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Second Referee (“down ref”)

Typical VGVA league play does not involve the use of a second referee; however, VGVA’s annual tournaments as well as all NAGVA-sanctioned events require the use of both a first and second referee. The second referee has a very important role to play in supporting the first referee, but also has his or her own areas of responsibility.

The following list summarizes the specific areas for which the second referee is responsible:

  • Faulty attack hit of a back row player (if the first referee does not see it)
  • Verification of the teams positions at the start of each set and after the change of courts in the deciding set
  • Penetration into the opponents’ court under the net
  • Positional faults of the receiving team
  • Faulty net contact on the defensive side
  • Completed block by a back row player
  • Attempted or completed block by the libero
  • Contact of the ball with an outside object
  • Contact of the ball with the floor if the first referee cannot see it
  • Ball contacting the antenna or passing outside the crossing space on his/her side of the court
  • Time-outs
  • Substitutions
  • Incorrect server
  • Controls the work of the scorer
  • Supervises team members on the bench and reports misconduct to the first referee

The following points summarize the key points for effective down-reffing:

Know the rules

At a minimum, you should review the NAGVA officiating presentation and errata, as well as the FIVB rules of the game. Additional resources are listed at the bottom of this page.


You will need a “Fox 40” whistle (the tournament venue typically does not provide one) and a digital watch for controlling time-out duration. It is not acceptable to down-ref without the proper equipment.

Checking the lineup

You must do this at the start of each set and after the teams change courts in the deciding set. Use the lineup sheets submitted by the captain. Ensure that they are properly filled out, including set number, captain’s signature, and libero number.

Interval between sets

This lasts 3 minutes. Maintain possession of the game ball during this interval and check it for the correct pressure and any damage. Promptly get lineup sheets from the captain and give them to the scorekeeper. Summon the teams to the court at 2 min 30 sec and check their lineup. The whistle for the first serve should be at 3 minutes. Keep the tournament on schedule by strictly controlling inter-set intervals.


Movement, or lack thereof, is the most common mistake inexperienced second referees make. You have to move to get a good view of the developing action. You should position yourself on the defensive side (i.e.: the side that does not have the ball) at about one arm’s length to the side of the net post, and slightly back. No hiding behind the pole! This will enable you to see the whole defensive side of the net (for net touches) as well as gain a good vantage point of the centre line (for penetrations). It also lets you see the attacking side attack line so you can determine if illegal back row attacks are executed. When the ball crosses the net, look up for net faults as the players jump, then look down for centre line penetrations as players land. You should also look for touches off the block, which can subtly be signaled to the first referee. Once the ball has changed sides, you must as well, moving as quickly and gracefully as possible to the defensive side.

Signaling a fault

The sequence of actions for signaling a fault is different for a second referee than for a first referee:

  1. Blow your whistle. You must blow it extra loud, as the players are normally expecting most of the whistles to come from the first ref.
  2. Move to the side that committed the fault. Stand slightly more than one arm’s length to the side of the net post, so you can clearly be seen by the first referee, the players and the spectators.
  3. Indicate the fault (and if necessary the player) by using the official hand signals.
  4. If the first referee agrees with your call, they will raise their arm to award the point accordingly. Raise your arm along with the first referee.

Fault signaled by the first referee

After the first referee blows their whistle to signal a fault, as a second referee, you must take the following steps:

  1. Move to the side that committed the fault, slightly more than one arm’s length away from the post. If you don’t know which side to go, wait for the first referee to raise their arm to award the point, and then go to the other side. You should normally be able to anticipate this.
  2. Raise your arm in unison with the first ref as he/she is awarding the point.
  3. Signal the nature of the fault at the same time as the first ref.


As a second referee, you are responsible for authorizing time-outs at the request of the captain (or coach). The time-out signal is a two-part signal where you form a “T” with your hands, then indicate the side that requested the timeout. Start your stopwatch and get possession of the game ball. Check with the scorer and indicate to the first referee the number of time-outs taken by each team. If a team has just requested their second (and therefore last) time-out for the set, let the captain know. Once the 30-second time-out is over, whistle the teams onto the court and roll the ball to the server.


The second referee is responsible for authorizing and conduction substitutions. A verbal request or hand signal is not required: the request for substitution is a player entering the substitution zone (on the second referee’s side, outside the side line and in front of the attack line) during a regular interruption (i.e., between points). You must be on alert for this and blow your whistle when it happens in order to signal the request for substitution. Watch this video to see how FIVB refs do it. Hold the players at the sideline until you know from the scorer that the substitution is legal, then signal the players to exchange. Once the scorer has finished recording the substitution, they must raise both hands in a “ready” sign. If this is the team’s 11th or 12th substitution, you must signal this to the captain and first referee. You should then go to the receiving side and signal “ready” as well. Multiple players may be substituted at once if they report to the substitution zone at the same time; exchange them one pair at a time, as in the video. Multiple distinct requests for substitution are not permitted in the same interruption and must be rejected as “improper requests” (possibly leading to delay sanctions – see the rules for this). For example the following sequence is not allowed: Team 1 Sub, Team 2 Time-out, Team 1 Sub. The second request for substitution is not permitted until a point has been played.

Libero replacements

These are not counted as substitutions and must not take place in the substitution zone. Ensure that they take place between the end line and the attack line, across the sideline. This is libero replacement zone.

Bench control

As down-ref, it’s your job to ensure discipline and safety on the benches. Technically players must sit on the bench, or stand in the “warm up area”, which is beyond the end line and outside the free zone (check the diagrams in the FIVB rules). In NAGVA, we usually let players stand occasionally near the bench (preferably behind it), but only if this can be done safely. Keep them well away from the court and free zone, and absolutely outside of the substitution zone. Report any misconduct to the first referee for sanctioning.

Antenna faults

Don’t forget that it’s your job to call antenna faults on your side of the court as well as the ball passing outside the crossing space on your side. Blow your whistle, move to the offending team’s side and signal “out”.

Wrong server

If the scorer detects that the wrong server is serving, wait until they execute the serve, then blow your whistle. Signal “out of rotation” and tell the team captain who should have been serving. This will usually result in some controversy, so verify the facts on the scoresheet and correct the team’s rotation.

During a serve

Your job is to look for positional faults of the receiving team. Look for overlaps and early departures that leave the players out of rotation when the serve is executed (at the moment the ball is contacted). You have no business looking at the server or the serving team. This article provides some good techniques. Keep in mind that detecting overlaps requires quite a bit of practice; you can gain some of this by just watching volleyball games and asking yourself if the teams are in the correct rotation before every serve. For VGVA and NAGVA purposes, don’t be too petty and compulsive about calling minor overlaps that don’t give the team an advantage, especially late in the game. Above all, be consistent.

Penetration under the net

The following situations result in a fault under the new centre line rule:

  • A foot in the opponent’s court, entirely across the centre line (i.e., not even a part of the foot touching or above the line)
  • Any other part of the body across the line if it interferes with play. This could be a hand touching the opponent’s court that hinders an opponent’s approach to the net, for example. Contacting an opponent under the net, clearly on their side of the court, generally is a fault as it interferes with play. Under the new rule, a player may, for example, slide into the opponent’s court from their head to their ankles without committing a fault, provided they didn’t interfere with anyone. More subtly, however, if the same player leaves a puddle of sweat on the opponent’s court, which subsequently interferes with play, a fault must be called. It’s all about interfering.

Net touches

The second referee is responsible for calling illegal contact with the net on the defensive side, for the entire length of the net. This means that you must be in the correct position to view potential faults – see Movement. Contact with the net is not a fault unless:

  • The player contacts the tape at the top of the net in the action of playing the ball. “Playing the ball” does not necessarily mean that the ball was touched, but at a minimum that the player was in the vicinity of the action and attempting to participate. Consequently, a blocker jumping up completely at the other side of the court from where the attack took place and clipping the tape does not commit a fault. Also, if the ball pushes the net into a player (typically a blocker), no fault is committed.
  • The player contacts the upper 80 cm of the antenna in the action of playing the ball. This is the part of the antenna that sticks up beyond the height of the net. The rest of the antenna is ok to touch (for the player, not the ball!)
  • The player takes support from the net simultaneously with playing the ball. This could be a setter really leaning into the net for support as they set the ball. Grabbing the net after the play, for example to avoid committing a centre line fault is ok, subject to the other rule provisions here.
  • An advantage is created. This could be pulling the net lower in order for the ball to cross, for example.
  • A player makes actions which hinder an opponent’s legitimate attempt to play the ball. Interfering with a first or second contact rebounding off the net on the opponent’s side by hitting the ball through the net is one example of this fault.

A player may touch the poles, cables or net outside the antenna without fault.

Back row action

You have responsibility for calling illegal back-row or libero attacks and blocks. Generally the first official should call back-row and libero attacks using the techniques outlined in the First Official section, however if the first official does not notice a fault, you must call it. You also have primary responsibility for calling illegal blocks by back-row players on the defensive side. Unless the players are really scrambling and in a broken formation, the most common example of this is a back-row setter jumping to get an over-bumped ball, failing to intercept it but still being in the air with part of their body above the height of the net when the other team executes a hit/block that touches the setter. This is an illegal block.


Questions? Contact the rules coach