Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Care and Feeding of a Zebra

Referees.  You can't have derby without them, and yet they might be the most abused people in our sport.  Some refs come into this sport as spouses and significant others of skaters; some refs just want to volunteer and help.  Sometimes these happy volunteers get turned off and soured by the way skaters treat them or worse yet, demand too much from them!  We'd all like for our refs to show up to every practice ever, train at every offered training ever, and memorize the rules without ever ever making a mistake.  We judge refs harshly at times, even more harshly than we judge other skaters, and because of behaviors like that, we are losing key volunteers.  Remember ladies and gentlemen, it's a LOT easier to retain people than it is to find new ones and start the training process all over again.  So, how can we keep them?  Please read the tips below and ponder how your league can make the reffing experience better for all involved.

 Picture courtesy of SyFy Chanel (Little City Roller Girls)

1.  Make sure they feel appreciated by the league.  The first time I saw a league publicly thank the refs who were at the bout was when Montreal lined up after the game and shook their hands.  I thought that this was extremely classy, and I've always made sure to thank the refs who come to our league's practices.  If you have an award ceremony at the end of the season for your league, please include the refs.  Also, show them a little love at bouts and get them a goodie basket with water and bananas and such in it. Let them know you are aware that they are essential to the success of your league.

Kam N. GetIt from the Camel City Thrashers took this at the Lazy 5 Ranch.  Who wouldn't want to keep a zebra around?

2.  Keep your practice schedules consistent.  Referees are taking time from their schedules to help out your league.  Most refs want to be present for scrimmage or skrills.  They don't want to show up to a practice where you're doing team bonding, or mental training, or just endurance.  Remember, their skills need practice too, and for them to make calls, they need to see a scrimmage type situation happening.  It's awesome if they want to show up for the other practices, but you can't expect them to spend the time and gas money to show up for every practice.  That's a SKATER's job, not theirs.  I know that sounds kind of elitist, but it's true.  They are doing this job to help you have fun; they don't get the same kind of glory you do from it.

3.  Limit their responsibilities.  I know there are a lot of leagues out there that expect their refs to put down the track at practice or on game days.  Really?  I FIRMLY believe that is a skater job.  Learn to be self sufficient people!  Some leagues demand that refs serve on committees as well, which could really burn a referee out.  Think about what you are asking from your volunteers, and maybe reevaluate some of your league rules.  "That's how it's always been done" is not a cogent argument against overloading your refs.

4.  Train them.  If there is a training in the area for referees, please encourage them to go!  Encouragement could come in the form of "The league will pay X amount towards your training if you promise to stay with our league for the season."  I'm not saying you have to pay for everything, or even ask for a time commitment, but it may be considered an investment in your league's success.  The better informed your refs are, the better your training is going to be. Also, does your league have a mentoring program for the refs?  You should.  On that same note, encourage them to ref with other leagues and train with other refs.  The more experience your refs get, the better they will be.  Practice makes perfect!

From the recently held ref clinic.  Tripp n Dale explains pack definition.

5.  Let them eff up.  Remember when you were a rookie skater and you back blocked the crap out of a veteran skater?  Veterans expect rookies to do stupid and illegal stuff out on the track because they're learning.  New and even seasoned refs are always learning!  Remember, this game changes every year, if not every month!  I know it sucks when you get called for something you really didn't think you did, but instead of yelling about it on the track, try and hold your comments for later.  The heat of the moment may not be the best time to give anyone feedback.  Yes I'm guilty of this as well, but I'm trying not to make anyone feel bad for doing their job.  It's a daily struggle, but we all can get better at it.

6.  Encourage retired skaters to think about reffing.  Hey, who knows how to skate and the game better than retired skaters?  I understand that not everyone will want to take up the stripes, and not every retired skater is going to be a good ref, but it might be an option to explore with your league.

7.  Don't date them.  Uh oh.  Controversy.  But once again, if someone comes into the league as a non-partnered volunteer, it might be a good idea not to date them.  What happens when a skater and a ref break up?  DRAMA!  You might lose the ref, you might lose the skater, or you might lose both of them.  I know that we spend waaaaay too much time with our leagues, so it's natural to date within derby, but really consider NOT doing it.  Sometimes the easy choice is not the right choice in the long haul.

I'd like to thank all of the officials who weighed in on the question I posted on FB about this topic.  Every time we keep a trained ref interested in derby, we are doing the sport a favor.

Tart of Darkness is a happy, healthy and well trained ref!


  1. Thanks for this blog, Q. I know I sometimes screw up when I ref (it's hard not to when you're the ONLY ref for a league and end up having to do too many things at once), but I appreciate that the PSRG always makes me feel appreciated. I know that's definitely NOT the case in a lot of leagues. --Tart of Darkness

  2. All excellent points.

    Something else to consider: Most everyone expects the refs to be impartial. This means that a lot of the refs feel like they shouldn't or can't come and hang out and joke and play around with the players on bout day. It's too public, it could show favoritism, etc etc. Combined with the stress and the argumentative nature of fans (and some skaters) means being a zebra can be a lonely thing. Same goes for the derby-widows/widowers of zebras. They want to hang with their S.O.'s AND hang with their friends on the teams, and it's hard to do both on bout days.

  3. "They don't want to show up to a practice where you're doing [...] just endurance."

    I totally agree with your larger point, and scrimmage is hands-down the most important for refs, but endurance is an *awesome* practice for refs to attend. We skate every jam, and it's not all that rare for us to do it two games in a row.

    1. To be can work on your endurance without driving to practice....just saying. ;)

  4. Thanks Q! Mentoring would have been a nice thing, I never had a derby wife. These days, I enjoy teaching dental radiography in my spare time. I'll never go back to derby.