Interview with Referee Josh Kratz

Russ Thompson
Water Polo Planet

Josh KratzI met Josh when he played for North Penn High School.  His list of accomplishments is impressive.  Josh is a  3 time High School All-American (2002-2004), the 2004 Pennsylvania State Most Valuable Player.  He was selected as the 2008 Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) Division III National Player of the Year and First Team All-American.  In 2009 the CWPA honored him with an award for Men’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year.   By all accounts, this is an impressive performance by an impressive individual. 

It is no surprise to anyone that knows Josh that his rise to prominence in the world of officiating would and should take on the same flavor.  February’s interviewee for Water Polo Planet is Josh Kratz!   Enjoy!

1.  Tell us a little about what you do vocationally. 

I work as Data Manager at a Contract Research Organization. We provide a variety of clinical research services spanning all phases of research. My primary responsibility lies in managing all aspects of my department for a study, which generally includes the client, the clinical data, and third-party vendor data. Ultimately, we ensure the data is clean and reconcilable so the information being used by the statisticians for assessment is an accurate reflection of the real world.

2.  When did you start playing?  At what age?  Tell us about that experience.

My swimming career began many years before my water polo career. I started swimming at 5 years old on my local swim team. Just about every summer day of my childhood was spent at the local pool with my mom, friends, and older brother. I thought swimming was going to be the sport for me until I saw my first game when my brother was playing as a freshman in high school. I remember being so intrigued by the sport with the physicality, speed, and athleticism needed to play it. I followed in his footsteps and started playing at age 14 in the summer before my freshmen year at North Penn High School. The school held outdoor scrimmages every Sunday night. I remember it being the highlight of my week since the other 6 days included morning swim practice from 6-10:30 AM. I played all four years of high school, along with baseball and swimming, and was lucky enough to win the State Championship as a senior in 2004. From there, I went on to play at Johns Hopkins University from 2005-2008 where we finished first in the national polls in 2005 and 2008.

3.  When did you start refereeing?  Tell us about your experience and your past.

I wanted to give back to a sport that has given me a lot and after refereeing some scrimmages and practices as a player I thought officiating the sport seemed like a great way. At the end of my last semester at Hopkins, I reached out to Tom Tracey, the former CWPA Head of Officials, to find out how to get started in officiating. I had known Tom from playing in high school and in some AWP summer leagues at Villanova. Tom offered me some advice on how he felt I should start officiating and invited me to the CWPA referee forum that was taking place that summer. This was the first time I met many of the mentors that have helped me along way – Alex Stankevitch, Val Vasilchikov, Humberto Navarro, Michael Goldenberg, and Mark Koganov to name a few. I started refereeing high school games in Pennsylvania that year and was assigned to my first CWPA tournament during the 2010 Women’s season. I was very fortunate to get some assignments in some great situations with some very experienced officials starting with my first varsity assignment during the 2010 Men’s season. My first post-season assignment came during the 2011 Men’s season where I officiated the CWPA Eastern Championship. In 2013, I was invited to officiate the Women’s NCAA Championship at Harvard after officiating the final at the CWPA Eastern Championship.

4.  You are on the fast track in Water Polo refereeing. Describe your experiences to us. In particular, what behaviors or practices do you observe that helped you with your success as an official?

The one point that really stuck in my mind coming out of the CWPA referee forum that I attended before starting to officiate was the importance of professionalism on the pool deck. I always try to treat each game I officiate as if it is the most important game I have refereed. The water polo community is small and leaving a bad impression on those involved with the sport can have negative consequences. Another practice that helped me tremendously was taking advantage of my peers. As I was starting out, I was assigned tournaments with some referees with extraordinary experience. I took advantage of these referees, watched the games they were officiating, asked questions, and asked them to watch my games and provide input. I am grateful to those that did this and continue to do this for me today.

5.  In your opinion, what rule or rules make the game better?

It will be interesting to see what the changes FINA put in this year will have on the game and whether these changes will work its way into the NCAA rules. I believe the addition of rule 21.8 will help the game as it is now clearly defined that if a foul is committed which limits an advantage on a counterattack then that player should be excluded. Counterattacks are exciting in every sport and water polo is no exception. Also, the addition of rule 20.17 will improve the game as officials can now call an ordinary foul for simulation. Simulation needs to be removed from the current game.

6.  Which rules make the game worse?

As a relatively new official, it is hard for me to speak to the current rules compared to previous eras of the sport. However, it does seem like the current game is too physical which is managed under rule 21.9 (to hold, sink, or pull back). The rule itself it written well, but it is the interpretations that affect how the officials apply the rule that needs to be changed. For any changes to take place, updated interpretations need to be applied at the highest levels with the best officials.

7.  Coaches are often times full time employees.  Players are college students usually.  But the referee is a part time position with their day job being something that has nothing to do with water polo.   Describe, for our readers, the challenges and discipline necessary to be a top referee.

You really need to be dedicated to this sport and the craft of officiating water polo to get to the level you desire. We as officials give up a lot of weekends throughout the year at games and tournaments. It is key to have an understanding family and group friends that recognize you do this because it is something you love. I am very lucky to have a great support system.

8.  What is your favorite memory as a player?  A referee?

I have so many fantastic memories because of the sport of water polo. As a water polo player, it probably was winning the State Championship and State MVP as senior in high school. As a referee, it was refereeing my first NCAA Championship game last spring. While these memories around the pool are significant, the more important memories for me have occurred away from the pool. I originally chose to go to Johns Hopkins because of the people I met on my recruiting trip. Those people became great friends of mine over the next four years and I wouldn’t trade those personal memories I have with them for anything. I have been lucky that refereeing has provided me with same type of friendships I had as a player. These friendships extend out from the pool and into our personal lives. I am thankful to those that have welcomed me into the brotherhood.

9.  What are your goals as a referee?

My ultimate goal is to be the best the referee I can. I am going to continue to work to become better and better and trust that the systems in the US, collegiately and nationally, will place me in the right assignments if I deserve them.

Josh Kratz