Published on May 25th, 2014 | by Y. I. Otter0
Officials at The Big O, Photo: Otter Ridiculousness Photography
Raising Officials: A Practical Guide
There are a lot things of that go into making roller derby successful. From promoting games, to coaching teams, to marketing, broadcasting, financial managing, and roughly 816 other things done by myriad people in leagues around the globe. Like any other sport, these are necessities that add to expansion. Another necessity? People to officiate the sport.
Unlike most other sports, however, many of the people who officiate are considered part of a league in some way. Within the whirlwind of league activities, it’s sometimes easy to overlook ‘the care and feeding’ of officials. Even the naturals of the officiating world need guidance in order to become exceptional. No one was born with skates on, precise pack definition imprinted into their memory, or the newest set of rules in their hands (although that would be pretty great). As the sport evolves, becomes farther-reaching, and grows more competitive, officials have become more serious about their job, and more focused on improving.
How active are you in the growth of your officials? Do you scrimmage consistently so they have time to apply the skills they need during a bout? There are few things as frustrating as being told “We’ll be spending an hour doing full 5 on 5 scrimmaging tonight and we need as many officials as possible!”, only to show up and spend 20 minutes officiating 4 on 2 blocker drills. This goes doubly for NSOs.
Do you “put your money where your mouth is” when possible, in regards to providing a training budget for your officials? Improvement as an official is not a solo act, and we need those better than us to help our growth. There are numerous clinics waiting to impart knowledge, but I have yet to see one that is free, or offers complementary airfare and lodging. If your league has a travel budget for travel or boot camps (both opportunities to learn/improve), it’s beneficial to include officials’ training as well, and making sure your best officials travel with your team if travelling further afield as well as just down the road. If you have more financial ability, this can also cover travel to tournaments, which will offer some of the best hands-on training out there. Saying you support your ref crew and want them to improve is good. Making it a part of your budget is harder, but often well worth the investment. If there is no room in the budget, then help them find the tools to raise funds.
How do you treat your officials during scrimmage? Respect begets respect, and how officials are treated both in word and in action starts at the top of any organization. Conversely, how do you deal with officials who are disrespectful to players?
Do your officials know what’s expected of them within the scope of your league, regarding attendance, committee work, voting rights, etc…? There are many structures out there and that’s a good thing. As with skaters, officials have varying levels of time to dedicate based on life outside of derby (which apparently, is a “thing”). If your policies and bylaws for officials differ from those of your skaters, it’s important to have this information available to everyone.
Do you spend time recruiting new officials? Those recruitment sessions for new skaters are where some of your best officials may show up. People who are interested in the non-playing aspect of volunteering also need someone to give them information. Asking officials to attend recruitment camps, so there is someone to answer questions about officiating, will make sure no one falls through the cracks. (This goes for volunteers overall. You may have someone show up, decide they don’t want anything to do with what happens in the game, but would love to handle your bout production. If there is no one to answer their questions, you may run the risk of losing a person who could be an incredibly valuable asset in other ways).
To fellow officials:
When someone new joins your crew, how do you integrate them? Is there someone to introduce them to the other officials, and/or the people running practice (for example coaches, trainers, or managers)? For most leagues, practice isn’t open to the public and new people need to be introduced, not only for safety reasons, but for social reasons (i.e. retention). Remember being that one kid that showed up to their friend’s birthday party, knew no one, and stood around awkwardly while everyone else talked to each other and looked at you now and again? Yeah. Good times! We’re adults now, and although not all of us are social creatures, there should be someone who can help new officials feel welcome enough to come back.
What is the overall officiating culture within your crew? Are different personalities seen as a good thing? Something that lends itself to different strengths and viewpoints?
How do you interact during practice? We practice to learn and learning involves making mistakes, which should involve constructive feedback for learning. Do you help each other with clarifications and discuss opposing viewpoints in an adult manner, and when appropriate? Everyone has the potential to teach and to learn, but it takes patience and an open mind for both of those things to happen. There are myriad different personalities in officiating, and the better you are at working with officials of different skill levels, the more everyone will learn.
From a time standpoint, how do your crew handle those calls or procedural disagreements that are going to happen at practice? Some leagues use scrimmage as time for rules discussion, and some just want to skate. Talk to whoever is running scrimmage beforehand, find out what the goal, and then make sure all officials know the plan. It’s not fair to skaters whose legs are waiting to skate, to take a 10 minute timeout to
argue debate filling out paperwork or hash out what “intentional” looks like.
From a personality standpoint, how does your crew handle disagreements? Do you listen to each other when there are differing opinions/interpretations? Being right is a gloriously satisfying feeling to many an official, but all the right in the world won’t matter if people have stopped listening to each other because everyone is too busy trying to prove they are correct.
How do we treat each other in the bigger scope of the officiating community? Do we share knowledge or do we hoard it, thinking it will somehow give us an edge. (News flash: there is no edge. Knowledge is not a zero sum game where more for one means less for another). Do we mentor those who are new, so when the ‘Old Guard’ retires (and we will all retire some day*), we’re handing the reins over to people we’ve imparted with the knowledge, ability and confidence to employ those things? Roller Derby needs officials, but as individuals, not a single one of is will make or break the sport. Officiating vets who are truly invested in the growth of this roller derby realize that it’s important to mentor, teach, or simply let others shine. As officiating continues to grow, as the more officials become involved, the more competitive it has become. No matter how long you’ve been doing this it’s possible to move up your own ladder without pushing others down a few rungs during your climb.
*Ump’s beard will never retire.
To the individual official
I was going to write about giving your best and pushing through when things get frustrating, but those are things that a mentor or a book or an inspirational quote will help you with. Instead I ask: Do you enjoy doing this? If you’re doing something you dislike more than you like and get paid for it, it’s sometimes called Your Job. You sometimes do it because that’s life, and that new ottoman isn’t going to pay for itself. If you’re doing something you dislike more than you like and are actually paying to do it? WHY!? As stated above, regardless of who you are, roller derby will continue without you. There is no room for martyrs in this sport. You’re doing no favors by showing up and being grouchy, impatient, and “over it all”, all of the time. We all have those moments from time to time, but if this is a continuous chore. Do yourself and everyone else favor and take a break, stop, or find another place to help.
Do you pause once in awhile to think about what you are adding to this sport? Could you be adding more? Do you want to? Should I end this article with a question?
I posed many of these question along with some of my own experiences in the hope they will help, and because I am still seeking answers and re-learning myself.
..mainly because we won’t stop changing the ruleset.