How To Avoid Extinction As A Zebra
There’s a lot of feedback for the derby skaters, as it should be. But in observing derby for a bit, both off-skates and on, there are some key bits of feedback I’d offer that apply to the highest of certified officials, as well as to experienced and even newer “house refs” like myself.
Your Ears Are More Important Than Your Mouth
When a passionate (read: angry) coach or captain skates up to you in order to provide you feedback on the egregious calls you’ve missed, or the calls you’re making that seem one-sided to the receiving team, do what doesn’t come naturally: shut up and listen. Whether you agree with them or not, their feedback is important and should be considered – and communicated to the rest of the officiating team.
Resist the urge to marginalize their comments or be dismissive; they are here to support the sport and the athletes just like you are. Take the feedback, thank them, and make a determination as a team as to how that feedback will (or won’t) be used. Whether or not you agree with the content is immaterial; the respect you look for as an official should be returned to those whom you seek that respect from. The first important step is making sure you listen and hear them.
If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen (subchapter: “Don’t Make Shit Up”)
There are very few things that are worse than the egregious act of not seeing an egregious act. With seven (or eight) SO’s watching one hundred combinations of activity on a track at any one time, shit gets missed. And the first person that will let you know about it is the offended skater. Depending on the severity of the observed issue, a timeout followed by an angry coach is sure to follow. So now’s the right time to tell the coach how what they’re reporting wasn’t *really* a penalty, right?
If you didn’t see it, you communicate that to the coach. (Most) coaches are smart and can smell bullshit from 40’ away. If you generate a justification for missing a call, your credibility as an official takes a giant, smelly shit. If you didn’t see it, you can’t call it. Initiation, Action, Result. The Holy Trinity of penalty calling must be strictly adhered to and respected. “I didn’t see that, but I will watch for that activity as the bout progresses,” won’t earn you a pat on the back, but it will earn you some credibility for knowing when to say you’re not all-seeing. And credibility means that teams will want to trust you and put their safety and team reputation in your hands again and again.
Being Consistent Is More Important Than Being Right
You’re not going to get every call right. Even the most experienced refs will miss a major cut or a high block during a jam. We’re human, we make mistakes, and in a sport that feels like it’s moving faster than NASCAR, missed (or bad) calls happen.
Endeavor to make the right call, but more importantly endeavor to make sure you’re consistent regardless of the players or the teams on the track. Don’t tilt the track, and if it feels as though the track is tilting on its own, take a step back, widen your view, and sanity check yourself. You might be right, but it’s always good to check.
It’s Not Personal
You’re going to make a call on a player that is absolutely insistent that you have never called anything right in your life. You’re going to miss a call that, according to the skater with the bloody lip, that your unborn-yet-bastard child could’ve made, in-utero. You’re going to fuck up and the skaters, captains, and coaches are going to let you know it with all the creativity Michelangelo brings to a clean palate.
Some things on the out may even seem a little hurtful, and pride’s reaction may be to argue or defend yourself. Don’t. People say all sorts of thing in the heat of battle. These athletes are battling, competing, and vying for every point or to deny their opponents any chance to best them. Their take on events will be passionately focused on how they interpret things at that moment. It’s your job to be dispassionate and interpret events as you see them and as the rules state. Don’t overreact. Do your job.
At the end of the night that skater that told you just how many blind people would make calls better than you will probably be the first to buy you a beer thanking you for helping them practice their craft. Derby is just like hockey in that regard; I was always taught that, “what happens on the ice stays on the ice.” What happens on the track STAYS on the track.
This Is Not Animal Farm, And You’re Not Napoleon (NSOs/SOs *ARE* Created Equal)
There’s something inherently sexier about being on skates as an official to fans. Maybe it’s seeing the white-and-black raising an arm, blowing a whistle, or taking a spill to cheers after getting hit by an errant derby girl blocked to the inside. But zeebs are only half of the officiating team.
Who keeps track of every hit, every penalty, every point scored? Who lets the Jam Refs know that their Jammer has hit four and needs to sit in the sin bin? Who knows when a Jam is about to expire? Who makes sure the stats get properly reviewed and submitted which can determine the very existence of a team’s placement in a future tournament?
Those Pink Police who roam both the inside of the track and the fringes, often clutching whiteboards, clipboards, and anything else that is required to make derby run smoothly. There is no officiating without stripes and pinks; one fails without the other. Just because someone isn’t on skates doesn’t make their role less important.
It’s Not All About You
This isn’t your sport. It’s their sport. The women that breathe life into this sport with their heart, souls, and bodies 60 minutes at a time. They are the athletes. The officials, the rules, the coaches, and the track – those things are infrastructure to support them. These women pay to play, and the fans come to see them. You’re part of making them successful, but your part is not taking their moments away from them. The reward is knowing they leave the track safe, healthy, and fairly officiated.
Before the Jet City 2011 season finale for the house teams, Curtis E. Lay said it best: “We owe these women the best reffed bouts of their lives. Let’s get it right for them.” Truer words never spoken.
Seems simple, doesn’t it? And it is. It is also easy to forget, and it is important we don’t lose sight of why we’re here. Our head ref (Hangin’ Chad) drills this into our heads weekly so that we see it not as rules we follow, but our culture we live when we step out on the track.