We played a game last night. As games go, it was okay. The standard was quite good at times and it was hard fought with the crowd having plenty of opportunity to get involved, which always makes it more interesting. However the game was marred (it’s really the only appropriate word) at times by some bad mistakes by the officials. The ‘crowning’ moments were two consecutive rallies right at the end of the match. The first was incorrectly given to us (the referee missed a blocked ball hitting our spiker in the head on the way out), and the second was correctly given to us (by the referee overruling the linesman on a line call). So we won the match, and although we have the two points and those calls were by far not the only, er… creative calls during the match, it was not particularly satisfying.
But it is as a fan that I am angry. Games like that are not attractive to fans. All you see are two teams getting increasingly frustrated, complaining all the time and putting ever more pressure on the referees (I’m well aware players and coaches don’t make it easier), who, ever more flustered, don’t get better as the match progresses. At the end of the match, the referees get a grade from the observer (if there is one) and a few tips (probably about protocols), but are mostly just pleased the whole ordeal is over until next week and go home thinking ‘they don’t pay me enough for this shit’.
So I ask the question ‘how do referees actually get better at refereeing?’. My team blocked terribly yesterday. Tomorrow we will watch the match video and then practice blocking. We will do some drills, during which I will provide feedback. Then we will play some kind of game, during which I will continue to provide feedback as the team strives to improve its performance. What are the referees doing at that time? Are they practicing refereeing? Are they refereeing scrimmages at team’s practices? Are they practicing where to look in each situation? Do they have a coach providing them with REAL TIME feedback (the only useful kind) on whether their calls are correct? And what about the linesmen? I am certain of the answer to all those questions.
The German Bundesliga (and every other league) wants games to be spectacles. We spend a lot of time and effort on most aspects of that spectacle. We have a mascot (whose name you can vote on at our facebook page, by the way) and cheerleaders and lights and music and and and to improve the spectacle. The teams spend every day in the gym to improve the game part of the spectacle. The officials are part of the game and the only way to improve is to practice.