Education: “Ugly” Is Not A Ball-handling Violation

By Pete Lukach

With the increase in reports of poor fan behavior, volleyball officials are finding themselves in an awkward, if not difficult, position. When important matches occur, there may be a crowd in the gym that is noisy and loud and may even be abusive to some of the players on the visiting team. It may be so loud that the specific comments or taunts are not heard by the official and are lost in the din of the noise.

Often, this circumstance occurs when there is an important or significant game or a major rivalry. This match may even draw athletes from other seasonal sports who might not normally be able to attend due to their own practices or games. The official is attempting to concentrate on play and maintain focus, but once it becomes apparent that an issue exists, action must be taken.

Some situations are obvious. A fan, who is a recent transfer, comes to watch a match between the old and new schools. That fan brings a group of friends from the football team. The group sits on the side of the visiting team and begins to call out players by number with slightly inappropriate comments. The first referee, easily hearing these comments, immediately suspends the match and asks for the home management, in this case the head coach, to come over and address the group. The coach removes the group from that area of the gym and puts them behind the endline on the home team side. In this case, the problem is solved and there are no more issues.

However, there can be a situation where the match is conducted between two rival teams with coaches who are very active and vociferous. The match officials have their hands full with the very competitive nature of the match and two very competitive coaches. There is, also, a very large crowd and they are equally loud and boisterous. Neither match official hears any negative or inappropriate comments being made to the players. However, at one point the visiting coach comes over to the second referee and mentions the crowd is specifically commenting toward one player. The second referee indicates more attention will be paid to the crowd, but takes no further action at that time. Despite their best efforts, no comments are heard by the officials, but apparently comments are still being made to the player.

In hindsight. the officials should have suspended the match and had the home management address the issue as soon as the coach spoke to the second referee. Whether there was an issue or not in the eyes [or ears] of the officials, there certainly was one in the eyes of the coach and players. This is an opportunity to alleviate any distractions from a player or team. It also sends a message to the fan base that there are restrictions as to what they can do or cheer about. With the emphasis on sporting behavior, there should be no hesitation by an official to address, via the home management, these types of distractions.

Just a reminder that it is not up to any game official to directly address fans as to their behavior. Each official should be using the resources of the home management — either the athletic director, site manager or head coach — if necessary, to address any issues which are having a negative effect on the orderly progress of the match. Officials should not put themselves in a ‘ should’ve / could’ve’ mindset. Officials need to address the situation as soon as it occurs.

Pete Lukach. Deptford, N.J., has been a volleyball official for more than 45 years. He is the interpreter for the New Jersey Volleyball Officials Association South and has received the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Legends Award for volleyball.

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