Rule Talk: Technical Fouls
Updated: Oct 9
Rules exist for a reason -- they set expectations for the game, they keep it fair, they keep it fun, and most importantly, they keep it safe. Sometimes we are asked to referee a match, and many of us are not certified and have a loose understanding of the specifics of the rules. This can be harmless, e.g. somebody "taps" their foot outside the service box as part of starting their serve, it's "technically" a foot fault, but it provides no perceivable advantage/disadvantage on either side, and enforcing can feel bad on all sides of the game. This can also be dangerous, e.g. somebody crossing the encroachment line to take an overhead shot while the server is walking backwards blissfully unaware. But sometimes, we also have to protect the sport and players when tempers get a little too hot, slamming balls after rally, pushing your opponent to get them off balance as you get to ball, exaggerating your follow through to hit your opponent who is slightly shading you.
Things happen, and it's our duty as the referee to determine if this is just tough play, or if somebody is playing with unsportsmanlike behavior. Giving players a little bit of grace is perhaps not ignoring the problem, but rather, providing a warning before giving that technical.
The job of a tournament director is to give every player the best experience we can with our limited resources, and a huge part of this making sure everyone is playing and behaving in as safe manner on and off the court. The job of the referee is to be that extension of the tournament director and act in the best interest of all players, spectators, and sponsors. Tempers can flare, and sometimes we have to have an uncomfortable conversation, but it is better to have that conversation before things get out of hand. Line judges can also really help increase players sense of fairness if a game starts to get contentious.
I urge everyone who will ever be in a position to referee a match to make sure they are familiar with ALL rules, but especially the Technical Fouls and Warnings, and apply them to the best of your ability.
As tournament season heats up, I hope we can all play safe, play hard, and most of all, have fun!