As a young child, Rachel Kirk watched her mom play in adult volleyball leagues at the YMCA and begged her to sign her up for a team. They would pepper together on the sidelines before the games began.
During middle school, Kirk started playing volleyball for a parochial team and then joined a club when she was 13.
She remembers officiating matches during club season and getting on the stand for club tournaments as an R1. Her coach was an official and he would work as the R2 when he put any of the players on the stand.
Kirk continued playing through high school and then participated in recreation leagues with some family members during her college years. She started coaching club volleyball during her last year of college and enjoyed it so much that she coached club for seven more years, along with high school volleyball for four years.
In 2016, Kirk went back to school for her master’s degree, and couldn’t make practices work with her schedule, so she started officiating to stay in the game of volleyball.
“I fell in love with officiating and decided that I preferred it over coaching,” she said. “You can set your schedule and don’t have to be in the gym 6-7 days a week if you don’t want to work.”
It started as a love for travel. Officiating volleyball allowed Kirk to fund vacations. She officiates club, high school and college in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
“Officials love the game of volleyball. I have always viewed it as a way to help others learn the game that I love.”
Nationally Certified Official Rachel Kirk.
The St. Louis area is great for volleyball since there are boys’ and girls’ club and high school competition, plus men’s and women’s collegiate volleyball. Officials in the area can work from the end of August until the following July almost every weekend and several days during the week in the fall and spring.
Kirk’s love for officiating soon evolved into more than just the love for travel. The people she met along the way have become her volleyball family.
“We will all work the tournament and go out to dinner after a long day or sit in the referee room when we have a break and catch up,” she said. “Some of us will text each other to plan our tournaments for the club season.
“I vacation during the summer with three other volleyball officials before we go work the summer championship tournaments. I have a mom and sister who also officiate volleyball.
“It is fun to have a family that understands the game and I can talk about the matches with them,” Krik said.
Officials are a tight-knit group. They support each other and offer feedback. Most of the officials will ask advice of others about a play that happened in their match and if they called it correctly.
“We like to talk about those weird plays or situations to ask for advice,” Kirk said. “Officials love the game of volleyball.”
Her favorite officiating memory so far is when she was earning her National Certification and two of the new National Officials were given the honor to officiate a final at the tournament. All of the other Officials went over to the court and sat behind the score table to watch.
“We got the wave started and cheered for our friends at the match,” Kirk said. “We played different games during timeouts and intervals between sets. The officials on the match did an amazing job and we had a blast cheering them on.
“The camaraderie and support from other officials are part of the reason I love officiating,” she added. “It keeps you going when there are tough matches.”
Kirk also disclosed that Officials don’t get yelled at as much as people think.
“Most people respect the job we do,” she said. “When we have a situation that crosses that line, we have people at the tournaments specifically assigned to address those situations so that we can officiate the match.”
Kirk has enjoyed the nice perks for participating in the JVA Officials Reward Program, that rewards Officials for working JVA hosted and JVA Challenge Series tournaments. She has officiated the JVA World Challenge for several years now, earning some JVA SWAG and points toward gift cards.
“They (the JVA staff) always treat us so well,” she said. “They will feed us hot meals and have even brought over a bottle of water when I couldn’t get a break because of the court schedule.
“JVA Worlds has always taken care of the officials, and Donnie Goodwin and Joseph O’Neal do a great job heading up the group. They have recruited some others that have followed in their footsteps to help officials have a great experience.”
If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a volleyball official and joining the JVA Officials Reward Program, click HERE. There is a need for up-and-coming youthful referees to keep the sport healthy for years to come.
Note: This article was written by JVA Director of Marketing and Education, Briana Schunzel, from an interview with Nationally Certified Official Rachel Kirk.