As if solidifying their reputation as the leading tournament experience for pickleball players of all levels wasn’t enough, the Association of Pickleball Players (APP) officially launched their referee development program last month in Punta Gorda, Florida.
The APP Referee Development Initiative (ARDI) aims to create a world-class platform where USA Pickleball Credentialed referees receive unparalleled development, support, and opportunities for growth. ARDI effectively makes the APP the premier player tour where the best USA Pickleball Credentialed referees will thrive, ensuring fair, consistent and professional officiating at every tournament. Not only will ARDI elevate the standard of officiating in APP tournaments, but it will attract, develop, and retain the best referees in the pickleball industry.
ARDI is the brain child of APP Founder Ken Herrmann, and Mark Peifer, who will serve as the APP’s consulting director for referee performance and development. Peifer was the managing director of officiating at USA Pickleball for four years and retired last summer.
“Ken has always been an innovator in the sport,” says Peifer. “He’s got a very healthy reputation within the sport of being an innovator when it comes to the development of those who participate in the sport, and this is just the next iteration that I see.”
After Peifer’s retirement, Herrmann approached Peifer and asked him to become involved with the APP. Peifer knew that the APP already had an excellent reputation with the referees because of the way they were treated at tournaments, but also understood it would be wise to increase the consistency amongst the officials while also engendering some loyalty for the referees to come work APP Tour events. This is how ARDI was born.
“That’s really what started it all was Ken’s desire to make sure he had the right kind of development to make sure that that professionalism is shown on the court,” Peifer says.
Peifer will have a team of two referee performance and development specialists, who will attend the designated ARDI tournaments, where Unrated, Level 1, Level 2, and Certified Referees who attend will have the opportunity to be observed and subsequently receive feedback. The feedback given will either aid the referee in attaining their next higher credential, refine their skill sets, or develop consistency and provide detailed rules knowledge, depending on their current referee status.
Not all APP tournaments will be designated as ARDI tournaments, but as of now, the following 2024 APP Tour stops are: Sacramento, Miami, Cincinnati, New York City, Southern California (Major), Chicago, Dallas, and Fort Lauderdale.
For Peifer, there is much to look forward to with his new set of responsibilities.
“I’d love to see more Level 1s and Level 2 referees come into the program because they know they’re going to get focused attention in tournaments,” says Peifer. “They know they can come and get focused attention to help them get better, so the thing I’m most interested in is to see what kind of retention rate we get with the referees. If we make this a positive experience for Level 1s, Level 2s, and Certified Refs, I think this will take off and I’ll have more Certified Refs who will want to be specialists to help in this endeavor. Most referees have a predilection already to want to help other referees as part of its kind of core competency, if you will, of the referee population. We all love helping one another, so this is another extension of what comes naturally to referees.”
An additional incentive to participating in ARDI is that it will give referees a chance to be assigned to international tournaments, as those that participate in the program will have the first right of refusal when those opportunities arise. The APP is set to be the promoting partner of the 2024 Indian Open in Mumbai this week, the first of its international competitions for 2024.
Jeannie Harman, a Level 2 referee who participated in the pilot ARDI event at the APP Punta Gorda Open in January, had a positive experience.
“Tournament games represent a more realistic flow of actual play events and errors, for example, the rain delay,” says Harman, speaking in contrast to recreational games she could potentially work for practice. “The feedback was presented in a very positive style and even felt like being part of a team. Suggestions on ways to improve were reviewed after the match and both Certified Referees that observed me were excellent.”
Melissa McCurley, the APP’s executive vice president of competition, who is, in her own right, a pickleball industry veteran and influencer, is particularly proud of ARDI and was present in Punta Gorda for the launch of the ARDI pilot.
“I was on the scene before there was a referee program, I saw Certified Referee number one be certified,” McCurley says, referring to her friend, Sandy Brown. “I understand what this program is contributing to the sport and it also gives people an opportunity to decide if refereeing is for them. I think it will continue to expand the amount of referees that are available not only for the APP but to the sport.”
Continues McCurley: “Many of the referees at the APP have been doing this since volunteer days. They do it for the love, right? It’s a hobby, it’s a passion, it’s not something they’re making a living at.”
It wasn’t even a decade ago when there was no dress code for referees - they would show up to referee after playing their own match, in jeans and a cowboy hat and it was all systems go. Eventually, Certified Referees were given white shirts to wear during matches and that was the only uniform standardization - they even had to buy their own hats should they desire one.
Now, not only do the referees at all APP Tournaments come sharply dressed, but they will be sharply trained, too, thanks to the APP Referee Development Initiative.