Monday, April 30, 2012

They're Just Doing Their Jobs: Some Ref Love

I can't believe the ref missed that call!  He calls me for a back-block AFTER that girl totally low-blocked me!  We've all been there, that's for sure.  I think the one thing that unites just about every derby player in the world is the urge to ref-hate at times.  Team Zebra hates everyone equally, right?  I decided to write this blog today because I had some pretty awful moments of ref grumping at practice today.  I kept most of it in my head, but I still need to redeem my derby karma!
Well, let's remember ladies and gentlemen, that these guys and gals come out, give us their time and their attention to help us.  Unfortunately, we don't always remember this and we get frustrated.  We expect perfection, or at least for them to make calls that favor us, right?  I asked some refs to weigh in on us haters, and here are some of the responses.

Don't hate, appreciate!  Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami

Seeing a penalty is a three step process. We have to see who initiated contact, what the contact was, and the impact of the contact. If we miss any one part of those, we can not call a penalty. As a ref, it is important to position yourself to see the occurrence, but if you're only seeing the contact and the impact but not who initiated, or the initiation and the contact but not the impact, then there is no informed way to make a call. I think all refs and skaters will agree that missing a penalty should be avoided, but a missed penalty has less overall impact on the game than one that is incorrectly called.  Admiral Packbar

Reffing is a skill just like skating is a skill. It takes the same amount of time to become a good referee as it does to be a good skater. If skaters recognized that refs aren't perfect and are indeed learning? Same as refs should recognize that skaters aren't perfect and are still learning, the world would be a better place. Can't we all just get along?  Stiff Penalty

Reffing roller derby is one of the hardest sports to officiate. There's not many other sports where 7 different officials can all see the action and call it 7 different ways. Bottom line, as already kind of discussed, the officials have to see the start, middle and end of the action. If we don't see it and we are not 100% sure of the call we cannot call it. If there was a penalty and we're not sure it's a major then it is a minor call. If we're not sure it's a minor then it's a no call. Also, it's important to keep in mind that a hard hit does not equate to an illegal hit. Often times you will have a manager argue a hit that was completely legal. If a skater is on the ground holding their face and there was no call, then it would be unfortunate that we missed a call, but it happens. It's an unfortunate but important lesson for the future. Don't let the stress get to you. What you see on the track and what you call is based on what you saw on the track. Back your calls with facts when they try to argue them. It always works better during the discussion when you can break the play down.  Ludichris Speed

Something else to keep in mind to go along with Ludichris Speed is that it's very difficult to judge all of this while in motion. There is no other sport where the players and officials are constantly in motion. Every other sport has a fixed point that they can judge off of where we are always in motion.

Also it's very difficult to see a penalty occur when there are 7 other girls in the pack with you. If any one of them get in our line of sight or even another ref does and we cannot see the entire penalty then we cannot call… really sucks when you know something happens but you can't do anything about it because we didn't see it all.  
Verbal Assault

When I'm worried about missed penalties, I sometimes think of this story:
A man was driving down the highway, making good time, led and followed by several other cars. Passing through a town, he saw flashing lights in his mirror, and obediently stopped on the shoulder of the road; a police car pulled in behind him.

The police officer stepped out of his car, and walked slowly up to the driver's window. He said, "Sir, you were doing eighty in a sixty zone. I'm afraid I'm going to have to give you a ticket."

Watching dozens of other cars roll past, the driver asked in frustration, "Why did you stop me? All those other cars are going just as fast as I was!"

The officer paused a moment to frame his reply. He finally asked the driver, "Sir, do you ever go fishing?" The driver, somewhat perplexed, replied, "Of course...."

The officer then asked, "When you go fishing, do you ever catch all of the fish?"

As referees, we are not always able to issue a penalty for every illegal action. But, as a player, your illegal action is not acceptable just because another player's illegal action wasn't penalized.  Anonymous

If skaters were as perfect as they want the referees to be, there would be no need for referees, only scorekeepers. I'm waiting for the day a skater comes to me and says "Hey, you just missed a back block , I would like my penalty now please". I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen but the irony is pretty obvious don't you think? I don't know about the rest because I have only worked with new teams that have no WFTDA standings to worry about but usually they are just glad to be having fun and everything is forgotten about fifteen minutes into the after party. I think most new skaters realize that refs have just as much to learn about Derby as they do. Oh they are going to complain but from what I've seen win or lose at the end of the bout their discontent is quickly overshadowed by the sheer excitement of Derby....... HottRod

Refs are people too. We volunteered to be at practices and bouts, and we aren't looking for a "win." Even though Team Zebra has remained undefeated (like the Harlem Globetrotters). Very few refs are as well known to the world as some skaters are, we aren't there for that. Just to be supportive in what you women are doing. That is why so few refs are ever asked for a signature after a bout. We shake each others hands and then drift into the mist on the outside of the track after a bout or practice.

Many refs spend as much money on gear as skaters do. But add to it that a lot of them have to drive many more miles if they ref for other local leagues, and do more scrimmages and bouts. Gas expense, mileage, and even hotel rooms add up. So, they spend just about as much money (sometimes even more) to be a volunteer.   Percy Q-Tion

Far too frequently, skaters argue with refs about nuances of the rules that they (skaters) don't know/understand. Yes, refs make mistakes, but if they are like me, they read the rules over and over, follow/participate in a number of referee-focused online discussions and boards, and watch other refs at work in addition to practicing by reffing scrimmages. Doing all of this helps me to mitigate my number of erroneous and missed calls. I agree with Em Forcer that having thick skin helps, but so does knowing my stuff and not having to worry about what skaters are yelling when I know I am right and can cite rules to back it up.  Tart of Darkness

 Two words:  Thick skin!  EM Forcer

As a new ref I know I'm going to miss things. Best answer I give is that it's a learning process for me too. I make calls that I'm willing to stand behind and try to keep improving with each bout. My goal is to be a ref leagues are glad to have on hand, because they know I'll be fair.  Dee Twenty

What everyone already said I was going to say. Definitely know your stuff and have a thick skin. But I think skaters sometimes forget that we are there for their safety and there are rules for a reason. And a good ref can tell the difference between acting and an actual penalty. Vanna Down by the River

We all need to remember that even though roller derby is "for the skaters, by the skaters" it takes a hell of a lot of people to help us run this amazing sport!  When a ref does his or her job well, people tend not to notice; and when they don't, everyone does.  It's a tough position to be in, but they volunteer for it!  Please help me and everyone keep that in mind next time we get a case of the ref grumpies.


  1. As a long time ref, I agree with all the things that all these refs have said. It's a very tough sport to officiate, you can't call what you didn't see, etc, etc. As a skater now I have to remember this when I play and get pissed at missed calls, or shitty calls, whatever. They are just doing their job.

    What bothers me most when it comes to refs, and this has been a long time peeve of mine, is referees who don't learn from each game they officiate. I have seen refs make the same bad call many times in many bouts over many months, never learning from the feedback they receive from other officials, skaters, coaches, anyone. Some refs have that "I stand by my call" attitude, which is great until every single person who witnessed that call has a valid reason for why that ref was wrong. If nobody agrees with you, you're probably wrong. Not always, but surely almost always.

    Then these consistently wrong or bad referees get a reputation, because derby is a small community, and when skaters encounter these refs, their reputation precedes them and it makes their mistakes that much worse. A highly regarded referee who makes a mistake can be ignored, whereas a referee generally thought to be a poor official who makes a mistake will get booed, hissed at, and bitched about.

    Finally, although it is true, the whole "we give our time so we need to be respected" argument only holds so much water. Yeah, you're a volunteer, but if you want respect from skaters, respect your position. As a referee you are not there for yourself. You may really enjoy refereeing and therefore you take pleasure in being there to officiate, but your job as a ref is to be there to enforce the rules for the skaters. If you ever forget that fact, then you have just become a bad referee, in my opinion. If someone decides to become a roller derby referee, then they need to take all the responsibility that comes with that position, which includes always, always, always studying the rules, learning from the constructive criticism of other officials, keeping abreast of recent clarifications and official interpretations of the rules, and above all, always having an attitude of "I can always be a better referee". I'm not suggesting a referee think that they suck, and should always be doing better, I'm saying that no matter how good a referee is, there's so much for everyone to learn officiating this sport. Even the top tier of reffing in this sport, Level 5 certified refs, argue with each other over rules interpretations, and get things wrong now and then. Nobody is perfect, but accepting that fact should never be acceptable. "Oh crap, I screwed up that call. Next time I'll get it right!" That's how refs should always be thinking. Were you not in the right position and missed a bunch of penalties? Work on better positioning. Are you consistently behind another ref and missing action? Remedy your position. Are you consistently seeing the impact of a block but not the initiation? Learn to look for trigger actions, and use your peripheral vision more. There are so many things a referee can work on to become a better ref.

    To sum up, yeah it's tough to be a ref, and these people are people, and they volunteer a LOT of their own time so skaters can have their game kept safe and fair. But ref need to act like skaters and always be striving to better.

    1. Agreed. Everyone must step up his or her game, including the refs, but the refs are there not for the glory, but for the safety of the game. They are volunteers, and skaters need to remember that. Without refs, there would be no game.

    2. Thank you so much for these posts about Zebra perspective...I'm a ref-in-training right now and find them VERY informative :)