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Women in Volleyball - Rose Sterling

7th April 2017

Women in Volleyball - Rose Sterling

With the launch of the 2017 version of Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, the spotlight is once again being shone on how to get more women exercising regularly. This means highlighting the benefits of being active and creating the environment within which this can happen. However, it also means identifying role models who can inspire and enthuse others into doing more.

As part of our Women in Volleyball series, we’re going to highlight a few examples of women who have taken full advantage of the opportunities afforded to them by volleyball. It’s not so much ‘this girl can’ as ‘this girl already did’. These are their stories.

The poacher turned gamekeeper; a ref’s story

“I was a dreadful player; I thought I knew it all. I was captaining a team at the old Sandwell tournament once and had to sub myself off and walk away because I was giving the ref such a hard time. Years later, and since becoming a ref, I still remind myself of this because it’s important to remember how you used to act as a player yourself.”

The ‘dreadful’ player in this instance is Rose Sterling, who’s fast approaching 20 years as a qualified referee. A well-known figure on the West Midlands circuit, where she’s the regional referee coordinator as well as a frequent NVL official, Rose now goes out of her way to make sure that new officials are confident enough to deal with the sort of backchat that she used to dish out.

“Quite often, I find that the source of many disagreements is that the players simply don’t know the rules,” Rose continued. “Again, I was a typical culprit here. When I first started playing, I thought I knew it all. Looking back, much of what I thought I knew came from team-mates who were just as badly informed as me. Even when I started taking my reffing qualifications, I remember disagreeing with the course instructor, Steve Evans (now the President of Volleyball England’s Refereeing Commission), about some rules which I was convinced he was getting wrong!”

With a (thankfully) much clearer grasp of the rules nowadays, Rose falls into the veteran referee category and finds herself concerned at the shortage of referees coming through – or, at least, the shortage of referees willing to actually get up on the stand.

She highlights the incongruity within her own region, the West Midlands, where there are 90 referees registered in the region yet clubs are constantly phoning her up, desperately looking for officials.

“It’s a strange situation”, she explained, “and one which must have a lot to do with confidence. That’s why I want to help our less experienced officials to develop the confidence they need to take to the stand more often. There are too many Grade 4s who aren’t doing this – and too few Grade 4s wanting to make the move up to Grade 3. That stand can be a scary place; I get that. But I want to work with referees to help make it less so. Some of that comes down to simple preparation techniques and some of it comes down to making the most of the tools at your disposal to retain control of the game.”

“A few years ago, I did sense that poor player behaviour was on the increase; that players were getting too aggressive in their interactions with the officials. That can be intimidating and I think it may be why some referees – male and female – have decided to withdraw their labour. I prefer to persevere. I’m doing something I enjoy, after all. As referees, there are sanctions available to us which are designed to combat this sort of inflammatory behaviour. It’s down to us to use them, to crack down on behaviour which may ruin a game but which may also discourage people from becoming officials.”

In her West Midlands role, Rose is keen to bring together enough of the newer officials from across the region that they can stage a full 6v6 game and ref it themselves. With some of the participants tasked with role-playing as combative players, the intention is to deliberately recreate the kind of awkward or contentious situations which the referees may well encounter in the league.

“I know what it’s like to have a bad game or, even worse, to have what you think is a good game and yet still have teams complaining about your performance afterwards. In those situations, having a supportive community of fellow officials who you can fall back on for advice and feedback is really valuable.”

When pushed to pick her best or worst games, Rose prefers not to get too specific. Instead, she characterises her best games as being those where the players respond to her handling the game in a very strict fashion by playing to the best of their ability and trying to avoid repeating the same mistakes. In such instances, she believes that the ref can help to educate and instruct, rather than just arbitrate and keep score.

As far as Rose is concerned, such an approach is far preferable to dumbing the game down, letting it drift along while playing to the lowest common denominator.

As for the worst type of game, Rose plumps for games where, despite reffing to the best of her ability, one team refuses to acknowledge this and finds something to complain about anyway. “Those are the games which taught me the value of preparation,” she explained. “I understand that players may get frustrated if they feel a referee is not performing to the same level as they are. So I simply prepare as well as I can. Some teams will still complain, no matter what. But if I can walk away with my head held high, knowing that I did all I could, then that’s good enough for me.”

Rose’s refereeing career started with no great sense of ambition. “I did it because a ruling had come out which meant that every club was obliged to have a qualified ref on their books. That was almost 20 years ago so it’s funny how these things come around again!”

She was 19 when she started playing volleyball; just recreationally at first at BAI (the Birmingham Athletic Institute), where she was coached by Bill Boagey, now a senior Volleyball England coaching tutor. It was five years before she started playing competitively – for Saltley in east Birmingham. After a stint playing in East Sussex, she returned to the Midlands to play for Birmingham University, Alcester and finally Tamworth.

It comes as some surprise to hear that she has never progressed beyond Grade 3 as a referee – but she has her reasons. “When I got to Grade 3, I thought that was far enough for me because I still wanted to focus on playing. Five years ago, my focus had shifted and I was all set to move up to Grade 2 but then my kids came along and it no longer seemed so important.”

Regardless of her official grade, Rose remains in demand on the local circuit. “I find it hard to say no”, she explains. “These clubs ring me up, desperately looking for a ref and so I say I’ll do it myself. I just couldn’t bear the thought of a game taking place without a referee. During the course of playing a game myself, if I see a newly qualified ref, I’ll always make a point of introducing myself. If it’s appropriate, I’ll offer a piece of advice – but never more than one. It’s my way of encouraging more people to do something that I get so much enjoyment out of.”

Women in Volleyball - Rose Sterling