Many of you have read the following in this months USAPA newsletter. Typically this information is not available to non-members during the current month. The subject of referees being a requirement of a Sanctioned Tournament has recently become a subject of debate, I asked and was given permission to post the following from this months newsletter
All of us know how to keep score when we play a game, referees are much more than scorekeepers; they are an integral part of a great tournament.
Huntsman World Senior Games Pickleball
By USAPA Board of
The Tournament Directors for pickleball at the 2014
Huntsman World Senior Games (Oct. 13-17) have decided not to guarantee a referee
for every match played. This policy is in direct contradiction to USAPA
sanctioning rules. Although they did appeal to USAPA to change the rule, the
USAPA Board feels strongly about the importance of referees in tournament play
and after much discussion has declined to approve their request
By USAPA Board of
At the purely recreational level, the game of
pickleball is self-policing; on-court decisions generally are based on honesty
and sportsmanship and usually are amicably resolved. Most of the time
self-policing works fine because pickleball players are good sports and, other
than bragging rights, there is little riding on the outcome of most recreational
games. No one has paid a hefty entry and event fee, traveled many miles to get
there or absorbed the cost of meals and lodging that often go with participating
in a major tournament. In purely recreational play the financial and emotional
stakes aren't so high.
Tournament play is different. Generally,
competitors aren't as willing to give in when a debatable situation occurs. If
you do concede and give the call (point, side out, second server, etc.) to the
opposition, it could mean the difference between advancing in the undefeated
bracket, dropping into the loser’s bracket, or even being out and taking the
early bus home. In tournament play on-court decisions matter. So let’s take a
look at the value a referee adds to tournament competition.
The referee keeps score by recording every point real-time
as it occurs, but that’s just the beginning. Every major event in the game is
recorded real-time – side outs, server changes, first server/second server, time
outs, etc. In recreational play these decisions are left to memory; usually the
player who thinks he/she has the best memory, or the team least willing to
concede, ends up with the call in its favor. In tournament play the referee
records all of these significant items on the scorecard; they are there in black
and white for the players to see if a question arises. That’s a large part of
the referee’s job.
Keeps the Match Moving
referee is responsible for keeping each game and the match moving. A recent
trend has been that when the match is called the referee is given the scorecard
and a stopwatch that has already begun a 10-minute countdown. The referee is to
begin the match by the time the countdown reaches zero, or before if players are
ready. The same stopwatch is used to time each timeout and the period allotted
between games. The referee also calls the score in accordance with the rules and
then enforces the 10-second rule; this prevents delay of game by either
The referee answers player
questions and resolves differences in player memories. In the vast majority of
cases this is done simply by consulting the information previously recorded on
the scorecard. The referee does not make line calls unless asked for a ruling by
a player. Although making line calls is not a top priority in the referee’s
responsibilities, if the referee clearly, without a shadow of a doubt sees the
ball as in or out, when asked he/she will rule on the call, and that ruling
Enforces the Rules
The referee interprets
and enforces the IFP/USAPA rules. Aside from recording the score and significant
events on the scorecard at the end of each rally, the referee’s primary
responsibility is to watch for service-line and Non-Volley Zone (NVZ)
violations. This is the most significant difference between recreational and
In recreational play the players are responsible for
calling their own and their opponents’ NVZ violations; however, players usually
are not aware that they foot fault, so it is rare that they call it on
themselves. It is very difficult to focus on the game and at the same time watch
yourself and your opponents for NVZ faults. The referee’s attention is on the
NVZ whenever the players are near the net. The referee is the only one who is in
a position to enforce and apply the rule fairly and consistently.
referee is expected to know the rules; however, if a question arises the referee
can consult the tournament director for clarification. The referee also
maintains order on the court. Unsportsmanlike conduct, repeated rule violations,
purposely delaying the game, coaching during play, etc., are just a few
situations in which the referee can issue a technical warning, followed by a
technical foul, and if necessary, with the concurrence of the tournament
director, eventual forfeiture of the match. The referee has total control of the
The referee also performs many other less-noticed officiating
duties. After the match is announced the referee gathers the summoned players in
an out-of-the-way location to prevent them from disrupting active matches by
crossing other courts one or two at a time. The referee begins the match by
making sure all players are introduced and know any rules specific to that
tournament. The referee initiates the process of choosing side/serve/or receive
so every team has an equal chance of getting its first choice. When a safety
issue occurs, such as a stray ball on the court, the referee stops play and
determines the appropriate action to be taken.
Having a referee benefits
players at all skill levels, especially so in lower level matches where players
often have little or no tournament experience. For them, playing a refereed
match is a learning experience. Through interaction with the referee they become
aware of the finer points of rules that in recreational play they may not have
known existed. Having a referee overseeing the match improves the players’
awareness and knowledge of the game.
Availability of Qualified
Some tournament players feel that, “No referee is better
than an unqualified referee.” At the minimum a referee should be proficient at
calling the score correctly and accurately marking on the scorecard the
significant events of each game as they occur. These include: every point
scored, first server/second server, timeouts and the score at side out.
Occasionally even the best referee will accidently call the score incorrectly,
but the scorecard should always reflect the accurate score.
referee’s next responsibility is watching for service line and NVZ violations.
On the serve, once contact is made with the ball, the referee’s attention should
immediately switch to the flight of the ball to ensure that it is not short.
Once the serve is returned and any player nears the NVZ the referee should focus
on watching for NVZ violations and not follow the flight of the ball. A referee
cannot watch the game like a spectator and at the same time do an adequate job
In many tournaments, especially smaller ones, a small
number of players and a few non-players do the majority of the refereeing.
Depending on the person’s training and refereeing experience, his or her
refereeing performance can range from excellent to marginal. Resolving this
issue is a work in progress.
Referee training and eventually a
certification process is and has been an ongoing priority at USAPA. In the
interim, referees and potential referees can visit Referee Guide for the official USAPA Referee Guide;
there is a lot of good information there. Learning the IFP/USAPA rules is
something that a referee can do outside of an organized training clinic. The
rules can be studied online at the USAPA website (http://www.usapa.org/ifp-official-rules/)
and a referee’s mastery can be tested online as well at Referee Quiz. Developing an official referee training course
and certification program is within reach, but the task of effectively
disseminating and administering such a program is even more of a
Although not an easy task, planning and upfront efforts to
recruit and schedule referees have proven successful at a number of large
tournaments. At USAPA Nationals V last November the referee coordinators
contacted in advance those players who when registering had expressed
willingness to volunteer and scheduled them for two-hour refereeing shifts. The
most difficult time to provide qualified referees is the first-round matches
each morning, especially on the day mixed doubles is played. But advance
planning and scheduling reduce that problem. On an even more positive note,
there is a definite trend toward more top-level players recognizing the need to
be part of the solution and beginning to step up to the refereeing
Not every referee consistently performs at the level we and our
tournament playing members would like; however, the problem is being addressed.
Expediting the development and dissemination of programs that will increase the
pool of qualified referees is a top priority at USAPA.
We are fortunate to have Tom and Jeanne Gearhart coordinator and administer our referee certification program, which also welcomes the participation of our neighboring communities.