Screening is always a topic each season. Here are a few comments on the subject.
Various clubs and coaches are teaching their players to screen. They do this to take advantage of the awkward angle that officials have when judging a screen. To teach players to cheat the rules seems unethical in and of itself, and hardly sets an appropriate example for our young student athletes. Still, our job as match facilitators is to ensure that neither team gains an unfair advantage.
Having said that, we cannot neglect this rule or act as if it doesn't exist. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions:
As first referees, we have a number of responsibilities as we begin a rally. Those include but aren't limited to:
Scan to ensure the officiating crew and both teams are ready.
This means we should also scan the serving team to identify the potential for a screen! We often neglect this step!
Authorize the service and judge its legality.
Here is where we often fail to recognize the screen: we beckon for serve, watch the contact and then immediately look ahead of the ball to see the first team hit. We don't notice the flight of the ball or its path, and whether or not it may have passed over a screen!
See the first team hit to determine if the ball was caught and/or thrown.
If we are paying particular attention to the receiving team as we scan, we may notice that players are adjusting their position in order to see around a potential screen. After the service contact, we should notice whether the receiving team passer has trouble handling the ball. Sometimes that's purely an issue of their skill level, but other times they mishandle or shank a pass because by the time they can see the ball (after it has cleared the screen), it's too late for them to react quickly enough to make a better pass.
With those items in mind, I would suggest that we all add screening to our list of items we scan as we start a rally.
Now a couple of final thoughts:
Players often say, "Hey ref, can you watch the screen?" Our comment must be some version of this: "Sure, I'll watch for it," or "I'll let them know." If we choose the latter, then we can often solve the problem by saying to the serving team, "Players, please make sure you aren't screening."
We do not need to warn about screening! We only warn when there is a potential for screen that doesn't actually take place. For example, a team lines up in a formation that is a screen, but the ball does not pass over them. No screen -- but we could warn that "had the ball passed over you, I would call a screen. Please correct this." That's preventive officiating.
We are not obligated to offer a warning before making this call. That would be like saying we have to warn a setter that we're going to call a double-hit if she doesn't stop playing the ball like that!
Finally, Rule 13.5 addresses screening, page 39-40. Please review the verbiage! This is a judgment call, just like so many other calls we make. We do not need to justify our judgment calls to coaches, players or spectators. If they ask politely, we may offer a quick reply using verbiage from the rule.
We should make it a goal this weekend (and every weekend) that we will be more aware of the potential for screening, that we will warn when appropriate, and we will call it when it occurs.
OVR Referees' Chair