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The Mental Aspects of Volleyball Officiating

Tom Fakehany
Volleyball is a fast-paced game in a relatively small arena, with you, the high school official, in a established position. The high school volleyball referee, sometimes working alone, is required to watch all of the space in and encircling the court. The referee may have to make five or six decisions in just one action of "blocking and attacking." In addition to the swift task of making split-second decisions, volleyball officials, like all other sports officials, are the targets of undisciplined crowds and excited participants. This is a time of high anticipation by the participants for contention and winning. It is not enough to just know the rules and mechanics of officiating. You, the high school official, must also have the intellectual skills to manage the upcoming stress. Officiating Volleyball always requires more mental energy and stress than physical energy.

The level of officiating has little to do with the amount of stress. Each high school official is most often assigned volleyball matches at his level of performance. So to each official in every match there is some level of stress. The pressure to perform well is an expectation of volleyball officials at all levels in all matches. The effects of stress can be evident in physical symptoms such as headache, shortness of breath, tiredness and the tightening muscles. The effects of stress can also be felt emotionally most times in the form of anxiety, which for volleyball officials has at least these 4 causes: 1 anticipated loss of control of the match, 2) fear of inadequate preparation, 3) ) fear of failure or 4) general intimidation. Anxiety can reduce an official's concentration and diminish decision-making ability.

The official's fear of failure is usually based in his/her lack of self-confidence. Constant evaluation and criticism by coaches, players and fans are challenges to the official's spirit and self worth. Official's achievements go relatively unnoticed because fans and players tend not to notice them if they are doing a exemplary job. However, an official's mistakes and failures are often noticed, examined and criticized. Even correct decisions are sometimes perceived to be wrong because others are not aware of the contemporary rules. The fear of inadequacy is based on a perceived lack of ability or failure to sufficiently prepare for the match. In volleyball, properly preparing to work a match is most often directly related to the smooth flow of game management. Checking the equipment, orientating the other game officials, watching the warm-up periods, reviewing lineups and establishing ground rules all help the overall stress level of the match.

A perceived loss of control is probably the most prevalent cause of anxiety. The feeling that your actions have a direct influence over the participants and the outcome of the match is a powerful emotion. Officials can and should control their personal behavior and actions even it they cannot control the actions of the players, coaches and fans. Performing in a professional positive manner helps dilute potential problems.

Suggested Relaxation Methods for High School Officials

  • Recall a positive officiating experience. Recall and recapture your feelings when you were officiating well.
  • Keep a diary of your officiating experiences. Write and develop your experiences.
  • Roll play. Use mental imagery to help you prepare for tough matches. Picture situations that may occur and how you might handle them.
  • Negative thoughts should be eliminated.
  • If the game gets stressful breath slowly and deliberately to relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Maybe mentally sing a small tune to relax you. My personal favorite is "Great Balls Of Fire."
  • Relax various muscles in you body, one after another. Toes, Feet, Legs, Hands, etc.
  • Smile, grin or even giggle when you feel tension coming on. Vocalize to yourself words like, Wind, Soft, Rain, Relax. Rub your arm to remind you to clear your mind.
  • Center on the action and don't let yourself become distracted.
  • Slow down and take your time when under stress.
  • Relax enjoy your work.
  • Keep the values of officiating in context.



    This is no reason to resist being mentally alert while relaxed when making tough calls. Volleyball officials must maintain the integrity of the game. The game is bigger than all of us and it's going to be around long after we are gone. Officials as caretakers of the sport, are responsible to try to maintain it for the next generation. This responsibility should not be taken lightly. So enjoy, relax and have fun.