Officiating Curtis E Lay by Jules Doyle

Published on June 18th, 2012 | by Curtis E. Lay

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Curtis E Lay by Jules Doyle

Refs on Film

At some point, I bet you’ve come across an ad promoting an art test. “Draw Me!” it barks. It goes like this: you’re tasked with redrawing an image shown in the ad; one that comes to my mind is a profile of a leering turtle wearing a turtleneck (ha, get it?) and a beret. You mail in your masterpiece, and later, a “professional artist” will send you a detailed assessment of your talents.

Classic versions of this decades-old campaign, from Art Instruction Schools Inc., assure that you’ll be “in demand” if you can draw. Sweet! Hello, career!

I recalled those ads a few days ago, on the heels of a jolting “no duh!” moment. It was one of those lucky and, quite possibly, good ideas caused by a serendipitous collision of several thoughts:

Thought #1. In the past few years, I’ve heard a growing rumble about how difficult it is for officials from geographically isolated leagues to attend officiating clinics offered by other leagues, private businesses, or roller derby organizations.

Thought #2.
When I’ve taught at officials’ clinics, the thing attendees look forward to most is the end-of-clinic scrimmage, where they can be shadowed and critiqued by the instructors.

Thought #3. Watching film of my own reffing—the good, the bad, and the fugly—has unquestionably made me a better official.

The jolting moment, the you-got-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter collision of thoughts, was this: refs from geographically isolated leagues could send footage of their own bouts to more experienced refs from well-established crews, and get feedback. No duh!

It’s basically the same concept as the “Draw Me” ad, minus the creepy turtle. You film your crew reffing, you mail it to an “expert,” and the “expert” gives you feedback. The benefits of this concept might be, I daresay, plenteous:

More affordable. If you ref for, say, the Ketchup Valley Rollergirls of Lukewarm, West Dakota, the nearest big-time officiating clinic is going to be a serious trek. Assuming Ketchup Valley’s league funds are scarce, any of KVRG’s officials that attend will have to do so totally out-of-pocket. However, KVRG can film a bout with a borrowed camera and send it to helpful mentor officials…the entire crew benefits and the cost is tiny.

More jams. At a clinic scrimmage, each ref rarely gets to skate more than about 8-10 jams due to the volume of attendees and the constraints of time. That’s a wee little window on your abilities. By contrast, in a full bout you can get 40-odd jams of your work on film, which reveals your strengths and weaknesses under a wide range of game-speed conditions. And, your friendly mentor refs can watch them in comfort, armed with the “pause,” “slow” and “back” buttons.

More feedback. During your 8-10 jams at a clinic scrimmage, instructors watch all seven refs at once while also prepping the next crew. In the hurried debrief that follows, an instructor might say, “Two jams ago, you blah blah blahhhh,” and before you can even remember what in the shit he’s referring to, he’s already talking to someone else. Bleeaurgh.

But…what if you got an emailed set of careful notes after a veteran ref watched film of a full bout? Feedback would be more like, “At 17:35 on the tape, you blah blah blahhhh.” You now have the power to look specifically at blah blah blahhhh as many times as you want and put the feedback to much greater use. And remember, you’re going to get 40+ jams’ worth of that feedback.

More perspective. A clinic scrimmage is great because it tosses a handful of officials together, including complete strangers, and forces them to meld into a crew. But, after those 8-10 jams, the feedback is often quite individualized: you did X, she did Y, he did Z. Funny thing is, an officiating crew does not work that way. In a bout, a ref huddle is a lot more “we’re doing X, we’re doing Y, we’re doing Z.” Same thing with this film review idea: the mentor can give feedback to your whole crew, your entire system, and how each member of the crew is working within it.

Of course, this idea is not perfect. You couldn’t do real-time Q&A with a mentor ref. You miss out on the critical skills, drills, and information promoted in a good clinic curriculum. You may have competing demands to deal with: if your league has only one video camera, footage of your reffing will be interspersed with close-ups of jammers blowing kisses and so forth. It would also be an added demand on veteran refs, whose plates tend to be pretty full.

This system could also use some measure of quality control for the “experts”…their word would not necessarily be gospel, and veteran refs have bad habits, too. Just because some moron named Curtis E. Lay says that you should try to channel the courtship dance of a sandhill crane when you make hand signals, that doesn’t mean you have to change what you’re doing. Two helpful suggestions: solicit film reviews from several refs and see if they agree; and view any feedback as helpful advice rather than as absolute right and wrong.

But, the pros of this idea just might outweigh the cons, especially for those remote leagues, the Ketchup Valleys of our sport, for whom traveling to clinics is out of the question. And, it’s an opportunity for collaboration and support that is truly in the spirit of modern derby.

Unlike the classic, kitschy “Draw Me” ads, this idea carries no fake allure of potential success, no starry-eyed hope of glory just because you’re pretty good at drawing a turtle wearing a hat. Things that are worth doing, and worth doing well, are never that easy.

But, the aspirations of officials in the far-flung reaches of roller derby are just as important and meaningful as those of officials in the derby hotbeds. If clinics are inaccessible to some, that gap needs to be bridged. This is just one of many ways to do so.

Who’s in?

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Curtis E. Lay

Curtis E Lay is a level four certified WFTDA referee, plying his trade in Seattle. He writes about officiating for Derbylife.

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About the Author

Curtis E Lay is a level four certified WFTDA referee, plying his trade in Seattle. He writes about officiating for Derbylife.



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