Earning your stripes – learning how to be a referee

Bootcamp group photo

Bobby Mean (red t-shirt, front row) having fun learning to be a zebra.

I’m not a ref. I don’t think I want to be a ref all the time, but I’d like to have a few visits to refville while still maintaining my main residence in player town. So when I saw that Rainy City Roller Girls had a beginners ref clinic I thought it’d be a good way to dip my toe into the stripy waters and see how I felt about life on the official side. Plus I don’t think it hurts to learn about roller derby from a different perspective and check your understanding as a skater. Knowing all the things is good.

The clinic was run by Matt The Knife (Rainy City head ref, WFTDA certified referee and a very knowledgeable chap!) who took us through referee roles and positions, communication, professionalism and a bit of penalty definition and explanation. Some of it wasn’t new, having skated and scrimmed/bouted it’s a given that we know the rules, where the refs are, their hand signals etc. But the finer points of refereeing (how they communicate to each other for example) was quite new and not something I’d noticed before. The day started with ref school, we took notes and we asked (lots of) questions. It straightened out a few things in my head, as a skater.

We did some drills on skates. We looked at the outside pack ref’s movement (and totally did my head in trying to understand the fluid half lap thingybob, argh!) and a communication drill. We learnt (or brushed up on) the hand signals. Did our best ‘outside voices’ and whistled our whistles. As someone who has called one penalty in my life, it was fun to practice my ref voice and get my ‘sassy ref’ penalty point on.

Then RCRG let us ref their scrim! Alone. All on our own. Argh! We had Matt and Yvel Saint Laurent to help us and pick up anything we missed, provide feedback and help us understand what we’d done. One of the hardest things for me was not watching it as a player. I had to stop myself telling the jam ref how amazing their jammers apex jump was; obviously they’re concentrating on the jammer landing it correctly and not how totally awesome it was.

I resisted fan-girling during my serious reffing moments. I managed to get used to that fluid half track rotation as OPR (eventually understanding it and getting it sort of right). I even shouted “No pack!” my most favourite of ref calls. I’ve reffed at our scrims in times of need but briefly, so having a go at real reffing was very different. The line between impact/no impact, penalty/no penalty is very difficult to spot. The ability to use a whistle and speak suddenly leaves you when you’re totally usually able to do those things. In summary, reffing is tough! It was a lot of fun though.

So I’m still not sure if I’d like to completely uproot from skatertown for the green fields of zebraville. It gave me a different perspective and spiked the interest of my inner geek. With Liverpool Roller Birds’ long standing refs currently starting their own league, there’ll be opportunity to do both I hope and help our (roller) Beards get their skate on. It was a really good day though, well planned and thought out and it was really good of the RCRG ladies to let us loose on their scrim.

Any established refs wanting some special zebra time can go along to Rainy’s Intermediate/Advanced clinic on 28th September.

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