Officiating can be a thankless task, as often the only feedback they get is negative when someone believes they have blown a call.
The reality is that sports fans seldom give much thought to officials unless they believe the official has made a mistake and then the fan is often quick to loudly and vociferously point that alleged mistake out.
Although officials may not always be able to change fan perception, they still take the job very seriously and spend lots of time working to become better officials.
As part of their preseason preparation, more than 40 volleyball officials from seven different officiating associations met in Prineville Saturday morning for a volleyball officiating clinic, which was held at Crook County High School.
The clinic, put on jointly by the Oregon Athletic Officials Association (OADA) and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), covered a variety of topics, including professionalism, officiating mechanics, and correct procedures and signals.
NFHS representative Becky Oakes, who made the trip from Indianapolis, Indiana, for the clinic and a second on Sunday in Scappoose, started the clinic with a presentation on the importance of and role of officials in athletic competition.
"We hope that there is a sharing of knowledge about the importance of officiating and the responsibilities that the officials have to make a quality experience for the coaches, the athletes, and the parents that are there at the contest," Oakes said during a break. "This is a part of their continuing education and their development."
Oakes noted that ideally officials do such a good job that they blend into the background and are hardly noticed during competition.
"I think that developing your officials is probably one of the most important areas that an official can focus on. It helps them learn and keep up with the game and the trends that are taking place and then they can take it and transfer that into the actual application and working a contest."
Oakes added that one of the reasons that she travels around the country is to make sure that officials are consistent, regardless of where a game is being played.
"The goal would be that there would be a standard set of rules and that there would be consistency in the interpretation and the application," she said. "However, each state association voluntarily adopts these rules so every now and then they mistake a little modification that fits in their particular area. But the goal would be that we are trying to get the most consistent message and application that we can across the United States."
With that goal in mind, Oakes left plenty of time for officials at the clinic to ask questions and to clarify rule changes for the upcoming year.
OAOA representative Debi Hanson, the associate executive director of the organization, added that the clinics were being used as part of a certification process for officials who wish to participate in the state playoffs.
"We conduct clinics like this all across the state," Hanson said. "The idea is for our veteran officials to come and get that professional development that they need. By traveling around and doing clinics in different places, we can get more officials from those local associations in. Our motto is one rule, one mechanic, one interpretation and this gives us the chance to be the same all across the state. That's our goal."
In order to meet the goal, officials heard presentations about professional development, working together and having efficient match management, and preparing for surprises before breaking into groups to work on specific officiating mechanics.
The small groups then worked on table management, which included such topics as working with the official scorer, following correct procedures with substitutions, making sure that the score is correct, and other possible procedural difficulties.
A second group went over player alignment and the rules for rotations during matches, while a third dealt with the duties and responsibilities of line judges.
Officials sometimes work as line judges, but they may also be responsible for monitoring and training volunteer line judges for some matches.
The final group worked on evaluating whether or not players were using correct ball handling technique.
For that group, several members of the Crook County High School volleyball team were asked to make specific shots while officials determined whether or not the shots were legal and why.
The ball handling portion of the clinic was especially interesting as Oakes repeatedly asked officials if a hit was legal or illegal.
Despite all seeing the same hit and all having just heard the same rules interpretations, the officials still failed to always agree on the legality of a specific hit.
Longtime Madras resident Margaret Sturza, who used to be the Madras High School athletic director and has been an official for the last 10 years, commented on that.
"We are all human, and we are going to make mistakes, and we are going to see things differently," she said. "Ball handling is one of those things that is very unique to the individual officials because we can see things differently. But the idea is that we aren't ever going to be even close to each other unless we come together so that for the most part we are going to see the same thing."
Each group of officials rotated through all four stations before the entire group joined back together in the school cafeteria to discuss preventative officiation before having a question and answer wrap up and a clinic evaluation.
The clinic, which took about five hours to complete, was well received by local officials.
"This stuff is invaluable," said Prineville resident Kelli Havick. "It is critical to all officials. In a perfect world, every single official would come to one of these things. But the officials who are here will go back to their local associations with the knowledge that they received here and will share it. The idea is to get everyone in the state on the same page."
"This is essential," she said. "It gets you excited again and it's invaluable, especially today when we have someone from the national federation office. It's really invaluable to us and it gets us all on the same page, which is what we need to be."
Hanson noted that even though the clinics were designed for veteran officials, the OADA was seeing a number of relatively new officials attending clinics.
"We have found that we get a lot of the brand new officials that just want that extra training," she said. "They want that little extra that will help them do better at the next match that they go out to, so it's designed so that everyone walks away with something they can take back to the rest of their association."
Oakes, Hanson, Havick and Sturza all agreed that professional development was critical to the success of officials. They added that it is important that officials call the game the same even in different parts of the state or nation.
"If a kid is playing in Madras or if they are playing in Coquille, the officials are going to have the same knowledge and they are going to be called the same way," Sturza said. "That's essential for the kids. They need the consistency."
One area of concern nationwide is the recruiting and retention of officials.
"Officiating is an avocation where we are kind of our own support group," Hanson said. "So if officials can take back what they learned today, and they are excited about what they learned and they share it with their other officials, that's an encouragement to all officials because it's a tough business. What we do is difficult, so if I'm mentoring younger officials if it gives them a step up when they go out to their next match or if it gives them a skill that they can use, or even a statement that they can use when they are dealing with a coach issue, anything that can mentor our younger officials is only a benefit to our state as a while."
Sturza also noted that recruiting officials is important. She believes that one of the reasons that it is difficult to get new officials is the perception that officials get yelled at a lot.
"We don't have a lot of fans screaming at us like basketball," she said. "That's why people don't want to officiate because they think they get screamed and yelled at, but that's really not the case. Coaches get upset, but if you know the rules and are confident, they are not going to get on you."
She added that the Central Oregon Volleyball Officials Association was going to meet for the first time this year on Monday, Aug. 7.
"If someone wants to officiate, they can get a hold of our commissioner or one of the other officials in the association," she said. "We don't ask our players to come into the gym on the first day and play. They practice, and for us clinics like this are practice, and that's important. We don't just go out and never blow a whistle and expect to call our best match. We have to be trained, and we have to be focused and ready ourselves for the players."