A Referee’s Perspective
Earlier this year I was invited to referee at the Scottish Schools Finals, something I had never done in my 25 years of refereeing. As the Finals approached, I began to feel a little apprehensive and several questions ran through my head – what would the standard of play be like, would I be able to adjust so that I wasn’t penalising too many faults, etc. I was first referee for the S4/S5/S6 Boys final between Marr and Mearns Castle – it turned out to be a really good game with a lot of quality volleyball on show for the large, enthusiastic crowd. I went home enthused by what I’d seen and when volunteers were sought for the UK Schools Games in Newcastle, I jumped at the chance to go.
Last Wednesday afternoon I made my way to Newcastle where the evening was taken up with referee briefings, a rules test and a Safeguarding Children workshop, plus a lot of catching up with referees and NTOs from all over the UK. My only appointment on the first competition day was England North Boys v England South Boys, a close game that surprised me with the quality of play – I knew from the Scottish Schools Finals that the standard would be high but it was even higher than I’d expected.
Friday and Saturday were very busy days where I was involved in eight Boys matches (three on Friday and five on Saturday), as well as individual debriefs after matches and referees meetings with our Referee Delegates. Between matches I watched as many games involving the Scottish teams as I could but I had to remain neutral so there was no joining in with the cheering from the crowd! On Saturday I was in the hall at 8am for my first match and I was still there at 11pm when the nominations for the finals were given out after the last of the days matches. As the only International Referee at the event, several of the other referees had suggested that I would be given one of the finals but I’m not one to take anything for granted so I was surprised, pleased and, most of all, honoured when I was appointed as first referee for the Boys Final on the Sunday.
On Sunday morning I tried to rest as much as I could but I ended up going to watch the first set of the Girls Final – I then found a quiet corner to relax and waited on the Boys Final to get underway. And what a match it turned out to be! Spectacular play from both teams, tough serving, great rallies, fantastic pick-ups, big spikes and bigger blocks – was I really watching under 17s?!?!? As with almost every game, there were a couple of decisions that were disputed but to the credit of the players and their coaches, the decisions of the referees and the line-judges were accepted and respect was shown to all of the officials throughout the match (which was the case in most of the matches during the event).
As I stood with my second referee Nurdal beside the referees stand at the end of the match waiting on the teams to greet each other, I felt sorry for the England North boys who had put so much into the game and also their pool matches – unfortunately one team had to lose. However, each player shook our hands and some overcame their obvious disappointment to say ‘Thanks’ or ‘Well done’ – older players would do well to follow the example set by these young athletes!
Several people have asked me about the UK Schools Games since I returned home and I have been quick to tell them just how good the event was. Not only the standard of play but the whole package – it was well organised, referees were treated with respect and well provided for by the organisers (in terms of our accommodation, uniforms, etc.), the crowds were partisan and noisy but cheered every team on, and the games were spectacular with some talented players which augers well for the future of volleyball in the UK. But for me the most impressive thing was the volunteers especially the ‘young officials’ – to have boys and girls as young as 14 be line-judges and scorers with only a few days training is a testament to the effort that they were willing to put in and I hope they went home as enthusiastic about the UK Schools Games, and volleyball in general, as I did.
I sent a note to Suzy Stevenson, who organised the event, when I got home and I told her that the Boys Final was one of the most enjoyable matches I’d been involved in over the last 25 years – that was an accurate description of how it felt to be part of that game, part of that event, part of our sport. So to all the young athletes, young officials, volunteers, coaches, supporters, organisers and my fellow referees, line-judges and scorers I say a huge ‘Thank You’ and let’s hope we all meet again at next year’s event…
International Referee, Scotland