Better Dialogue Between Officials -- Adding Some Honesty to Our Post Match Discussions


by Joel Reinford

             One of the things I enjoy about officiating is the people I meet and the friendships I build with them.  During my officiating career I have had opportunities to meet and work with a wide variety of officials  from the international level to the rookies.  At every level, the better officials are those working to improve and learn. 

             I am convinced that one crucial part of the learning process is open dialogue between officials.  That dialogue takes place at a variety of  places and times.  One of the most obvious times.  One of the most obvious times for conversation is with your partner immediately after matches.  However we want to make friends and we fear political pitfalls so it is often hard for us to be honest with each other.

             Here are a few scenarios:

             You have been looking forward to this match since you received the assignment.  Two good teams are playing each other on “rowdy fan night.”  You are the R1 and the R2 is a less experienced official but one who has been working hard to improve.  The match turns ugly with a lot of strange plays and you never get in the groove.  The coaches are restless, the fans hate you and you sense that your partner agrees with them although she is supporting your calls outwardly.  You both head toward the dressing rooms.

             Another night, another volleyball match.  This one is easy; the home team wins in three straight games.  As the R2, you thought your partner was sleep walking through the match.  A number of ball handling errors were ignored, signals were sloppy and communications between the two of you was nearly non-existent.  You know your partner very well but he is a national referee and higher on the totem pole than you are.  You both head towards the dressing rooms.

             Yet another night.   This time you are working with an R1 who is working with an R1 who is working his way up through the officiating ranks.  Tonight’s match will be a highlight for him.  The match is a tough one and you sense he is fighting for control of himself and the match at various times.  Several incorrect calls are made during the match but in the end, the teams decide the outcome by their play.  You both head toward the dressing rooms.

             In each of these examples, feedback between the officials is needed but the chances are good it will never happen.  In the first two examples, the R2 will be reluctant to speak directly to the R1 for fear of political and/or personal consequences.  In the last example the R2 will worry about being seen as arrogant or damaging the R1’s confidence if he points out the mistakes.  The R1 will not want to admit to walking on the edge or my merely want to enjoy surviving the match.  In all three cases, if the “right” team won, serious discussions and evaluation between officials becomes even less likely.

             I have been involved in all of the above scenarios.  In fact, I have been on both ends of them at different points in my career.  On the way up, sometimes I had the guts to be honest with a higher-ranked official, other times I kept quiet.  Now that I am a nationally rated official; I rarely get negative criticism from my partners, not necessarily because I didn’t deserve it.  I am not sure that I handle it as graciously as I did earlier in my career, either.  Ironically, many of us are better at listening to comments from coaches and players (and sorting out the validity of that feedback) than we are from fellow officials.  This shows up in rating sessions when officials have a hard time accepting criticism.

             This situation becomes lubricious when you compare it to playing volleyball.  If your doubles partner in a doubles game is setting great and serving horribly, you would compliment her on her sets and tell her to serve better.  It really would not matter if you won or lost and it would not matter if your partner was Karch or clueless.  You would certainly treat a beginner differently than a volleygod but you would talk about what both of you could improve for the next game.

             Likewise, we need to talk honestly with our officiating partners.  The best time for this might be in the dressing rooms after the match or it might be down the street over a cold beverage.  I would like you to join me in making a commitment to improve your dialogue with your partners by doing these things.

             1)  Sit down with your partner for a discussion after every match.  The length of the discussion will vary, but an evaluation should always take place.

             2)  Resolve to be honest and tactful with every partner no matter what his or her rating, experience level or political connections.  Compliment strong points and mention any problem areas you observed.

             3)  Resolve to listen to every partner no matter what his or her rating, experience level or political connections.  Accept compliments at face value and avoid reacting defensively to criticism.

             4)  Review each other’s mechanics, techniques and communication.  This includes signals, verbal and non-verbal communication and procedures.

             5)  Evaluate your judgment skills.  Were enough of your decisions correct in regards to ball handling and net fouls?

             6)  Discuss every unusual or controversial situation that happened during that match.  Could the situation have been handled more smoothly?

             7)  If you could do the match over again, what would you have done better?  What do you wish your partner had done better?  Share both of these things with your partner.