USA Volleyball

The Other Side of Officiating

Moscow beach event
The venue for FIVB Moscow, one of the many places the author has worked while officiating.

By Suzanne Lowry

We all go into officiating for different reasons. For some officials, those reasons are to travel the world, experience new cultures and meet new friends. I am one of these very fortunate officials who have the honor to experience this other side of officiating.

Over the past few summers, I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to multiple countries to officiate beach volleyball. Three countries stand out: China, Russia, and Peru. While I’ve heard so much about these countries and cultures, I was excited to make the journey and experience these places for myself.

The tournament venues were in very different locales. The event in China was held in Haiyang, a “small town” (according to the Chinese referees) of 658,000 inhabitants. The people of Haiyang, which is a seaside resort, were very accommodating and shared their country and culture with visitors. Each night, the hotel arranged a culture display featuring local citizens. We learned about traditional food sculpture, the art of paper cutting, and witnessed a martial arts display from local children and their instructors. Each night, we learned from local experts and invited to participate, even in martial arts!

On our last night in China the full referee crew enjoyed a traditional Chinese dinner of fresh seafood at a local restaurant. The restaurant itself was stunning . . . imagine walking into a room with more than 50 fully stocked aquariums. The local referees made our dinner selections from those aquariums; they were the menu. Talk about fresh fish!

Dinner was amazing. We were seated at a 20-person round table in a private dining room at the top of the restaurant. Staff brought dishes and simply put them on the largest lazy Susan I had ever seen, and we would take what we wanted off the platters as they moved past. I tried most everything, even though I’m wasn’t sure what everything was.

We ended the night playing games, including a hysterical singing version of rock-paper-scissors. Volleyball administrators and officials from more than 10 different countries, fluent in several different languages, enjoying a marvelous meal and sharing laughs – this is the other side of officiating.

A few weeks later, I traveled to Moscow, Russia. After our first day of the classroom clinic and on-court events, the officials had the opportunity to hit the top tourist destinations in Moscow. After a brisk walk to the subway and a short train ride downtown, we found ourselves in the heart of Moscow. We saw the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and watched the changing of the guard at the Spasskaya Tower.

One funny moment was when the referee crew wanted a group photo in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. We saw some familiar faces and asked one to take our photo. The photographer was none other than 2016 beach volleyball Olympic gold medalist Alison Cerutti. Alison smiled when he recognized the officials were asking for a photo, and he took great photos of us.


Our tournament venue was in famous Gorky Park, a beautiful, large park in the middle of Moscow. Every day, we had a 10-minute walk through it to the competition site. It was early August and the weather was spectacular; sunny and warm with low humidity. Dodging kids on scooters, families feeding ducks, couples enjoying a romantic paddleboat ride – we were enjoying the outdoors, experiencing the local culture – this is the other side of officiating.

The third trip that stands out was for the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Lima prepared for several years to host the Pan American Games and facilitated a well-organized event. It was unusual to experience winter during the middle of July, but fortunately for the beach volleyball players and officials, Peruvian winters are quite mild.

What was truly spectacular about traveling to Lima was being so close to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I was able to stay after the end of competition and visit several amazing archaeological sites including Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Moray and the city of Cusco. Seeing spectacular bucket list sites – this is the other side of officiating.

Volleyball officiating is my job, and the desire to continually improve is a wonderful driver for continued growth. But the ability to visit new places and experience the other side of officiating is the best fringe benefit possible.