Referee spotlight: first observations
6th December 2019
Becoming a qualified referee by passing a Grade 4 course is only the beginning. But as a new referee, taking to the stand has the potential to be daunting enough, let alone contemplating moving up the progressive grading structure from Grade 4 to Grade 3 Regional, Grade 3 National, Grade 2, Grade 1, National and beyond to International.
Having recently qualified as a Grade 4 referee in January 2019, James Oliver from Leeds RGA Volleyball Club is someone who has first-hand experience of choosing to develop his refereeing and make the transition from Grade 4 to Grade 3 Regional.
“Having refereed in my local league and the occasional student game after qualifying as a Grade 4 referee,” began James,” I had a look at the referee pathway and my big aim was to step towards refereeing in the National Volleyball League (NVL). I had a conversation with Debra Smart (an active member of the Officials Working Group and a senior referee based in Yorkshire) who offered the opportunity for me to be observed for upgrade and talked to me about what the process involved.”
Steps are taken up the grading structure through observations, where senior referees watch a game and provide feedback to the candidate referee on their performance, recommending for upgrade where appropriate and helpfully highlighting areas where they can improve.
“I was a little bit nervous; I’m not going to lie,” James admitted, “I’ve been observed in rugby union and rugby league officiating before, but I think in volleyball, although it’s still nerve wracking, it’s a bit more relaxed as there are more chances and opportunities to be observed.”
Observation not assessment
The first step from Grade 4 to Grade 3 Regional can be the hardest to take as it is a move into the unknown, but it needn’t be feared as James explained: “before my observation, I had a conversation with Debra Smart who made it clear about what I was there to do. She explained that she was going to watch me referee the game and give me feedback - it felt like I was being coached and not assessed and that put me a lot more at ease.”
“In the game, Deb would make notes and observe from different angles. I was trying not to look at her and see her face while the game was going on!” James said with a laugh. “Deb is a good coach too, straight to the point and direct in feedback. She would ask questions afterwards like ‘why did you make this decision?’ She wasn’t asking any questions to catch me out, only to help me learn and develop. As a teacher, coach and official, who is often on the other side of the relationship, it was quite nice to be the student for a change!”
Moving up the ranks
Immediately after the game, James was congratulated and found out he would be upgraded to Grade 3 Regional. “We spoke about Who’s The Ref (the NVL referee appointment system) and I’ve been signposted to NVL Division 2 games already, which is quite a jump up from the level I am used to. But I was supported by Deb who gave me feedback about what I would need to tighten up on to officiate at that level.”
“In volleyball, using the whistle is different from rugby where you have both toots and blasts, which can be used in a celebratory way like when a try is scored but in volleyball this isn’t the case. Now I know from Deb’s feedback,” laughed James,” that I need to do short little blasts on the whistle rather than long ones otherwise the game could go on forever!”
Advice to other Grade 4s
Reflecting on the observation, James continued, “It was a good experience to be coached, advised and observed – learning about things never stops even as you move up the grading structure.
“The best thing to do is don’t see it as an exam, don’t see it as judgment of being a good or bad referee. That negative attitude sometimes comes from people’s experiences of playing where there can be a misconception that referees, at all levels, must know everything – but you only need to know enough for the level of game you are refereeing. No-one is expecting an international level referee at a local league game – so you don’t need to be at this standard!
“The only way you will ever develop as a referee is to take these chances, be resilient and build on the constructive feedback you are given.”
If you are a Grade 4 referee and interested in being observed for upgrade to Grade 3 Regional, you can get in touch with your Regional Referee Coordinator to start arranging your observation. Contact details for Regional Referee Coordinators can be found by selecting your Regional Association here.