule applied the least on the court. In other words, an R1 has to make a ball handling judgment on EVERY SINGLE CONTACT, but a whistle blown on a ball handling error stops play the least. The aim of an R1 is to apply the rules of ball handing in a uniform and constant way that takes into consideration the experience of the player, the circumstances of the play, the athleticism involved, and contact with the ball.

So next time you go to a game, think about what referee provides; maybe even watch them a little closer. Next time a referee makes a call you don't like or agree with, ask yourself, "did he (or she) apply the rules correctly?" And before you can even answer that YOU have to know the rules. So, first ask yourself, "do I actually know what the rule is?" I have been involved in volleyball for the last 23 years, and there were rules that I didn't even know or how to apply them. Being an official can be pretty stressful. Thank you for supporting youth sports. Thank you for cheering on your team. And next time the buzzer sounds, make your way to the court or field if you can, and thank an official.

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See you on the court,

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