Recently, in Dorchester Ontario, a suburb of London Ontario, Dave Hall and Ken Twilley two of our better area players, conducted a referee clinic for 10 of us, doing something that both of them do very well, giving back to the game. Both are local area ambassadors for the sport and take that seriously, and in recent years area players have benefited from their enthusiasm and knowledge.
I was unsure why I signed up to take a referee clinic. Dale Carnegie wrote a well known book in 1936 "How to Win Friends and Influence People." I don't really imagine that refereeing pickleball games will win friends, and on the scale of things that are really important in life, it is not one of the main areas to influence people. But, a referee does help tournaments get played, and I like to play tournaments, and so helping them to be played seems like a good thing.
But, Dave and Ken guided us in the different perspective of refereeing from playing, and among many things showed us how referees are to be unobtrusive in a game. I failed that unobtrusive bit, but am encouraged to try again. Perhaps I will remember that I am not the entertainment section of the program and do what referees do best.
Of course, what is it that referees do best?
Well, there's the rub. Referees do not watch the game per se. Referees are like that kid you hated in school who could always find a dark cloud in every silver lining; you know, the negative kid. Referees are the muck rakers of the game. Aside from telling you the score, which you probably already knew, and who is to serve, which you probably already knew, they will only tell you when something that happens is your/a fault.
Think of it as being married.
Referees watch for specific things. If a referee gets a stiff neck, it means that he or she is watching the ball, which as players we know is really important. But no, referees are to watch lines, the back line during serves, and the no volley zone lines during the rest of the rally. They might see other things and when called on can render judgement, but they are primarily looking for and adjudicating faults during the serve, and at the net during the rally, and any other rules violations during the game. Oh, and they have to keep the score.
I stated that referees may be called on to render judgement. This usually occurs on a ball that one side calls out and the other side thought was in. Often the referee, if focused on the non volley zone will miss line calls, which are primarily the purview of the players anyway, and so it is more likely for the referee to say he/she did not see it to change it from what was called.
But, what can happen, and happened in our practice games the other day is that often opponents do not go to the referee to challenge a line call by the opposition. During one game, I was sure that a ball called by the team going for it was in, and that team called it out. I felt like the kid in school, because I wanted to raise my hand and say: "Ask me. Ask me." But, I didn't and they didn't and so the call stood.
A referee is issued 4 pieces of equipment, a clipboard, a pencil, a score sheet, and a clothes pin marked with a 1 on one side and a 2 on the other. Pickleball referees do not wear zebra stripes like hockey or football referees, and no chest protectors or face masks like baseball umpires.
Uses for the score-sheet, clipboard and pencil are obvious. The clothespin is not used, as one might conjecture to indicate the referee's view of a game played badly, by placing it over his/her nose, but is for keeping track of the first server and the second server as the game progresses.
Referees need only limited math skills. They must be able to count to 21 sometimes, 15 with some regularity in tournaments where there is a losers bracket, and 11 most of the time, though games tied at 10, 14, or 20 that must be won by 2 points can increase the need for more advanced math.
Referees also have a limited vocabulary, at least during games. They call out the score, and the server, like 5 3 2, where the serving team is leading with 5 points to their opposition's 3 points, and the second server of the team in the lead is up to serve. So, they do have to remember three things all at once, but have their score-sheet and clothespin to help them keep it straight. 3 things at once for seniors can be a bit of a challenge, but since we know that aging is not for the faint of heart, focusing long enough to remember and speak three things is not that big a deal.
Aside from that referees have four phrases to remember at the beginning or conclusion of most rallies "side out", "first server", "second server", and "point". The other word he/she can utter as required is "fault".
When a team has lost its serve, the referee calls out "side out". This means that it is time for the other team to serve the ball.
"First server" or "second server" is the call to advise the serving team which of their two players is supposed to serve next. It doesn't tell them which one of them is to serve. It is up to them to figure out where they are supposed to be on the court, though the referee, by using his clipboard, score-sheet and clothespin knows, but he's not telling, unless the serving team makes a mistake; at which time he/she will call out "fault".
"Point" is what the referee says when a rally produces a point for the serving team.
Jeff Shank at The Villages in Florida has two videos on refereeing that are good examples of what it takes to referee a match, and I have linked them below.
The first video is an oral presentation by Jeff on the things to do as a referee to keep score and to do the job.
The second video was a partial sample game and then a section of some of the faults that are to be looked for and called.
Here is another video produced at Palm Creek in Casa Grande Arizona, that demonstrates the skills of a referee, including the use of the sophisticated equipment that one has available. In this video you can see the clipboard and the notations and changes as they happen during play.
One of the things to remember in refereeing is that a referee is like the net post, only possibly better looking. That means that the referee is a Permanent Object for purposes of the game being played. So, should a ball in play strike the referee, the referee can say "Ouch" if it hurts, stronger words are not appropriate, but must remember to call "fault", since the player who has hit the referee has either lost the point or serve for his/her team.
Where I was nervous about refereeing prior to our clinic, I realize that it is not that difficult, and might even be fun.