What are the “Big Games” and how are they different?
Everyone wants to ref the “Big Game”. That can be a state championship, a conference championship, or even that big rivalry game. There is an extra electricity in the air. The teams are excited. There is a large and loud crowd.
With the exception of the rivals the “Big Game” is usually played between two highly skilled teams. That makes those games easier to officiate. There are very few ball handling issues because those games usually have very good setters. Both teams are usually very highly skilled and we rarely have a violation to call.
On the other end are those freshman games where it is obvious most of the players are experiencing the game of volleyball for the first time. Every hit could be called and you better know all of your rules because the strangest things happen.
So why, if the easiest games are the big games and the hardest games are the lower-level games, do the higher-skilled officials officiate the “easier” games?
It’s a question I have been asked a few times. It’s a simple, and at the same time complicated answer. The lower level games are where officials learn how to call and what to let go. You can’t call every double contact at those lower level games. You have to determine which calls need to be made. You learn how to communicate with coaches. Why are you letting some doubles go? Why did you call their player when you let something go on the other side? What are you seeing that leads you to make the call you made? Why did you call a back row block on one player and counted it as a first contact on another? These are the places that mistakes can (and will) be made by player and officials and there aren’t big consequences. As an official you will learn these skills and as you improve you will be assigned more difficult games.
By the time you finally reach that “Big Game” you will have gained the skills needed to navigate those situations. The question can still be asked – If there is only one or two calls made in a high level game, why can’t anyone ref those matches? It comes down to knowing what to call and making that call. While there may only be a handful of calls in those :Big Games” they HAVE to be made and they need to be correct EVERY TIME. The match may depend on those 3-5 whistles. If you don’t know when to call them or misapply a rule it could change the outcome of that game. That is where the pressure comes in. In those lower level games, you can make 15 mistakes and the outcome probably won’t be affected. There will probably be a violation on the next play that happens and it will even out. However, if you have a state championship and you have three violations to call and you miss one of them you have missed 33% of the calls and that could change who raises that gold ball. You have one chance to make the right call and it needs to be made. THAT is why the “Big Game” gets assigned to the officials that are ready for it.
On a side note:
While the “Big Game” is exciting please remember that for some player, the freshman match you are reffing may be “The Big Game”. It may be their first time playing for their school. Maybe the big game is a first time to sit with the varsity team on their bench. Maybe there was an injury and this is the time the player will finally get into the match on the varsity, or jv level. Maybe this is the first time a player has played with their parents in the stands. The “Big Game” in your eyes may be completely different than what is viewed as the big game by the players. Every match deserves great officials. Not a single official is ever “too good” for a match. Do I look forward to working a low level freshman game the same way I look forward to working a State Championship? If I said yes I would be lying. But once I am on the stand it doesn’t matter any more. I am going to give that match the best version of my officiating I can. You might not even know when your personal “Big Game” may happen. I reffed a Sectional Final in Kohler a few years ago. It was a Division 3 final and my expectations weren’t high going in. However, when I got there the gym was PACKED an hour and a half before the match was starting. The host school wasn’t even playing. The host AD explained the pregame might be a bit longer than normal because the VFW was presenting colors. What he didn’t explain was there was also a laser light show going on for introductions. By the end of introductions I asked my partner if there might have even been a flyover. That game will be as big for me as any state championship I have officiated. It was one of the top experiences I have ever had in my officiating career.
What was your “Big Game”?