Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Aegism in Volleyball Officiating

I talk about ageism more than many other things.  I think it's mainly because growing up, I wanted nothing more than to be treated like a competent human.  And then suddenly I turned 18 and magically adults finally started treating me like one.

It particularly frustrating at my job right now.  I am in between shows for the theatre (minus a small fundraiser I'm working).  It means that I've actually had a chance to ref volleyball this fall, which I love.  The sport is elegant and I miss it (though not the horrible politics that come with it).  In my refing association, I'm the only one under 30 and the association is probably 15% women.  I'm not a huge fan of either statistic.

It would be easier to overlook it though, if everyone didn't behave so stereotypically.  All the elderly men are patronizing and ready to put a hand on your shoulder and tell you not to worry about things too much, etc, etc.  And whatever, it's horrible sexism that I don't put up with when they do it to me, but what's more frustrating is their patronization of the athletes we work with.

In volleyball there is a head ref (generally called the R1 or up ref since they're up on the ref stand) and a secondary ref (generally called an R2 or down ref since they're on the ground).  There are line judges for two corners of the court who each have two lines of the court to keep track of.  There's a scorekeeper who keeps track of that complicated piece of paperwork.  There's a libero track who only tracks the libero (a defensive only player).  And finally, there's the person who runs the scoreboard and clock.  At each match, the home team provides a score keeper, scoreboard person, libero tracker, and two line judges (if they didn't pay for officials to do lines for them instead).

Frequently, girls from the JV and C teams ref the Varsity (Varsity girls ref the other two teams, etc).  And there is no end to the condescension almost every ref treats those girls with.  They say things like: "Well they're not really paying attention anyways" or "They're only kids" or "They're not real refs."

Now, here's the thing most of our referees never played volleyball.  Most are basketball or football or softball refs who wanted more work and said: volleyball, that's easy and doesn't require running.  Well volleyball has an extremely complex set of rules and watching new refs work in invariably painful for at least their first year.  In contrast many (probably 50%+) of the girls who are working matches have been playing since they 11 or 12 and so frequently will have quite a few years of experience with the game in comparison to new refs.

There are some leagues that require schools to provide adult support officials (score keepers, line judges, etc).  This is even worse than new officials.  At least the new officials have a couple weeks of training before they start refing.  I would say about half the parents have at least watched their daughters play for a few years, but the other half of the parents generally haven't seen more than a match or two in their life.

Now tell me, who do you want as an official?  A girl who knows the game or a adult who doesn't?  I would pick the girl every single time.  In fact, I will almost always pick the girl who's only played on C team, because even if she doesn't know the game that well, at least she's playing it 5+ days a week for two months.

Most of the refs, including ones who have been working for years, can't scorekeep properly.  The score sheet is (probably overly) complex and it's important to get right.  Once again, I would prefer a girl who's been scorekeeping for years to an untrained parent or even official.

I don't understand why these girls aren't treated competently!  I'm no more competent at score keeping or line judging than I was ten years ago.  There was nothing more frustrating than being treated poorly when I was scorekeeping or line judging in high school.  By my senior year, I'd played for eight years.  I started R2ing club matches (every team is expected to pitch in and help ref on the rounds they aren't playing) when I was 11.  I started R1ing when I was 15.  By my senior year, I had as much experience as probably at least half the officials and I was unusual but not a complete anomaly.  In this case, age simply doesn't matter.  Knowledge of the game and skill level, however, do!

The other day I was working a junior high match so the oldest girls were no older than 13.  I was given two line judges who'd done lines once before and so were nervous.  I walked them through my expectations and the rules, as I do with all line judges, and then we started the match.  At first they were hesitant, but after they'd made a few calls and I'd nodded at them encouragingly, they got into it.  They actually even understood some of the technicalities some officials don't understand.  They would come up to me at time outs and apologize for missing some technicality and I'd explain what it was.  Both girls even caught foot faults (where the server steps on the back line before contacting the ball).  My R2 was surprised that they'd caught them, but I wasn't.

If you expect people to be competent, if they actually possess the pertinent skills, they will meet your expectations because they don't want to let you down.  This isn't necessarily always true, but I've found it works with most everyone: dogs, kids, actors, coworkers.  The fact that someone is younger doesn't mean they're stupid or even less competent.  It does generally mean they have less experience and practice, but even that's not always true.  I just wish we could treat everyone like capable human-beings until proven otherwise.

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