Interview with Referee Bret Bernard: Part 2

Russ Thompson
Water Polo Planet

Bret Bernard4. What must referees do to become recognized and advance?   There are a lot of officials in this country and some make it and others do not.  What can an official do to advance?

Good fortune and timing, that is being in a position to take advantage of an opportunity – planned or propitious – certainly is a factor; but, there is no substitute for focus, dedication, hard work and sacrifice.  I am a firm believer in two old adages … “cream rises to the top” and “luck favors the bold!”  Their relevancy to Water Polo (?) … I believe that quality of work eventually will be recognized; and, sustained exceptional officiating will certainly be recognized and rewarded with ever increasing challenging assignments.  And, to seek recognition and advancement you must take chances – push yourself and, if you fall, have the confidence and conviction to try again, and again, and again!

Volunteer … to your local Club, High School or College; Volunteer to a Regional or National Team; practice, practice and practice some more!  Work at this craft … do as many games as you possibly can, at all levels, and with as many different Referees as you possibly can.

Be thick skinned … and not afraid of critique – both positive and not-so-positive.  Do not be afraid to ask for feedback from your Official partners after a match; and, ask the coaches for their immediate feedback as well.  This input may not always be favorable, but take from the feedback items and areas upon which you can focus and improve.

Travel to as many areas as possible.  Work with as many other Officials and at as many levels of play as you can.  See and be seen.  Dedication and perseverance … with these investments advancement and recognition will indeed follo

5. If you could, with a magic wand, improve one or more aspects of training referees what would those things be and why?

Perhaps the easiest ‘opportunity’ for Referees to improve also seems to be the most difficult for most Officials, which is … commitment to their “craft” as an Arbiter!  Not every Referee has had the wonderful opportunities that I and many of my contemporaries were afforded and took advantage of … that is knowledge of the game of Water Polo.  I mean knowledge beyond the “Rule of the Game” … I must admit that if that were the only criteria for becoming an outstanding Official, I’d be way, way back in the pack.  I mean a keen understanding of the strategies and tactics of the game of Polo Aquatico. If you were not fortunate enough to have played the game, particularly at a more sophisticated level, then Referees need to watch as much Water Polo as they can – and watch it sometimes as a student of the game, focusing on the play, deciphering what is occurring in front of them and why, and other times looking on with the mindset of an Official, not as a critique – of how or what you think you could do better, but rather with the thought process of analyzing “why” (do you) think the Officials you are observing are calling what they are calling?  Officials should also take advantage of other learning opportunities – Referees and Coaches clinics.  Watch video recordings of games … all the easier to so do now with the “streaming” of so many games.  I think that we have made great strides recently in this regard … most notably thanks to Messrs. Ed Reed and Bob Corb – the CWPA and NCAA Coordinator(s) of Officials (respectively).

Officials need to just plain watch more games.  Watch them either alone or with others.  Analyze and discuss what you saw, why you think situations and calls occurred, and what you might have done differently.  Think about what you saw.  And, this is critical to your development as an Official, watch them with differing perspectives … sometimes think as a player or coach in watching a match – try and understand why the tactics and strategies employed were effective (or perhaps not); and, other times think about the game you are observing as a Referee – ponder why a call was made and what you might do differently? 

Also, more frequent input from the games “professionals” – the coaches, hopefully constructive and removed from the cult of personality, would be a significant construct toward improving the abilities of both individual and the cadres of Referees.

And Referees need to learn and be trained to anticipate what is happening before them in a game.  An Arbiter should not have to “think” about what has just happened in the pool before he blows his whistle to make a call.  He/she should have anticipated, much like in a game of Chess, the several possibilities of what might occur in advance of the ball’s movement; so that, when the event occurs, the Referee makes an immediate judgment and at the same time is already looking ahead to the next set of “possibilities.”  … This ability comes from practice, observation dedication and knowledge.

6. Do you think that officials are more consistent in their application of the rules when comparing East to Middle to West?    What do you think could be done to create more consistency?

Brett BernardNo, I not believe there is a regional predilection which favors “consistency” in the Referees’ rules’ application.  I do, however, believe that experience and knowledge of “the game,” is what provides for a much more consistent application of “the (playing) Rules,” as well as for ‘consistent’ provision for the intangibles which “the (written) Rules” do not effectively address … the ‘proverbial’ advantage rule, flow of the game, et cetera.  An essential understanding of these last are much, much more critical to being a consistent and highly qualified (and thus appreciated) Referee.  Knowing the letter of the law is less important than understanding the intent of the law, or in our case the “rules” or Water Polo.  And so, not coincidentally – given their more graduated levels of experience as Arbiters and individual knowledge of Water Polo, at this time I (and many others) feel that there are more Game Officials who reside in the Eastern part of these United States that should be classified as “elite” – more qualified and “consistent” Referees.

Consistency comes from exposure and dedication.  The old saying “practice makes perfect” is true to players, and p=brings victories to coaches … why would not this be true as well for Officials?

Perhaps the finest compliment that I ever received as an Arbiter was from Peter Cutino, an old nemesis (when I played against his Cal and Concord teams), coach for portions of my National Team experiences, and most often on the deck when I was “whistling.”  He shared once, near his passing, that “(Bret) I did not always agree with all of your calls, but I always understood them.”  That is what all Referees should and must strive for … understanding, from which flows “consistency.”

7. Water Polo is a sport where families and a few aficionados gather to watch.  It is very far from a spectator friendly sport and I think the sport suffers as a result.  What do you think could be done to improve the experience for the spectator?

I just do not know if, given some of the basic tenants of Water Polo – such as more action taking place when a foul has been “whistled” (‘called’), i.e. “dead time,” than during live time – I just do not know if it is possible to make the sport more spectator friendly.  I would think edging the rules and play closer to other sports that the “masses” do better understand, such as basketball, ice hockey, or futbol (soccer) would be of great assist in helping those unfamiliar to Water Polo better appreciate and value this “beautiful sport;” but, it might then no longer resemble anything akin to what we (now) know as Water Polo?

I will share, since you have offered me the forum that a change I have always been intrigued by would be opening-up water behind the goalie’s cages – akin to ice hockey – I would love to see how that would “play out?”  Now with the shorter length of most courses (down to 25 yards/meters), this might just be possible?  Perhaps the goal should be lessened in overall size if this change is ever implemented?  I do not know … this is just something I have long thought about. 

Obviously, I am either quite unqualified or not imaginative e enough to adequately respond to this question (or maybe both)?  I must admit that, as in “A Knight’s Tale,” relative to suggesting improvements for (neophyte) spectator’s ease of understanding and enjoyment of the game, ‘I have been weighed, I have been measured, and I have been found wanting.’  Mea culpa … apologies.

8. What message would you like to send to all of the officials across the USA that you feel would help each of them become better officials?

Knowledge of the game, dedication and commitment to their chosen craft invest in yourself and the sport.

Ken Lengrind

In ending I would like to share a quick story, that involved myself – relatively early in my officiating career, at least in refereeing university matches.  It involved the 49ers of California State University at Long Beach and some other team which I now cannot recall.  The 49ers were then coached by a dear friend and significant contributor to American Water Polo on many different levels – player, coach, volunteer and even evaluator of Officials – Ken (Whitey) Lindgren.  During the game Coach Lindgren offered a different opinion of a call than what I had determined was appropriate.  After the game, in speaking with Ken and seeking his feedback, we decided that we should look at the game film to see what it may reveal to be the correct call.  Some days later we did in fact meet and watch the video together in his office.  Guess what … his game reaction was true and my call was made in error; and, I admitted so to Whitey.  We had long known each other and were friends before, and I certainly had his general admiration for my abilities as a Referee; but, after that session I had much more, I had Ken’s respect for acknowledging not only that I was willing to review a call but to then “fess up” that I’d been in error.  … Referees, we are fallible. You need to have confidence in yourselves, compete and push yourselves so that (at least) you think there are none better; but, always been open to and receptive of feedback and input – unless you are (open), then you will never be as good a Game Official as you can be.

And Whitey. who just passed away this past fortnight, far too young and still committed to our sport … thank you, you are sorely missed!!!