Should We Blow The Whistle on the USAWPRA?

Richard Hunkler, PhD.
Water Polo Planet

Around the first of October I received an unsolicited email informing me of all the wonderful things the USAWPRA has done for refereeing since its inception. I waited several weeks to learn if the USAWPRA was going to follow through on some of their promises and deadlines they made in the email before responding. In the past the USAWPRA has a very poor track record of keeping promises and meeting written deadlines but rather than base my reply on the past behavior of the USAWPRA I decided to wait and see what they would do over the next several weeks. Besides I think it is better that the referee rank and file should be the judge of whether the USAWPRA has actually done what they said they were going to do in their email. Has the USAWPRA kept their promises and met their deadlines that they themselves have made? Is what they are doing for referees worth the monetary increases they have made to your membership? Should the National Referee Director of the USAWPRA have been elected by the rank and file referees rather than appointed by the USAWP? The original email sent to me is as follows and is printed in black and my questions and statements are printed in red:

Dear Richard,

We surveyed all of you following last year’s Junior Olympics in Los Angeles, and we learned that officiating was one of your major concerns. Your feedback coincided with an exciting movement from within the USA Water Polo Referees Association(USAWPRA) to create clearer standards, more opportunity for additional training and greater incentives for improvement among our officials.

What new clearer standards? Please list the opportunities for additional training. Charging for every little thing and increasing the dues are really not greater incentives for improvement among our officials?

We are writing to summarize what steps have been taken since last fall, as well as how JO’s in Orange County figured into those steps and, finally, what you can expect in the year ahead from the USAWPRA.

Are you taking about the announcements in the following paragraphs? If you are then your definition of deliberate concrete steps and my definition of deliberate concrete steps are not the same.

We have adopted a tiered certification system based on game evaluations. Certification is tiered to reflect skill and experience and to provide a mechanism that rewards highly rated officials. In order to provide incentive, we adopted a new fee structure that pays highly ranked officials more money per game than their counterparts. There are four ranks. In other words, USA Water Polo has shifted our referee compensation to a new model: we pay for performance. We have done this to encourage each of our referee members to strive for excellence; we want to reward top performers with pay and appropriate assignments.

My experiences with a tiered anything has been very disappointing. What is to keep a tournament director from hiring only the referees in the tier where referees are paid the least to save money on the tournament?  When you say we adopted a new fee structure that pays highly ranked officials more money per game than their counterparts. Who is this “WE” you are talking about kemo sabe? Did the referee rank and file adopt it or did a USAWP committee of the referees who are going to gain the most from the increased fees adopt it? This is something like putting the foxes in charge of the hen house?

The newly adopted certification level is dependent upon continuing professional education and peer evaluation. The educational component includes USAWPRA referee schools offered throughout the United States as well as online and video training, and is a required component of the certification system. We plan to offer a minimum of four referee schools across the country in the coming twelve months, in addition to a major effort at the USAWP Assembly in January. Peer evaluation is in person and hands on; it constitutes a graded game assessment completed by a member of the USAWPRA Referee Evaluation Committee. The Evaluation Committee is made up of top FINA referees along with retired FINA officials as well as a few of our top domestic referees from throughout the country.

FINA has used referee schools for the past several years and look how FINA has screwed up the interpretation of their rules. The trickled down theory doesn’t work for taxes and it is not going to work for referee training. Your last best hope for standardizing rules and standardizing rule interpretations of the rules is online training created by referees and professional educators and on the deck training. Online training allows all most anyone in this country, no, anyone in the world to take refereeing classes. This cannot be done with referee schools and besides we already know there will be many referee schools in California and maybe one or two outside of California.

Moreover referee schools are much more expensive than online classes and more importantly the online courses would not be for just the elite referees but rather they would be for all referees. Online courses are the way to go if we are serious about wanting to standardize the interpretation of the rules. Do we really want to let the FINA TWPC control the interpretation of the rules for even a nanosecond longer? They had their chance but they swallowed their whistled and let LEN tell them what to do. LEN's iron whistle of physicality is not working as advertised because it is not attracting more people to the sport but it is doing just the opposite by repelling players, coaches, referees, and spectators from our sport world wide. When the iron fist of physicality is placed in a swimming pool it becomes inflexible and it rusts our beloved game beyond recognition and, maybe, beyond help.

We are working hard to complete formal evaluations for each active referee. With nearly 500 USA Water Polo officials, this is a large task and cannot be completed overnight. Fortunately, Junior Olympics afforded USAWPRA the opportunity to evaluate more than 100 referees during eight days of competition. Feedback to the game officials, both positive and negative, was given at the conclusion of each observed game. A written evaluation was also filed. To date the committee has been able to complete formal on-site evaluations for almost 50% of currently active referees

You say, “We are working hard to complete formal evaluations for each active referee.”  Are not the best evaluations the evaluations that are completed right after a game instead of months later? As the National Director of referees you didn’t know that 500 USA Water Polo officials were going to have to be evaluated? When planning such a large tournament as JO’s shouldn’t you have also planned spot-on evaluations of the referees as well?

USAWPRA is now in the process of analyzing the written reports from the National Junior Olympics, both Championship and Challenge divisions as well other events such as ODP and USAWP National Championships. Adjustments to individual referee certification levels will be made based on the performance evaluations.

You are going to make adjustments to individual referee certification based on data that is several months old?

We plan to have the all adjustments completed by October 15, 2011.

This is November 15, 2011 so where are all the adjustments that were going to have completed by October 15, 2011?

You may be interested to know that among coaches polled following the 2010 Junior Olympics only 42 percent described the officiating as good or excellent. This year our polling revealed a significant increase: 60 percent rated the officiating good or excellent. That is an encouraging endorsement of our new direction by you and your colleagues.

That is an encouraging endorsement but an endorsement of what? Note 42% of 200 voters are 84 voters and 60%of 100 voters are 60 voters. Thus for the percent’s to mean something you need to tell the number of voters on which the percent’s were based. Tobacco companies used to advertise on television that 9 out of 10 doctors recommended their brand of cigarettes. What they forgot to tell the TV viewer was that they interviewed groups of 10 doctors until they found a group in which 9 out of 10 doctors in that group did recommend their brand. To this day most people were never told how many groups of 10 doctors the tobacco companies had to interview until they found the result they were wishing to advertise. Usually statistics does not commit the sin of commission but rather it commits the the sin of omission.

In addition to peer evaluation, education and incentives, we also believe that coaches should play an important role in helping us improve rule enforcement. We are currently exploring several avenues to provide coaches an opportunity to provide their input into our system. We are recruiting club leadership for this important task, and we hope to have a new system in place by early in 2012.

Didn’t you actually mean “rule interpretation” and not “rule enforcement” because the first means “internal representation” and the second means “show of control”?

Thank you for all that you do for our sport. We are best served when officials and coaches work together in a true sense of partnership for the betterment of the athletes and the game. I look forward to working with all of you in the year ahead, and I encourage you to reach out to me with any questions or issues that you would like to discuss further.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to ask some questions and to make some remarks concerning your email.


Jim Cullingham
National Director of Referees

What I said on the message board several days ago may be worth mentioning in this article and it is as follows:  

I believe that rank and file referees are very amenable to change and they are willing to do the right thing to help the sport grow but I am afraid the referee leadership is not willing either to change or to do the right thing. I suspect they are frightened of change because it might mean they would lose control over the rank and file referees and the interpretation of the rules.

Look what happened to the WPA when they started having a real effect on the standardizing of the rules through their online referee training courses. WHEN THIS HAPPENED THE REFEREE LEADERSHIP RELEGATED THE WPA TO A MINOR ROLE IN THE TRAING OF REFEREES. I truly believe the only way we are going to be able to standardize the rules in this country or in the world is through online courses and the only way we are going to be able to do this is for the rank and file referees to drag the referee leadership kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I will believe this until you pry my keyboard out of my cold dead hands.

If you believe the USAWPRA is doing a good job then please send your referee representative a “Thank you” email.  If you believe the USAWPRA is doing a lousy job then please send your referee representative an email telling what you think he or she is doing wrong and, most importantly, telling your referee representative how he or she can correct that wrong. Thanks in advance for doing not just you water polo civic duty but also doing your part to help improve the sport we love. The email addresses of your referee representative are as follows:

DIRECTOR   Jim Cullingham   [email protected]
Northeast   Eric Welte   [email protected]
Southeast   Michael Goldenberg   [email protected]
Midwest   Scott Krasinski   [email protected]
Southwest   JT Wall   [email protected]
Mountain   Joe Peila   [email protected]
PNW/HAWAII   Dave Fasi   [email protected]
PNW/WASH-OREGON   Gene Gill   [email protected]
Pacific Southwest   Danielle Dabbaghian   [email protected]
Southern Pacific   Steve Redding   [email protected]
Coastal California   Hadi Farid   [email protected]
Central California   Alan Korsgaden   [email protected]
Pacific   Simone Lapay   [email protected]

The source for these email addresses is the USAWPR web site.

In closing I would care to suggest two important goals for the USAWPRA. The first goal involves the UANA TWPC.  Recently Lynn Wittstock and Andy Takata were on the UANA TWPC when their term expired. Lynn was asked if she cared to do another term and she declined because of previous commitments. Thus the USAWP appointed Jim Cullingham and Takeshi Inoue to be on the UANA TWPC. Is the USAWP telling us with this appointment that there are no other women in the USAWP that were qualified to take Lynn Wittstock’s place, even as good as she was? And we thought it was just FINA and not the USAWP that did not like women in positions of responsibility and power! Give me a break, better still, give the women in the USAWP who have paid their dues in terms of hard work, resilience, and smarts a break by appointing one of them to the UANA TWPC. Surely the USAWPRA represents women referees as well as men referees?

The second goal for the current USAWPRA would be to have them lobby the USAWP to send a formal protest to FINA for not appointing a woman to the FINA TWPC. We have more women playing water polo than any other country in the world and if we do not protest for the women then who will. Remember it was FINA who wanted to make synchronized swimming the women's counter point to men's water polo and not women's water polo. It also wasn’t too long ago that several countries under the blanket of FINA lobbied to keep women’s water polo out of FINA not because they couldn’t play water polo but because they shouldn’t play water polo.