Interview with the Referee Bruce Morehouse

Russ Thompson
Water Polo Planet

Referee InterviewThis month features Bruce Morehouse.  Bruce is a well-respected official and evaluator for the CWPA and is  the assignor for referees in Southern California. Bruce is a dedicated soul who travels the USA both refereeing and evaluating referees.   He works for the Navy as a specialist in health care and in all of his spare time, Bruce was generous to sit down and chat with us at Water Polo Planet! 

1. Bruce, tell us about your experience in deciding to referee water polo.  Give our readers a synopsis of your path to refereeing water polo

I started officiating in college when I decided to quit swimming competitively at UC Santa Barbara in 1978.  The coach, Greg Wilson asked if I would like to be the swimming official at the UCSB home meets didn’t think anything about officiating for the school I was attending.  It just sounded like a good way to have some spending money for college.

The next fall I decided to try reffing high school water polo.  I went to one meeting and was assigned to officiate with another rookie at Calabasas High School near Pepperdine.   It is amazing to think about how little training or mentoring I was given before I was told to go ref my first game.  Luckily, that just wouldn’t happen now.  I must have done okay, because I don’t remember any controversy or being yelled at and I am still doing it 35 years later.

2. I am excited about this interview, in part, because you’re a well-respected California referee and yet you are generous with your time when you fly east several times a year to referee on the East Coast.   I am interested in your perspective.  What are the major differences regarding whistling (if any) between East – West.

I think the game has gotten closer to being called on the same on the East Coast as opposed to the West Coast in the past decade.  This is evident by the fact that 3 of the 4 official at this past seasons men’s NCAA’s were from the East Coast.   This is really only possible by the dedication of the officials who are willing to travel, sometimes on their own dime and the support of the schools and clubs that are willing to pay for travel and housing to bring officials to different events.  When I first started reffing back East, it seemed that the style of play and the officiating was about two years behind what was being called in the West.  Now, with national training sessions and on line training, the style of play is often indistinguishable.

Working with the CWPA, I have the opportunity to officiate in many parts of the country and work with a wide variety of officials.  Many don’t have the opportunity to get a lot of experience at the high school level due to there just not being high school water polo in their part of the country.  I enjoy working with the newer officials and giving them a prospective from my years of experience.

3. The game has become a lot more physical and there are lots opinions, ideas and suggestions surrounding this issue.  Some think that the game is fine as is.  Others feel the game has stagnated and needs help.  What are your thoughts on this?  If change is necessary, in your opinion, what do you think those changes would be? 

I believe in the last few years, at least at the high school and college level, the game has become less physical.  It took a while for the officials to take back control of the game at the center position and on the perimeter.  Now the players can drive and the center defender is no longer able to control the hole and must allow the center forward to get set.  It really took a mindset from both the coaches and the referees to change the game from the international wrestling match back to a more pure game of water polo.

4. You’re a referee evaluator.  In your travels as an evaluator, can you share with us the strengths of the current methods of evaluations and also the weaknesses?  Is it possible to create uniformity among the referee rank and file?  Or do we simply need to accept that differences in officiating are simply unavoidable.  Please share your thoughts with us.

That’s a good question.  In some regards, you have to accept the fact that officiating is going to be different due to the region you are officiating and the opportunities the official has to ref games, train and be evaluated.  Even in a place like San Diego, where we meet often during the high school season, there is a wide variety of skill levels and understanding of the way the game is being called.  With so many differences within our own region, it is easy to see why there would be differences throughout the country.  Not everyone has the same background with the game or takes the time to grow their knowledge of the game by attending games they are not reffing and asking questions of other officials.

With that being said, there is definitely a better opportunity now to make officiating the game more uniform.  With on-line training and regional refereeing schools, the referee cannot use isolation as an excuse not to call the game the same as elsewhere in the country.  As for evaluating officials, systems like Dartfish where an official can instantly look at their critical parts of their game and discuss with an evaluator and other officials what the proper call should be or how they could have delayed calling something to allow the offence a better chance to score. 

5. Regarding training referees, can you name some of the most effective training methods?

As I said above, there are a couple of ways that are effective in training officials.  If you are lucky enough to belong to an association that meets regularly, you need to participate in the discussion and be prepared by reading the rule book and watching games.  In our area, we encourage officials to come ref with a senior officials JV and Novice games to get experience and be evaluated by the senior officials.  We also use one of our JV tournaments early in the season to train officials.  The coaches understands we are training officials and usually don’t yell at the new officials too much.  We are able to shadow the officials and give instant feedback or suggestions as to what to look for.

We do a lot of videotaping, however, this is not as effective due to not having someone to edit the film and then present it at the meetings of meeting with the officials.  This is why Dartfish, which marks and notes parts the game and then can be instantly viewed by the evaluator and official, is much more effective. 

6. There are no referees on the NCAA rules committee.  How do you feel about that?

I think it would be a good idea to have a referee on the rules committee.  The referee would be able to bring ideas to the table about how changing certain rules may affect the game and the feasibility of implementing certain rules. I don’t think the rules committee thinks about where an official must position themselves may change due to a rule change.  Think about when the rule was changed to allow a free-throw to be shot outside the five meter line.  In the past, an official did not need to be close to the five meter line, now you must work with your partner to ensure one of you is able to determine if the shot is legal.  The rule would still be enacted, yet at least the coaches would be aware that there is some affect of how the officials may be asked to cover the rule.

I do think it just makes sense to have all aspects of the game be represented on the rules committee. 

Bruce Morehouse