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Published on May 7th, 2012 | by Herr Triggore

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Critical Feedback Is Critical

“He’s a great team player.”
“She always gives 110% effort.”
“He’s always on-time and available.”
“She’s got a great personality.”

Individually, the above statements would appear to have nothing to do with one another. When put together, they establish a theme and one that’s often times shied away from. That theme is providing direct, critical feedback.

Whether it be upbringing or societal pressure to be more and more PC, we frequently avoid telling people where they may be falling down and where they can step up to be better. At some point we moved away from recognizing the top performers to “everyone gets a ribbon.” There may be parts of life where that’s appropriate, but where it’s not – and I think most agree – is in providing feedback to officiating crews responsible for supporting bouts of any type; scrimmage, intraleague, sanctioned, or tourney.

While officiating is a volunteering role, that does not excuse us from performing with a level of consistency or accuracy that the sport and the teams require. We need to know how to be better. Today, an official path exists for leagues to submit feedback on officials after a regulation or sanctioned bout. These evaluations – when submitted – become part of a permanent record of perception of an official’s accomplishment as part of bout support that will be reviewed and considered when an official applies for certification through the formalized WFTDA process of referee recognition. While that feedback isn’t directly shared with the official, it is available to the key members of the governing body who need to be aware of whom they may be authorizing to represent the WFTDA organization officially.

It’s a good first step, but there’s more that can be done outside of that process. I offer up the following as suggestions for both skaters within leagues and even officials to consider when looking to build improvement within leagues or for personal growth.

For leagues:

Build a formalized feedback process. It doesn’t matter if it’s a league practice/scrimmage, intraleague bout, or an away bout with regulation or sanctioned implications. Leagues have head referees for a reason; that individual is the focal point for all feedback both on and off the track. During the bouts the role is obvious, but off the track it’s important to establish an agreed-upon process between league reps (team captains make the most sense here) and the head ref to have honest, open discussion about the performance of the officiating crews. As the head ref is responsible for managing the crew, it is their responsibility to coach and provide training/drills to focus on areas of improvement or need. Having a method to provide feedback and measure progress is essential for leagues looking to evolve and to have their officials evolve with them.

Be willing to provide feedback outside of the evaluation process. When officials request an evaluation of their performance for certification, it is absolutely appropriate to ask if the official would like any direct feedback regarding observations from the bout. This isn’t required (and they might not want it) but it’s a good opportunity to share with the official the perception of their functioning in the role. And in giving feedback, I suggest providing examples when possible and doing so in as much a clinical way as possible, both positively and constructively. Try to remove the, “you really sucked when you blew this call…” because at that point, the feedback doesn’t receive the same level of receptiveness that it needs. Focus on specifics: “there were occasions where we felt impact was inconsistently called during back blocks.” This lets the officials think back and review (personally, and ideally with their head refs later) to see areas for improvement.

Be direct, be honest, and be kind. Everyone knows an official or two that would give their left arm to support a league or a bout. Regardless of what the personal motivations may drive, these are the people you know will be there at 11 pm, and again at 8 am for a scrimmage. These are the people who are as passionate about roller derby as the skaters. That’s not a free pass to propagate bad habits or inconsistencies. It’s easy to say, “But he/she tries hard and always is there for us!” That doesn’t help when the official overcalls a play with impact giving your opponent a power jam and costing your team the bout. This circles us back to the topic of the article.

It’s okay to tell people where they may be falling down, or have an opportunity to improve. We’re all adults, and we can take it. At worst, a little bit of ego will be bruised, but at best that feedback will be received, processed, and used to be better, more consistent, and lead to more effective officiating from the individual(s) in question. That said, your words will carry much more weight and effectiveness if not couched between words such as, “douchebag,” “moron,” or “dumbass.” That’s where kindness can be effective. There are nice ways to tell people they’re not being effective, and the use of those ways will go miles further than the other.

For refs:

Ask for feedback. On one side, the skaters and the leagues have opportunities to provide feedback through the head ref or through evals. We have an obligation to not sit back and wait for this. We are as capable of asking our head refs as well as leagues we solicit evaluations from for additional feedback. More importantly, do so with a genuine heart. Skaters want us to be the best we can be, and that’s something we should all have in common. Ask for feedback, and more importantly don’t dismiss it out of hand. Take that feedback and ask for a sit-down with your league head ref and ask them to focus their observations of you in areas identified for improvement. In some cases they may already have those observations which make the next step easy: discuss what exercises or efforts you can do together to improve your work in that area.

Don’t take it personally, and don’t dismiss it out-of-hand. It’s hard to take feedback that doesn’t tell us we poop rainbows that taste like candy. It’s also critical that we do so. In the cases where we may show opportunities for improve, make sure to hear AND listen. It may be that the communication style in which the feedback is delivered is uncomfortable for you in directness or tone; don’t block it out and ignore it. Remember that everyone has different styles, and it is critical that we receive it with the level of professionalism that we are expected to conduct ourselves on the track. Be genuine in accepting the feedback. And for that feedback that was difficult or uncomfortable to receive, make sure to sit on it for a day or two. Let any reactive emotions that may have been stirred up by the initial conversation drift away, allowing you the ability to process it with a more detached eye. Regardless of how you ultimately choose to use that feedback, it is important to give it a thorough look.

Remember everyone is still learning. Even the most experienced referees learn things every bout. For examples, take a read through Curtis E. Lay’s “You Suck, Ref” series of articles. Having the unique privilege to skate with Curtis regularly, I can say unequivocally that those articles are more than just entertaining, they are gospel. Don’t stare blankly at someone providing feedback and continue the way you always have after you skate away. Remember that there’s always something you can do differently that will make you a better official.

Don’t be the official with the great personality. Be the official that every skater in your league wants to support their sport.

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Herr Triggore

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