What’s New in Pickleball Refereeing?

What’s New with Pickleball Refereeing?’Note: Recently there have been a number of cases at pickleball tournaments where pickleball referees did not check the players’ pickleball paddles for compliance. Per John Grasso, one of the chief certification auditors,

Refereeing in USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) sanctioned tournaments is big fun for many of us. It’s also a necessary function for sanctioned tournaments (in virtually every sport, and including ours). But how people become referees has up until now been pretty self-determined (“I think I am a referee, therefore I am”) and the tools they use to do refereeing have not evolved very fast and have been pretty fundamental (e.g., the advent of the clothespin to signify first or second server was a big improvement over holding one or two fingers behind your clipboard, now, wasn’t it?) But everything evolves and changes over time and now we’re seeing the whole universe of refereeing…the processes of becoming a referee as well as the tools referees use…begin to change quickly.

A couple of potential changes were brought forward recently at the 2015 USAPA Nationals Pickleball Tournament VII in Arizona this month. The first is a summary of the basic overall plan now being considered by the USAPA that will lead (when implemented) towards USAPA Referee Certification, and the second is a fascinating tool, Score It, which will assist in refereeing matches and may be available in the relatively near future.

Because the Certification process is important and pretty detailed, it takes a bit of space below, but if you wanna know the score, so to speak, you gotta wade through it. We make it as brief as possible.

After that you get rewarded for your diligence by getting to hear about Score It, LOL! Or, if you are totally sure you have the proposed new process well in hand, you could simply scroll down to the discussion of Score It now!

1. USAPA Referee Certification; a new process

You may already be aware of the Referee Certification plans that the USA Pickleball Association has begun to introduce, and if so feel free to skip this section and go directly to the discussion of Score It. Otherwise, Lynn and Linda Laymon, USAPA Board members in charge of Training, described the soon-to-be plans in one of the open seminars at the 2015 USAPA National Tournament. Let’s start with a recap of their planned program as it currently exists in draft.

To achieve USAPA ref certification a person will need to complete the following steps:

1 – Be a USAPA member in good standing

2 – Pass the current Ref Test on the usapa.org web page

3 – Download and study the USAPA Referee Handbook, which contains USAPA officiating standards and procedures (available Dec 1)

4 – Complete ref training delivered by an instructor using the USAPA Referee Trainer Guide

5 – As specified in USAPA standards and procedures, referee at least 30 matches, 15 of which must occur in sanctioned tournaments

6 – Request your trainer (#4 above) to recommend you for Certification by completing the Recommending Trainer section of Certification application. Based on your refereeing performance, trainer decides whether or not to recommend you for on-court evaluation.

7 – Complete Applicant section of application and send it and the required application fee to USAPA Training Department.

8 – Be evaluated by a USAPA evaluator, who will observe your performance during three tournament matches and record your adherence to USAPA standards and procedures. The evaluator will provide feedback after the on-court observations and confirm whether or not you have met the standards for certification. Application fee allows for two opportunities to successfully pass the evaluation process.

9. Evaluator reports results to USAPA and successful candidate will be sent USAPA Certified Referee credentials package.

As you can see, this will not be an “overnight” process. A few additional questions are answered below:

Q: Who must go through the process in order to be considered “certified”? A: All refs, regardless of experience level.

Q: Who will be the evaluators? A: At this point many referees are certified and there is a body of them in your area. There are also assigned evaluators in each area and one will be assigned to you when you’re ready to be evaluated.

Q: Will the evaluators come to your club location to do their evaluation? A: Yes, for the most part.

Q: What’s the benefit of being “certified”? A: The goal is quality assurance for tournaments, so that refs are consistent and knowledgeable. The expectation is that, in time, certified refs will be preferred at tournaments and at least used first. The plan is that eventually all refs will be certified as the game of pickleball continues to evolve towards a professional sport and money purses continue to grow. There’s also money that is paid to each referee for each match. This can range from little to $5 or $6 per match.

Even with a few things left to be done for the process to be complete, remember you can get in on the ground floor now. Take the on-line ref test and download your Ref Handbook.

Oh…and a hint. Allow yourself a full hour to take the test at least. You have a 90-minute time limit and cannot stop and go back to it later. There are 75 questions and they are chosen at random for each participant, by the way. It’s a pretty cool test, all in all…at least IOHO!

OH-KAY…so now you’ve diligently waded through the soon-to-be-announced referee certification information as we know it today, and you want some lighter (and funner) fare? No problemo. See below for one of the more interesting potential innovations that may soon be coming to pickleball tournaments, beginner lessons (it helps with that, too), exhibition matches and the like near you.

2. A New Tool for Referees

We attended a demo on a whim, and in this case we are glad we did – it turned out to be a really interesting introduction to a new tool being developed that would support refs, assist audiences know scores, and help reduce errors. The product is called Score It. It is a remote and mostly automated ref scoring tool. It has been developed by Brent Haws, who has done similar things for other sports including soccer, badminton and more. The offering consists of both software and hardware. See below for some of the tools that it can be used.

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As shown in the photo above, instead of the current paper score sheet, the ref uses a small tablet, smartphone or other Windows device on which the names of the teams appear on the left and right of the screen during his pickleball refereeing. The software does the coin toss and shows it on the screen for choice of serve, side, receive. Also on the screen are areas for the ref to touch to enter a point made. The software produces a voice that announces the score, “point”,“side out”, etc. via a small wireless speaker that you place under the net in the middle of the court. The automated announcements from the speaker would potentially eliminate players being unable to hear the score being called by refs with soft voices. Is it loud enough for spectators to hear as well? We’d like to see a test to get that answer.

The software only allows the ref to indicate the point for the team serving and shows which player should be serving and from which court. Say goodbye to the clips, clothes pins and whatever other reminders we use to keep track of first or second scorer. Since the system automatically switches the serving team display after calling a side out, it seems that it would eliminate the error in pickleball refereeing of forgetting to manually turn over the score sheet that results in entering points for the wrong team.

There’s a built in timer, a history record of previous turns, an ability to set up for a game to 1 or 15 and, of course, a running score tally. The winning team is indicated at the end of the game.

What about glare on the screen in the sun or the distraction of putting too much of the ref’s attention on the screen itself? There’s also a wrist band that the ref can use with directional buttons to control the scoring. Pretty neat!

What’s still missing to make this pickleball refereeing a complete package? Brent has to work the interface with Pickleball Tournaments.com so that the tournament software will download each match remotely and wirelessly to the Score It system. Then the Score It system needs to be able to upload the results of the match wirelessly back to the Pickleball Tournaments system. No more running scoresheets back to the scorer’s table for manual input of match results. If we can eliminate one occasion where a ref accidentally indicates the winning scores against the wrong team, we can save hours in system downtime while trying to recover in a tournament. Sounds good to us, and particularly to A.J. who not too long ago WAS the cause of that problem at a tournament, not to point fingers or cast stones, you understand!

And what’s the benefit for our referees? If we reduce the attention that must be paid to managing the paper score sheet with it’s clips and strokes for scores at side outs, the ref should have more time for the real work – keeping an out for foot faults and other rules infractions, managing the pace of the game, arbitrating disputes and all the rest which keep tournament matches running smoothly.

We’re excited to see how this product – or any others like it – can improve the tournament experience. This one holds out the promise of improving the experience for referees, players, spectators and tournament directors and their staffs…at a projected price that doesn’t seem to be outlandish to us….maybe $250-300 per court is the high end, and, as Brent said to us, it may be less. Note you can do a demo of the pickleball version of Score It off their Facebook page (see link above). Brent promises a more robust web presence soon but this does the job for now.

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