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Developing and Reserving A Good Referee Voice

The voice is one of the areas or categories of behavior on which a referee is evaluated. In fact, Referee’s
Expected Behaviors by Richard J. Celotto discusses the voice first among the nine categories of behavior. The contestants
must be able to hear the referee clearly over the noise of the crowd. In addition, a loud, firm, and clear voice
projects confidence to spectators, coaches, and evaluators.There are a variety of methods to develop a good referee
voice. One extreme may be to take voice lessons and train the voice for years much as an opera singer would do.
Another is to speak in a louder voice to everyone for two weeks preceding a major tournament. What will be discussed
here, however, are some methods which are useful for judo referees but which can be practiced without excessive
inconvenience to oneself or to others. These methods are suited to referee commands and actions, have worked for
a number of people, and could be helpful to many others.

Developing a Good Referee Voice

A high-pitched referee voice generally means that the individual is trying to speak louder by employing the
vocal cords alone. This can lead to hoarseness or even a mild case of laryngitis the following day ? a disaster
if the tournament lasts longer than one day! To avoid this, try to lower the pitch of the voice and increase the
volume by using the diaphragm (in the region of the solar plexus) rather than the vocal cords. An aid to doing
this is to project or to imagine that you are giving commands to contestants who are farther away, at the scoring
table, for example. The last is analogous to the admonition by some karate instructors to aim at a point behind
the opponent when attempting to strike the opponent. A good referee also enunciates clearly to ensure understanding
by contestants.For some of us, the above may be easier said than done. Therefore some exercises or practice methods
have been developed over the years. The first is to practice giving referee commands in a lower key or pitch breathing
through the diaphragm. Using the diaphragm permits greater volume which places less tension on the vocal cords.
To ensure that you are using the diaphragm, lower the pitch of your voice while keeping one hand just below the
solar plexus so that you feel the diaphragm moving when you give the referee commands. Start with “Hajime,”
the one command which experts say practically every referee issues best and loudest.Another useful exercise to
ensure that you are using the diaphragm is to stand in the shizentai position and slowly raise both arms forward
and upward in the manner of signaling “Ippon” with both hands. While raising the arms, say “huh”
and “hah” in short puffs of breath but not grunting. At the same time check to ensure that the sound
starts from the diaphragm. It helps to keep the shoulders and back relaxed. That is, do not stand in an exaggerated
“Attention” position with the shoulders rigidly squared. Relaxed shoulders and back allow more free air
flow over the vocal cords which creates greater resonance and volume. It is also helpful to develop the habit of
taking a deeper breath (without gasping) just before issuing referee commands. This may already be instinctive.
Even the spirit call or kiai may be used during randori practice to develop or improve the referee’s voice. The
kiai should be short and sharp, in a lower pitch. The voice should not be allowed to trail off, fade, or become
a scream.

Preserving and Maintaining a Good Referee Voice

There are several measures available to preserve and maintain the referee’s voice. One has a side effect of
maintaining or improving referee skills. This is to use videos of judo contests or tournaments to practice. Such
practice is best done in the privacy of one’s home, preferably with no one around so as to avoid self-consciousness.
Give referee commands as if at a tournament. Emphasize volume. Accent the final syllable of the command for “explosiveness.”
Ensure that you are breathing from the diaphragm while giving the proper signal and turning the body.Another measure
which may be helpful is to stop or reduce the intake of milk products the day before a tournament and to avoid
them during the tournament. Besides milk itself, this includes yoghurt, ice cream, whipped cream, and cream sauces
in food. They cause phlegm and mucous to develop which affects the voice and its volume. In fact some singing and
voice coaches recommend eliminating milk products from the diet entirely. They suggest getting the necessary calcium
from other sources such as green vegetables, calcium-fortified juices, and calcium supplements.A third measure
involves taking cool drinks and hard candy or cough drops during breaks in refereeing on tournament days. It is
helpful when tournament directors arrange to have them available at scoring tables or in referee rest areas.


There is no single method which is correct for everyone, but deep breathing exercises, using the mouth to form
words correctly, and a diet low in milk products will help those who are not already blessed with loud, strong,
resonant voices.REFERENCES: R. J. Celotto, Ed.D, Referee’s Expected Behaviors (2nd Ed., 1988), Section 1, Voice.
Department of the Army Field Manual 22-5, Leadership, Courtesy, & Drill, ca. 1946. Conversations with R. J.
Celotto, Ed.D. Conversations with Meda Marie Wang, M.A., Communications Conversation with John F. Schuder, Ph.D.