Education: Distinguishing Illegal Contact vs Double Contact

By Wally Hendricks,
USAVB National Rating Team Member
Re-printed from “The Officials Word” Newsletter, Vol. 7, No. 3, July 2005
A joint publication of PAVO and USAV Officials Division

When the rules changed allowing double contacts on the first ball, referees were instructed to call illegal contacts (held balls) on first contact. “If you would call a ball as a held ball on second contact, call it on the first contact.” Unfortunately, most officials used the illegal contact signal (slowly raising the hand with the palm up) for a wide variety of plays that included some double contacts and some held balls. As a result, there was large confusion among coaches and players about what would be called on the first ball. Today, we are much more consistent among the referees on our calls on the first ball.

Generally, the first ball is only called an illegal contact when the ball is “over-controlled” – it is held too long. Referees must now start to apply this distinction to their calls on second and third balls. According to the FIVB definition, an illegal contact requires two elements: the ball must be held and then thrown. Therefore, an illegal contact cannot occur on any ball that is in contact with a player for a short time. Illegal contacts will be over controlled and generally come out with no spin in the direction that the player was attempting. Balls that are “under controlled” should be called double contracts. This should include all misplayed contacts that typically come out as a “helicopter” or in a direction that was not anticipated by the player. Referees need to call many more double contacts per match and many fewer illegal contacts than they have typically done.

Referees should also remember that balls that are coming slowly would rebound off the player’s arms only a short distance. From the referee’s position, a ball that is played out of the net will appear to be on the player’s arm(s) for a long time if it makes a short rebound. This can appear as a ball “rolling” up the arm. A player can over-control a ball with his hand. The ball might be caught between the arms or in the crook of your arm. But it cannot be caught on a straight arm or arms. Therefore, the R1 must be careful to allow short rebounds when players are playing the ball out of the net or at other time when the ball is coming to the player very slowly.