Emerging Sport Officiating Experience

By Kara Jenkins on October 29, 2014 officials

“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.” 

― Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow 

Transitions can be a difficult and sometimes painful experience - like transitioning on a bike from training wheels to two wheels. I can still recall the feelings of excitement, anticipation, and fear of the unknown, as I started off on the journey of change. Bumps and scrapes were to be my reward – my battle scars so to speak – as I learned who I was meant to be on my bike.

The same feelings I had learning to ride a bike were the same I felt the first day officiating sand volleyball. I had played sand volleyball for years and enjoyed watching the sport on TV. As a basketball official for the past 10 years and indoor volleyball for the past four years, I felt confident that I could handle taking on a pilot program when asked by the Arizona Interscholastic Association officials department. After all, I had been to the state tournament for both sports. How hard could it be?

As we began training, the feeling of excitement was contagious in the room. A core group of 10 officials were picked to kick off the pilot program of sand volleyball…the first in the nation. As we listened to rule changes from indoor to sand, I realized that it would be a whole new ball game, so to speak. I was transitioning from 12 players on a court at a time to four. Plus the best part was that the coaches were not to coach the players except for during a time out. (Any official can see the bright side to this rule.) The feeling walking out of that training session was one of mixed emotions. The rules were similar in most regards but different in very specific ways that changed the nature of the game as I knew it. The traditional volleyball stand which is used to get the best angle of the game is not used for sand volleyball. I would be the only official on the court for most games, and my duties also extended to line judge, clock operator and the official scorekeeper all in one.

As the first match drew near, I felt the apprehension I had experienced as a young child wobbling on my bike after my mother took her hands off and let me go. It was the perfect day for the first match. The eight teams participating in the pilot program were brought together for a little meeting and rule clarifications prior to the start. We explained the significance of the event they were to participate in as the first high school sand volleyball season. Whether the girls realized the significance or not, as officials we knew that the success or failure of this sport depended on us and those eight teams who were willing to give it a try.

The girls were excited as we started the season; you could feel it as you talked to the girls. They demonstrated the qualities and attributes that make it fun to watch and even better to officiate. They played the game each time following the AIA motto of “Pursuing Victory With Honor”. They played with integrity, honor, sportsmanship, friendship, and above all, a love of the game. During play as we switched sides the girls would congratulate the other team with handshakes. Positive comments like, “Good Job” or “Great hit” were common. During play the players helped with line calls and touches. One girl called a touch on herself, which was missed by the official, resulting in a lost set for her team. The coaches were as amazing as the players. Coaches greeted each other and officials with respect. Gratitude was expressed with sincerity to the officials for being there regardless of the outcome of the match. It became a family environment where everyone was working together, win or lose, to ensure the success of the program.

The game itself we found to be more laid back than the indoor game. The environment of being outside in the sand with the sun shining led to a laid back, friendly environment. It was felt by all from the players, coaches, officials, to the fans. For a pilot program, this environment was essential. As officials, we called the game differently. We worked together to help each other out. We set standards and had discussions before or after the matches. We discussed problems and what worked best for us as a whole. We had a little bit more freedom than traditional sport officials have, since we were combining USA Sand Volleyball rules with our NFHS policies. Training officials is the key to success as we continue to add teams and officials to this growing program.

The future of sand volleyball is bright and clear. I look forward to the day when sand volleyball is played around the nation. In the future, I see both high school boys and girls participating in this wonderful sport. The life lessons that the student-athletes and officials learn from their participation is unlimited.

As an official, I personally look forward to sand volleyball season. While many may be fearful or resistant to change or trying an emerging sport because of the difficulties that may lie ahead, it has been an amazing ride. While wobbly in the beginning, like any kid whose training wheels come off, I am gaining confidence and skill as I race down the road towards the adventures of the future. As I look at the transitions we have made in this sport, I have found what all athletics are meant to be. I know that sportsmanship will be emulated by all who participate, from the players, coaches, and fans. Every day I am out there on the sand, I get to see the best of what high school sports can offer.