Sunday, September 13, 2009

Derby's Strike Zone, Twenty Feet

If there were one call complained about more consistently than any other, it would have to be twenty feet (and it's kid sister, ten feet). This probably comes as no surprise to anyone. This, despite the fact that we've universally acknowledged that no referees will ever get this dead on every time, let alone referees as a large mass getting it dead on every time. In short, we'll never be robots any more than we'll ever be zebras, to expect us to is unrealistic and naive. But more importantly, it's time we start understanding that that is O.K.

The problem of course is that twenty feet is so solidly defined that we make the mistake that it should be as such so solidly measurable. Where relative position is understandably a discretionary call (as much as some people might not like that idea), twenty feet has a sense that it isn't, because outside of derby, twenty feet is inarguable and not discretionary. We need to start coming to the understanding though that in the context of roller derby, as is the case for almost all other calls, twenty feet is a discretionary call. It is discretionary in the sense that it is the referee's best sense estimation in the moment, in motion, of measuring an invisible distance or area. We see the parallel then to baseball's strike zone.

In the strike zone we have a relatively well defined, measurable space that is nevertheless up to someone to measure and estimate by eye in the moment, in motion. This is not to suggest that strike zones aren't argued about during games, obviously they are. But it's rare that that complaint is carried over to after the game. It's generally accepted that the umpire will call it as best they can, that it's not entirely possible to get it perfectly correct, and that it's more important that the calling is consistent and predictable for the duration of the game, so long as it is generally predictable by the rules.

We should then adopt this same standard for twenty feet. That the call comes in between nineteen and twenty-one feet, and is consistently the same throughout the bout (IE always at 19.5') should be considered to be strong reffing. That a skater and team could spend the first jam or two feeling this measure out, and from then on have a solid understanding of where it will be called by this crew for the rest of the bout should be a standard of consistency for which we should strive in the immediate, even if our goal continues to be the unattainable perfect twenty by all referees in the future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's (Not) All About the Benjamins.

I'm not ashamed to say that if I made shoes, I'd do it to make money, but I'd also make great shoes.

Don Hewitt, Creator of 60 Minutes

New real post soon, too many evaluations to fill out lately...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ref-to-Ref Communication

Since we've already discussed proper communication between refs and skaters during these times, this section will focus on ref-to-ref communication. There are lots of different views on how refs should interact, especially when it comes to making and enforcing calls. I'm going to discuss the system I'm most familiar with and to explain why I like it.

Ultimately it comes down to one idea, one bottom line that creates the rest of the system from the bottom up: "If I see something that needs calling and you don't call it, I will." But as with so many of the things in officiating, a blanket application of this idea will result in poor reffing. However, through judicious application and open communication, it can work wonderfully. First, understand that not everything you see that looks like a foul is a foul. There may well be a referee with a better view who didn't make the call for a good reason. When making a call another ref has not, it is important to ask yourself, "Is it likely that they saw the same interaction I did and decided not to call it?" If the answer is yes, you should not change the no-call. You may however decide you want to discuss the situation with the other ref, especially if it has happened more than once, to make sure they are seeing what you're seeing and discuss interpretation. Of course though, during any given jam there is likely more to be seen than any one referee can see, so if you check the other ref and they are looking at another part of the track, then you should feel comfortable making the call you feel is appropriate, given what you saw (and not what you assume happened, based on your angle).

Finally, something for another post, but which bears mentioning here, it is important that referees back each other up whenever possible, in practice or at a bout. If you feel a call was made in error, make that conversation as private as possible. Do not argue a point openly in front of skaters. Differences in interpretation should be worked out between referees based on their understanding of the rules. Note though that there is a difference between arguing a point or call, and conferring quickly on a call during a jam. You should still feel able to confer or tell a fellow referee in the moment that you saw the hit clearly and didn't think it was a penalty or that you thought it was.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Insubordination and Respect

Personal conduct during a bout is absolutely a two-way relationship. Respect begets respect. Of course it is a referee's duty to establish that level of respect and make sure that it stays at a high standard. Even then, a referee should expect a certain level of disrespectful behavior from skaters on occasion. Note that it is disrespectful behavior, not out-and-out disrespect. That is fine and something that one should be ready for. Some referees in the past, and still some today, believe that any sort of disrespectful behavior towards a referee, even just swearing, would undermine the referee's authority and legitimacy. That sort of attitude though is unrealistic. These skaters are deeply invested in the game, as we've already discussed, the game right now is the most important game ever, so it's reasonable that the skaters might be emotionally invested in what's happening, including the calls being made on them. Watch any sport and if a referee makes a call, it's reasonable to assume that some will agree with it and some will disagree. The question is in how that disagreement manifests itself outwardly. Swearing is something people do. You may not agree with it, but it's a fact of life. So to expect people full of adrenaline and fully invested emotionally and physically not to swear is probably asking too much. Consider other more obvious things, like physical actions. Physical actions are always more deliberate and intentional than are verbal outbursts. If the skater swears about a call, but still immediately heads to the penalty box, where is the disrespect or undermining of authority? She is demonstrating that she acknowledges your authority, despite not agreeing with the call. Conversely, if the skater were to flip you off or point at you the referee while expressing extreme displeasure it may warrant an action on your part as outlined in the rules. If it were to happen again in the same bout then, you might consider expelling her from the bout, but expulsion should not be the first action in anything but the most extreme situations.

Another tipping point may be the words surrounding the inflammatory language. It's often said that the most disrespectful word a player can use when addressing a referee is "you". That they can cuss up a storm might be fine, but as soon as they address it to us with the word "you" it crosses a line. For instance "F*ck!" might easily be ignored and not considered to be directed at anyone, whereas "You f*ck!" is clearly a whole other ballgame. It's not the word, it is the conscious choice to direct it at us that is objectionable and disrespectful.

So, you should expect and tolerate some inappropriate behavior from the skaters. And respect, as mentioned, is a two-way relationship. Does that mean that the skaters should reasonably expect and tolerate a certain level of abuse from the referees then? Absolutely not. We must remain confident and in control of ourselves if we're to remain in control of the bout. Do what you must to make sure that you can do that. Take time as you need during a bout to compose yourself. Other things that positively re-enforce themselves in your actions include using an open, non-confrontational and comfortable stance, and using a civil, even tone as discussed prior. You should never swear at a skater or fan, or at another referee. You should provide, at all times, an example of how you feel participants should act, even if they do not or already are not.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Which Voice Do We Use When?

As a referee you should have two voices. One is your personal voice, the words, phrases and timing you use in everyday life. The other voice is your rules voice, which is reduced to the words, lingo and viewpoint or frame of reference of the rules documents It is a far more authoritative voice. Knowing when to use which voice can be crucial in communicating with skaters and other referees.

There are, of course, times when your personal voice is the best choice. For instance, when trying to calm a situation, the authoritative, absolute tone of the rules would be inappropriate and ineffective. However coming to the upset player or coach with your own voice brings you both to the same level, makes you more approachable and can make you appear more sympathetic to their complaint (even if in actuality nothing has changed). To repeat on past topics, it is also necessary that your personal voice never be a yell, shout or bark. Not only can these traits make your subject defensive, but they have an adverse effect on your point, making it seem as though you aren't sure you are right and so need to resort to shouting to win an argument.

So when do you want to use your rules voice? Once you've heard and acknowledged a complaint, you may want to explain a final ruling with a more authoritative voice. If you are asked to explain what you saw during a particular play you would want to use your definitive rules voice. The decision about which voice to use is ultimately up to you as a referee, and you have to use your best judgment as to how you should speak to the players, based on what it is you need to communicate.

Also, communication can help to eliminate a perception of bias towards one team or another, particularly when a team challenges a ruling. Explaining what you say, which rules are relevant and how things will ultimately be resolved grounds things in absolutes and clears the air of perceived indiscretions or accusations that a team got its way just because they complained. Simply saying, “Alright, we discussed it and yes, you'll get that jammer lap point” isn't as neutral as saying, for instance, “Alright, we've discussed it and your jammer referee didn't realize the other jammer had been sent out just before your jammer called it after breaking the pack, still on her scoring pass, she'll get that jammer lap point.” Finally, if a ref has made a mistake, owning up to it, when realized by the referee, enforces the fact that we really are doing everything we can out there to be fair and even, and not just helping our home team to win.


  1. During a bout you are having a problem with one particular rule from both teams. It seems they are either unaware of the rule or are ignoring it. Either way, you want to remind both teams of the rule to avoid further problems.

  2. During an important tournament bout one team has slowly been falling further and further behind, in front of their hometown crowd. They call a timeout and come in to express the concern that refs are seeing penalties by the other team but not calling them.

  3. In a tight bout going back and forth, one team's jammer cuts the foremost opposing blocker to escape the pack on her lead pass. Her referee sends her out and signals “not lead.” When she returns to play later in that same jam she cleanly passes all opposing blockers and leaves the pack as the other jammer calls the jam off. The jam ref signals zero points and her team objects, saying she is due four points. How do you explain why she is not?

  4. What if the jam referee had awarded points and the other team had objected?

  5. In an emotional match you have to eject a player for too many majors, when at least the last one was caused by her own teammate shoving her into an opponent's back. Assume that she's disagreeing with getting that penalty and the subsequent ejection.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bout Interpretation Meetings

As we all know, during a bout there are a million different things which can go wrong. Thankfully, they are not all the referee's fault. Bout Interpretation Meetings are something we've developed and used successfully here in Madison and are a chance for everyone involved in putting on a bout to come together and sort these problems out, to the satisfaction of everyone, instead of finding a solution that makes two groups happy, but doubles everyone else's workload. It is also useful for figuring out which group is most responsible for a particular aspect of the bout, which is often nebulous until there is a problem. Of course, adjustments to this outlined meeting system will need to be made to suit the needs and systems in each individual league, and this is intended to be a helpful starting off point. Meetings should happen within a week after the bout. Waiting any longer will allow memories to fade too much to provide real answers. That said, you may find that the day immediately following a bout is too soon.

Attending these meetings should be the following people:

  • As many referees as possible, especially the head referee and jam referees

  • The head of rules training for your league

  • The head of overall training (skate training)

  • One to three team representatives

  • Support and volunteer representatives

  • The head of bout production

  • An administrative representative

  • A note taker

Also, as much as possible, topics should stay away from specific calls (i.e."In the second period so and-so did this and the ref called that") and aim more towards bigger, general problems ("We feel like out of play wasn't called consistently between refs", "It took forever to get people in the door and we started way too late"). That way, for instance, if the venue's too dark you can work with support and production to find a solution, and if it's a technical issue, you can work with training to create new drills to improve everyone's understanding of the rule and shore up the calling. And of course, as always, an honest, open and civil tone will make everything work better. We understand that everyone's a volunteer, but that doesn't mean we're all doing things the best way the first time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Voice Training

One of the worst things that can happen to a ref is to lose their voice. Of course it is important to have the skaters be able to hear you, and in a bout filled with screaming fans, screaming skaters, blaring music and other various distractions, a referee often has to resort to yelling. However, there are some tricks to this that can immensely help you not only be heard, but avoid permanently injuring yourself or your voice. These things are only basics, and it is advised that you seek out more informative or in-depth sources, which can be found in resources for professional singers or stage performers.

  • Speak from your diaphragm. This will create a lower pitched voice that not only travels better, but also can be louder without hurting your vocal chords. It should feel like you're speaking out of your chest or stomach, instead of your throat, mouth or head.

  • Warm up! The first thing you say during a bout night shouldn't be a penalty, practice getting louder as you warm up skating, slowly getting louder and louder so that your vocal chords aren't suddenly stressed.

  • Avoid caffeine, drink water. Obviously some caffeine is fine, but caffeine can dehydrate your vocal chords and as with any muscle, dehydration leads to strain. Drink water before the bout as you warm up and during the bout. Even if you don't think you need it, this will keep your vocal chords hydrated and less likely to be hurt.

  • Whistle. Remember that for a fourth minor or a major you should be whistling. Don't just whistle once and then resort to yelling, always alternate: whistle, yell, whistle, yell. A skater should be attuned to listen for a whistle, and this means you shouldn't have to scream at the top of your lungs, since she's already paying attention and making eye contact with you, seeing your hand signals.

Also, I posted them separate, so I'll mention it so no one misses it, we've got a new feature, and the first post was posted like five minutes ago. It's Recommended Reading. Check it out below!

Recommended Reading: The Birth of a Uniform

Hey Everyone, sorry it's been a while, but I'm introducing a new feature to make up for it, Recommended Reading! Some will be short articles, some will be books. All will be relevant, not all will be directly about reffing. Most will be. I own books written by referees, so there's where I'm at.

Anyway, this time around I want to forward on an article Madison Referee Maxx Chaos pointed me to. You think Roller Derby is so punk rock, huh? Way cooler and more bad-ass than, say, football. Football is uptight, yeah? And roller derby is underground and irreverent! Football is for the squares and wheels are anything but square, right? Well answer me this, you rebel, when was the last time you planned to steal from a restaurant just so you could referee correctly?

The Write Referee discusses the history of putting together a referee's outfit and equipment in the days before the internet. It's a good little read. An easy start.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Flock Theory

A High Level Approach to Anticipating Behavior

Flock Theory started as an attempt to re-describe the legally defined pack, it has become a tool for referees to use to anticipate certain calls, calls that are often the hardest to make and need to be made the quickest. Before I go further though I need to restate that it is imperative that you never make a call before something happens, this is only to help you see something when it does happen.

As in a flock of birds, skaters within a pack should exhibit some basic tendencies. There are certain spots that they are largely always trying to gain or maintain. Likewise there are positions that they are trying to get away from or out of. You should already be familiar with these positions, if you are not, I would suggest you learn more about the different positions, because it is necessary that you understand the basics of pack behavior before moving on. Once you understand these positions and their value to the skaters, then it is easy to advance to the point of anticipation. Yes, I said anticipation.

For instance, we know that the inside line, especially the inside line in the front of the pack, is a valuable position to pack skaters. So, if we see a skater or a group of skaters abandon this position, we should anticipate that something is about to happen, they are abandoning pack behavior, it is likely that the basic pack should be affected by this move. Say that we have one skater abandon this position, she is likely chasing the jammer. We can then immediately begin watching both the position of the front of the pack and start judging where 20 feet is from that front. Again, we're not going to penalize the blocker unless she commits a penalty, but as we're all aware of how fast the front of the pack can change, being on top of it can improve your calling immensely.

Similarly, let's imagine that a group of blockers abandon the front of the pack and start to skate out in front of the pack, there are two things we should be watching for here. First, are they moving together? Are they creating, in their way, a smaller pack all with the same goal? If so, look back and decide if this group is going to leave the pack, or in fact cause a split pack, be ready to make that call when it happens! Maybe though they are not all acting the same, not splitting the pack, but in fact stretching the pack out, this too you should be prepared to see in this instance, because it is something that often looks like there is no pack, or that they are 30 feet from the pack, when in fact they are still within the pack. An educated ref who is prepared for this situation will anticipate the move and apply penalties (or not) as appropriate.

This leap, from reaction to anticipation, is an easy one to make conceptually but a difficult one to make in practice. Make sure that you are constantly watching the behavior of skaters during practices or scrimmages, and never forget to keep watching for all the other penalties. As is always the case with reffing, it will take a long time, but with constant work, it will eventually come naturally.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Practices can be a tricky balancing act. They are only ever so long, and stopping to talk to one group, be it refs, practice leaders, or skaters, invariably takes time away from the other groups. Of course you're at practice to help everyone, including yourself. A referee who thinks they are above practicing is one who doesn't understand the importance of the position or how much work it actually takes to create consistent reffing in a group of referees. So, how do we balance everyone's needs fairly and still do a good job?*

Some leagues have set up strict rules about who can talk to whom, when. This ends up being counter-productive to our goals though. Despite sounding reasonable, in practice it is closer to a game of telephone. The more direct and immediate we can make these discussions, the more they will benefit everyone, the skaters, referees, league, sport and fans. Like any dialogue this should be respectful, but taking that as a granted, now a skater can ask why she got called on something that another skater didn't, which to her seemed identical. The ref can then explain what they saw or didn't see, and where the difference was in their call. Now the skater better understands the reffing and that the ref is calling things as they see them; that it is not a personal vendetta. Further, if the other referees, particularly the head referee, listens to the exchange and the original ref is wrong, then everyone can have the rule explained clearly by the head referee, and everyone improves. It's why we practice.

Sometimes though this won't work, the skater may not understand the rule or may disagree with the interpretation used by the referees. At times like this politely acknowledge the need for further discussion and explain the need to keep moving or scrimmaging, for instance with a quick, "OK, well this is going to be a longer discussion and we need to keep the scrimmage moving, can we continue this during cool down or after practice? Just remind me". Maintaining a system like this requires work; with captains to keep their team's tone civil and with refs to make sure they're not too defensive to answer. However, the rewards are notable and almost immediate. Refs start being addressed with respect and being appreciated for the answers that they are giving, as a result they enjoy doing their job more and do not snap on skaters or are not as rude in their communication, which results in the skaters being more willing to talk with them, socially and professionally. Ultimately this leads to better reffing and better skating, which leads to better run bouts and happier fans. The alternative is that skaters don't get answers to questions they can't ask, and issues fester until erupting at a bout. This obviously results in huge amounts of stoppage and discussion, which is boring for fans, frustrating for skaters and antagonizing for you, the referee.

The ultimate problem with this though is that as a referee, it's unlikely that you have much say in how practices are run. With that in mind, consider the systems as laid out: what's the purpose of each decision and how can you adapt it to work in the systems your league currently employs? Talk to the people in charge of running practices, can you make changes? Can you let skaters know that you're available after practice to discuss calls or rules? The more communication you enable, the better.

*Of course, regular reffing in bouts is a form of practice, but unless you're reffing every week or so, that doesn't really work.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Game Journal - WFTDA National Tournament

WFTDA 2008 National Tournament - the Northwest Knockdown

Incident - During the course of the tournament, it became clear that my personal tolerance or threshold for what was a minor or major with regards to "refusing to reform the pack" was slightly tighter than that of my head referee. During our first bout I'd accepted that and over the course of the weekend I'd kept in conversation with him to make sure I was reffing as he liked, and I feel we worked well together. Nevertheless, there was a part of me that felt like skaters were abusing what is arguably one of the hardest calls to make, and while I've been trying not to let things like that affect me (they don't change my ability to referee), this was a situation where I clearly felt like it was affected by my reffing, which I think understandably was aggravating to me in this situation. But this is not about my interpretation versus someone else's (since both were correct interpretations), this is about my response to that. Because it came out a little bit during the final bout we reffed as a crew. During our last bout I was discussing a different interpretation with our head referee, and ended up being more forceful in my disagreement than I wish I had been in front of skaters.

Comments - Obviously, I regret that I did that. I don't know that it was as jarring to anyone else as I felt it was, or could have been, or even that it was noticed, but even if it wasn't that wouldn't make it ok. This continues the problem I've had in the past, which I've discussed before, of accepting roles other than head referee, with adapting to another referee's interpretations. In this case my emotions over one interpretation fed into my reaction over another interpretation. When I'm not head reffing, my reaction to my head referee's interpretation should only ever be "OK, I'll do that, let me know if I need to adjust more". But I'm also confident I'm getting better with this problem, I spent the weekend adapting to an interpretation other than my own, and reffing successfully within that system, on a crew that I think was extremely successful in every bout we reffed. In this instance I realized as soon as I started that I was in front of skaters, I hope that next time I realize that right before I start, so I don't do it at all, instead of apologizing for it later.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Officials are People Too

And not just are they people, they're people who help people, on the track and in real life. Meet Scorey Feldman, NSO extraordinaire for the Windy City Rollers.

A Discussion - Assigning a Penalty for Failure to Reform

At a recent interleague scrimmage a skater asked me about the penalty I'd given her for failure to reform the pack, and why she'd gotten the penalty rather than anyone else. This turned out to be a lot longer than I'd expected, but thus is the price for clarity and thoroughness.

Before we discuss who one would assign a penalty to and what that penalty might be for failure to reform the pack, we must first discuss when we would assign a penalty for failure to reform the pack. This is really the problem with enforcing this rule consistently amongst referees, more than is deciding who deserves what degree of penalty. As has been pointed out in other places by other fine referees, the problem here is that this penalty is unique in penalizing inaction, where every single other penalty penalizes action. I have in the past explained myself in making this call by pointing out that the players penalized made eye-contact with me during my calling of no-pack*, and then still did not skate. This however cannot be a necessary road sign on the path to calling this penalty every time, not if we're to call it correctly. Because, just as a skater cannot be guaranteed a warning at twenty feet before being penalized, neither can a skater require a warning of no-pack (or be required to see that warning) before being penalized. It is ultimately always the skater's job to know where they are in relation to the pack. So, what do we need to make this call?

Simply, we need inaction. That is, we need someone to have the opportunity to do something and then fail to try and do it**. So that need for inaction means we need an opportunity for action, which means that the penalty cannot come at the moment the pack splits. A good guide is thus - notice that the pack is split, now check to see if either group is already working to reform it, at the same time, check to see if it is still split. If you've taken the time to check these things, then enough time has passed and, if the pack is still split, you should feel comfortable assigning a penalty.

So now, what penalty? You should, as stated in the rules, default to a minor. There are certain circumstances though that will justify a major immediately. One prime example that comes up often is a team intentionally destroying the pack in order to free their Jammer. But how do you judge intent? The rules tell us that if we have to infer intent, we're to infer legal intent, so it must be totally clear to us. First, where is the skater's attention? Is everyone looking either at the other group of skaters and their Jammer or at the referee calling "no-pack", or are they focused on opponents and actively blocking? It should be clear which of these would indicate intentionally refusing to reform the pack. Secondly and related to the first, what are they doing? Again, are they actively blocking, or are they snow-plowing, holding each other back or taking a knee? Again, the two options seem to clearly indicate two different intents. And of course, even if you were to start with a minor, one should always be willing to upgrade that to a major in response to continued or repeated failure to reform.

The last part of this equation then is who should get the penalty. Sometimes it will be obvious who is "most responsible". A Pivot snow-plowing and spreading her arms to hold her teammates back, a skater up front ignoring the referees and yelling at her teammates to "Come on! Speed up!" or a skater in back grabbing her teammates' uniforms and keeping them from skating forward are all pretty reasonably the "most responsible". However, there are other times when everyone seems to be acting the same independently, who should we penalize then? The rules say that if no individual player can be singled out, then the Pivot or Captain gets the penalty. While that could be an easy out, wouldn't we like, shouldn't there be, a better solution? What if the Pivot's in the box and the Captain's on the bench, who then would we penalize? My solution has been to never resort to the Pivot or Captain in this case, but instead to assign the penalty to the player closest to the "other pack", as they are, in some way, most responsible. This is because they, more than anyone else, could reform the pack quickly. Anyone else would have to do the work of passing them, so if everyone acted the same, the closest player would reform a pack first, and so they must engage in the most inaction for the pack to not reform. Going back to our original discussion of why this penalty is unique, we see then how this player is most responsible.

As I started out saying though, this is a tough call to make, especially if a referee has not made it before. Indeed, it might be the toughest call to make in the current ruleset, if not all of derby. But like any call, practice, and more importantly, a thorough understanding of the rule and it's enforcement make every call both easier and more correct than the previous.

*note that during this discussion, I will consistently refer to no-pack, but the same general rules would apply in a split-pack situation, and indeed, there are even examples I'll use that must be a split pack situation and not a no pack.

** It is important to note here that it can sometimes be the person physically working the hardest that is doing nothing. For instance, if the pack is split, it might be the skater in the front racing away doing the least to reform, do not make the mistake of mistaking physical activity for working to reform or of assuming it is always the rear-most portion responsible for reforming a pack.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Personal Presentation

Similar to choosing a derby name, personal presentation presents a balancing act unique to the roller derby referee. Here though it is important to consider the much larger implications your choices in this matter have. Officials in all other sports have very strict dress codes, down to how many stripes their socks should have. In roller derby, where not even team uniforms are necessarily uniform, that sort of absolutism finds little foothold, which can be counter-productive if abused. We have a responsibility to the sport, the players (not just in our own leagues but in other leagues) and to other officials to act professionally. What that word means is different depending on whom one talks to, but it's hard to believe that anyone considers looking unkempt, disheveled or generally like a slob is professional. One should look neat and in control, as your appearance affects people's view of you. Your apparent effort in preparing physically presumably reflects your efforts to prepare mentally.

Again, some might say that that sort of thing doesn't matter, what matters is making the right call, and of course making the right call is important, it is absolutely important. But consider also that as a referee you are the authority in the game, and the ramifications of not being taken seriously. If you don't seem like you know what you're doing, your calls will be questioned more, right or wrong. That means more time-outs for challenges, which means stoppage of the game-flow, one of your responsibilities as a referee. Poor presentation will also result in skaters not taking you as seriously, because why should they respect you or your position if you don't respect your position? This will lead to insubordination, related penalties and all the fall-out of that, all because you were too cool to just wear a regular referee's shirt. This theme, of the ramifications of presentation and behavior, is a very real concern. While it's acceptable, in derby more so than any other sport, to not take everything seriously, and while that might even be encouraged, one should consider where they feel comfortable drawing that line, and where the people they work with feel comfortable having that line drawn for them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Future Skater?

Either way, good advice for referees, old or new. Also, remember that there are bears on roller skates at most carnivals, so this is more than just an idle threat, two words: Bear Derby. Yeah.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Picking a Name

We all know that first impressions are important. Unique to our sport is that often times people will know each other more from on-line interactions than from reffing together, and on-line the first impression you make is often based on your name. Of course this is roller derby, and you should be able to pick any name you want, but remember, your derby name is who you are, and will say a lot about you to other people. To skaters, to other refs and to fans. Consider for a long time before deciding on a name. Does it convey authority? Does it make you seem unapproachable? What will people think your primary motivation is in being at the bout? Is it to ogle girls, or is it to referee the bout? Also, the right name can help you to be a better referee. It can assist you in creating a persona that is more suited to reffing than you may be now. For instance, if you are often shy and unsure of yourself, a name that inherently demands respect or is inherently more outgoing can help you find that confidence you lack as you take on that role for the night.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Discussion on Thresholds

It is not uncommon at practices for a referee to see an action and make no call, only to have a captain, coach or other skater yell at the offending player for that action. It is important as a referee that you understand that that does not necessarily mean that you have missed a call. What it is likely an indication of is the different thresholds that referees and coaches employ, and it's important to understand also that this is entirely appropriate, and that it would be incorrect to tighten up your calling to the level that these coaches or captains are employing.

Referees have one standard, the standard they use to determine if an action is a penalty or not. It is important for the referee to constantly refine and re-enforce that standard in their reffing as often as possible. As such, it's clear that they should use the same standard during practices as they do during bouts, to grade things using the same standard or threshold all the time. Ideally coaches will understand and agree with this standard, but that does not mean that it is the standard that they will use.

It is in the coach's best interest that their skaters never get penalties, are never even in danger of getting penalties. So, for instance, a forearm to the back that has no effect on the other skater will not meet the standard of the referees, they will not call anything. However, the standard held by the coach of what is an objectionable action may well have just been met, because this action puts their skater in a position to possibly draw a penalty, depending on the offended skater's reaction and depending on how strict the given referee is calling the game or how they see the action (all things out of the coach's control). So the coach will look to control what they can, and what they can control is their skaters, and they will want them to avoid being in that vulnerable position by never putting their forearm on a player's back at all, to avoid the possibility of a penalty by avoiding the action altogether.

It should be clear then that there are these different standards, it should be clear how they sync up, and the ways in which they can be out of sync. The point of this discussion then is not that every disagreement between coaches and referees, at practices or at bouts, is going to be the result of differing thresholds. It is not to insulate the referees from criticism in these situations, for to insulate referees from criticism is to protect them from improving, something we cannot do. I discuss this though because I have seen referees in many situations, where in drills or scrimmages, convince themselves that they must be missing calls because the coaches continue to yell at their skaters about their forearms or hands, and it is this concern that referees must insulate themselves from through a better understanding of these different thresholds.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year's

It's new year's, which means new content. I'm finished with the back-log of old game journals, so we can move on from there. Of course they'll continue to appear, but they won't be published for two or three months after the bout in question, gotta give people space and stuff, right?

So today's going to see the start of some new stuff, mostly discussions and things I personally believe about roller derby refereeing. The first thing is: I believe there should be an allowance for discretion. I know, shocking that I might believe that. Your thoughts comments are welcome. And you are welcome. And you're welcome.

Also, anyone that's following this space or whatever, sorry if you've gotten like a dozen notifications lately, some things have been getting messed up when I publish, so I keep having to pull posts down and re-post them. It frustrates me too.

Why Discretion is Necessary in Derby

In broad, general terms, most other competitive sports, specifically those with contact, maintain a base-line equality at all times by calling for a stop to play immediately when a penalty occurs. As we know though, in roller derby, play continues until two minutes have expired or something else has caused the jam to end, but only in extreme cases is that something else a penalty. By stopping play, penalizing a team or player and then re-starting play, the referees and the rules of the game maintain that base-line equality, so that rarely is a penalty by one player caused by another player's prior penalty. Why this is is clear, because following the initial penalty play is called off, allowing the offended player to recover however they want, without concern about also maintaining their position, motion or advantage, all of those concerns are put on hold as play stops. In roller derby however this very scenario, of one penalty causing a second illegal action, happens plenty. 

Consider the following scenario:
Player A back-blocking Player B hard enough to cause B to fall forward should result in a major to Player A. It can also easily result in Player B back-blocking Player C. 
In most other contact sports, the original penalty would've stopped play. Play being stopped Player B can stop worrying about penalties, position or advantage and can safely take a knee or make a controlled fall, perhaps even use her hands to steady both herself and Player C together. In derby though, play continues. Now there are two possibilities. One, a referee without discretion must disregard any circumstances and call things exactly as the rules state, which means player B could get a back-blocking penalty, possibly a major. Option two is a referee who considers the circumstances, sees that it was C's teammate A who caused B to back-block her and makes the call on A, the initial penalty, only, since it was not B's intent or fault that she back-blocked C, it was A's fault. It is these sort of dynamic and shifting situations and circumstances that demand the presence of, and proper application of, discretion in roller derby refereeing. Any referee who argues that they need not ever apply discretion, any skater that shudders at the idea of discretion, anybody who thinks that a memorization of the rules is enough for a referee  should consider this point.