Water polo tough game to referee, understand – Mercury News

generic female referee

Some poor behavior by Bay Area prep athletes has led to a piece by the Mercury News on the challenging state of officiating and observing water polo. The major points are already well known among enthusiasts: chippier play, unruly and poorly informed spectators, complicated rules. But it’s not often those issues are presented journalistically with feedback from top officials and coaches and a few good ideas about how to address them.

Water polo is difficult to referee. The physicality of the game can lead to violence, especially among boys.

The Central Coast Section has had 11 flagrant misconduct ejection reports filed this year, seven at the varsity level. Three incidents have involved a coach. Four of those ejections have been recorded at the junior varsity/frosh-soph level with two of them involving a coach. None have been filed for girls water polo.

Bob Lee, a Los Altos High grad of 1959, stopped refereeing water polo eight years ago after doing it 40-plus years. Lee ran the boys program at then-Awalt High in Mountain View from 1965 to 1975.

“It was getting so violent, especially the boys,” said Lee, who has refereed at the high school, collegiate and international levels. “It wasn’t fun to watch. Kids were getting hurt. Unmentionables were getting grabbed and girls were getting their tops pulled off.”

While boys have gotten the reputation for rough play, girls water polo is not immune to being physical, Sacred Heart Prep-Atherton girls coach Jon Burke said.

“We have a lot of suit-grabbing,” Burke said. “We’ve had to have players change suits in the middle of the game because their suits broke. We have less of the striking than boys.”

The most physical play the average fan sees from the stands is in the 2-meter area, where a center-forward and 2-meter defender go at it in a battle for position…

If fans look closely at game refs, they will notice many of them wearing ear plugs. That’s to deafen the verbal abuse from fans and coaches, along with the constant noise the whistle makes. Fans’ lack of knowledge of the game is so common, Bowen teaches them a course in water polo at the beginning of the season.

“I call it Water Polo 101,” Bowen said. “All the parents in the water polo program show up. We talk about our core values. I have the guys play and we talk about the strategies we’ll be using, offensively and defensively, and also the rules. There is this great rule in water polo that, if I have my hand on the ball and you push the ball under, even though you pushed it under, the offensive player loses possession for a ball under. All the parents on the offensive team scream. It’s bad fundamentals to float on the ball, so the player will be punished for poor fundamentals. All the parents in the stands haven’t been educated. “Being educated makes everything more interesting, not to mention the sport you are watching.”

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