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.

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