What I learned as a volleyball line judge

Tonight was my last of four JV/Varsity doubleheaders as a volleyball line judge at the school where I work.  I took on the games to add a few dollars to my family bank account (a very few), but mostly because I wanted to be on the crew with some good officials of a different sport to see what I could learn from the experience that I might be able to take into my basketball games.  Here’s what that was.

First and foremost, I think this experience helped me most of all at staying mentally awake. It’s not that I’m able to take mental naps during basketball games, because I’m not. But there are moments where there is a .000001% chance of anything happening. Take, for instance, a point guard, alone in the backcourt, walking the ball down the floor.  If I am the trail official, very little is going to happen. I may be in a weird situation in that .000001% of the time, if the player suddenly and inexplicably double-dribbles or something. But mostly, I can let my mind wander to the “what’s next” of officiating. Through the years, I’ve learned what that “next” is: where is the defense? what’s the game situation? are the clocks running? where are my partners?

There is no equivalent situation in volleyball. I always had to anticipate what would happen next because there would be a tip (or near-tip) or a spike to one of my lines at literally any moment. In my first match, there was a sudden smash-up by the antenna, and the first response in my brain–swear to God–was “Oh, I had to be watching for that, huh?” (Fortunately, the head referee was able to justly sort it out in spite of my boo-boo).

I learned the importance of confidence and selling calls.  That’s probably the only way that anyone could notice I was an official. My fellow teacher who was the other line judge looked tentative on every call.  I sold every close one, and I never got any complaints from anyone or any concerns from an official. That helped.

I learned how hard it is to officiate a game in which I have a rooting interest. I had four students or former students on the team, and quite honestly, I wanted them to win. I never let it impact a call (the close ones I remember most went against my students), since my only goal for the entire season was to get the calls right.  I feel good that I did that.  But I did catch myself cringing if one of my kids made an unforced error.  I was glad that nobody really was watching me.

I saw some good volleyball officials dealing with coaches and captains expertly. The culture of volleyball is more polite than the culture of basketball, I think because players can’t touch each other. In eight matches, I only recall one real complaint from a coach. That came today, when the visiting coach wanted a lift on a hit that wound up as a winner.  The table-side official wound up smiling and saying “I didn’t have any information to help.”  That did it.  Smiling: maybe I should try it?

Finally, this experience taught me that I do not want to be a volleyball referee. Given that I only watch a match or two every Olympiad, I don’t have an intrinsic sense of what crosses the line to a lift or a double-hit. And I would have serious trouble staying that alert for that long. I like the idea of not using my voice when I officiate: that’s a benefit here. But it’s not my sport, and I can live with that.

Still, I’m glad I did it and I’ll consider doing it again if needed.  It taught me something about officiating when all is said and done.