Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Role of a Referee

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 Tournament
By USAPA Board of Directors

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

What Referees Do…
By USAPA Board of Directors

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 Scorecard
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
The 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 team.

Resolves Issues
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 stands.

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 tournament play.

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.

The 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 court.

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 Referees
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.

The 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 of refereeing.

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 challenge.

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 task.

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.




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