- Rote memorization - Few folks I know are successful with this, but it's how many rookie officials try at first and get frustrated. Unless you have a laser memory, this is not the way to go. You have 6 random numbers on each side, for a total of 12, not counting substitutions! Most likely you'll spend more time getting frustrated with the numbers in your head than with watching the match!
- Setter and opposite/adjacent - This is one a lot more refs use, although I could never get it to work for me. You should always start with identifying the setter for each team. If you remember no one else, remember the setter! Next, find her opposite (i.e. - the player 3 rotations away from the setter, so when the setter is left front her opposite is right back). Start with just tracking those 2 players on each side. When you're looking at those 2, if they aren't positioned oppositely, most likely they're out of rotation. As you get better with that, now try adding the two adjacent players to the setter, so you are tracking 4 players on each side. This is less than 6, but still a lot of numbers to keep in your head.
Why do you track just these 4? Because the vast majority of rotational faults occur near the setter. Since the setter is often positioned most aggressively on receive to be able to get to her spot as quickly as possible, most faults occur because the players opposite or adjacent to the setter haven't positioned themselves correctly to ensure the correct rotation.
Personally, I still found this method unintuitive. It was just too many numbers to try and memorize.
- Mnemonics - For several years I tried this method. I would scan the numbers of the rotation trying to find some kind of pattern that would be easy for me to remember. Almost all the time I could find something that worked. For example, maybe the numbers of the setter and her opposite were both multiples of 3 (like 3 and 9). Or maybe the rotation went in decreasing numerical order across the entire team (e.g. - 18, 17, 12, 6, 3, 1). This way I could find one player whom I knew was in correct position and then pivot the rest of the team to determine if they were in order or not.
This system worked OK for me, but not great. Often times I'd start my scan, realize something was amiss but wasn't able to backtrack my math fast enough to be sure before the ball was served. So I still didn't feel comfortable with this aspect of my officiating.
- Common serve receive patterns - This approach takes several years experience with the sport, either as a player, coach, or ref. After a while, you start to recognize common serve receive strategies (such as Stack 3 Left). Once you recognize the way this lineup should look visually, it's a lot easier to just glance at it and intuitively recognize if someone is out of position. Also, when you recognize what the players should look like, you can anticipate the most likely rotational errors the players will make and just watch for that.
I was finally able to use this approach this past season, and found it much more comfortable and successful. And once I stopped trying to memorize numbers, it actually became easier to remember them, at least for the rotations that were unfamiliar to me.
One more thing that will help you out a lot as an R2. Make very good friends with your scorekeeper (you should be doing that anyway!), but make part of your pre-match conversation that if you lean back and ask "Who are my next 3?", you mean you want to know the next 3 servers on the receiving team (your front row, in order). This way you can quickly determine the proper order, and keep those numbers in your head as they rotate to the back.
I hope this is helpful for officials still struggling with rotation tracking. It's a very challenging aspect of volleyball officiating, and one that I continue to work on. My best advice is: keep trying different approaches, ask your peers what approaches they find the most successful, and keep practicing until you find one that works for you.
If you have comments or suggestions about what you've found helpful, please leave a comment here for others!