Parting advice from one roller derby referee

I’ve been officiating roller derby since 2011. Assuming something doesn’t happen between now and then, I’m scheduled to work my final game on Saturday. (Well, games since it’s a double header.)  I’ve had a good run, and I’m looking forward to working with a good bunch and closing out on a high note.

As I get ready to wrap up this four-year adventure, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned over my time, starting from when I fell down a lot and didn’t know what I was doing and ending when I fell down a lot and had a slightly better idea of what the hell I was doing, and what advice I might have for others. Here’s some in no particular order:

Travel
I don’t mean go to Cedar Rapids and Cedar Valley a few times a year when they’re looking for officials. I mean you should actively look for games you’re interested in working and find a contact. Apply to tournaments. Widen the radius you’re willing to travel. You’ll meet new people who offer different ways of doing things. You’ll expand the people you’re comfortable asking advice of. You’ll get new perspectives. You’ll be reassured in your skills and find things to get better at.

You need experience
There is no alternative to experience. I can feel my skills atrophying when I go even a few weeks without working a game.Reading rules is important. Thinking through wackadoo scenarios is aces. Talking with more experienced officials is key. But there is no substitute for getting out and doing it yourself. None.

Take the alt spot
It’s totally disappointing to not get the skating gig, but if you can swing it, take the alt slot. Someone always drops out, and you’ll get a chance to work. I guarantee. (BTW, you should always staff an alt.)

Look for reasons not to penalize
Our job is to keep the game fair. Sometimes that means issuing a penalty. Sometimes that means not. Sometimes the cleanest solution to a problem is to not issue a penalty.

See something, say something
Expulsion-worthy box entry? Mention it. Frantic scorekeeper not looking up as you prepare for the next jam? Don’t ignore it. Doesn’t mean you have to stop the game, but it’s easier to bring it up and let it go than to wish you’d said something earlier.

Trust each other
Everyone has a role and a job. Let them do it. You have a role and a job. Do it. Trust each other to get done what needs to get done and to communicate the information you need. Don’t second guess.

Be decisive
On the track, call the penalty or let it go. As the head referee, choose to overturn on official review or let it stand quickly. It sucks for everyone, and causes its own problems, if you hesitate or get all wishy washy.

Get fit
I wished I realized how valuable being in shape was earlier. Running, biking, cross-training or whatever will improve your stamina, flexibility, or whatever, and make you a better official since you’ll be better able to keep up, be mentally present and not wallowing in your own misery when that overtime jam hits. (Seriously, I didn’t join derby to feel unpleasant, but it pays off.)

You can always improve your skating
Always. You’ve been practicing walking since you were a baby and look at how good you are. Challenge yourself to skate better.

Be hungry
Thirst for a better understanding of the rules. Be disappointed when you don’t get the spot you want, but then go earn it. Demand opportunities and make them for yourself. Work to be the go-to for questions.

Ask questions
Ask your peers. Ask a mentor. Ask someone experienced you barely know. Ask in person. Ask on forums. Ask yourself at night. And seek the answers wherever you can.

This is more art than science
The rules may look like a set of instructions that are simple to follow (i.e., if this happens, issue this penalty), but they’re not. There is simply no way to write the rules to cover everything, and so much variation on action that simple metrics are often not possible. There is gray area that you, as an official, have to make a ruling on. At what point do two arms go from “crossed” to “linked”? How long can a player block another without moving counterclockwise before it’s sustained? Well, make a call, ref.

2 thoughts on “Parting advice from one roller derby referee

  1. I couldn’t have said it better myself, having just reffed my last game after 8 amazing seasons. Thank you for this! And… I won’t forget your enthusiasm and constructive advice on ZH. Huzzah and congrats to you on a respectable derby career!

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