Monday, May 25, 2015

Referee feedback

Photo by Joshua R. Craig
Ever had to do a ref evaluation during a game? Sometime they're thrown at a team minutes before a game, and then that team has to scramble to find someone to fill them out. At some point, that person might be you; filling out the actual form isn't hard, or even mentally strenuous, but it does have some pitfalls that you might have to worry about. Maybe worry is too strong of a word, but if you want your ref evaluation to actually be helpful, you need to put some effort into them. Even if you're not doing an official WFTDA ref and NSO feedback form, and just giving a ref requested feedback, you should use these guides to help you construct your feedback.

1. Actually watch the ref and not focus on the game. This is the hardest thing ever, in fact, it's harder than saying no to amazing cheesecake, or going to bed early when there is a fantastic show on TV. Watching the ref you've been asked to give feedback to can be extremely difficult because as skaters, we tend to watch the game play instead of the refs. We usually only notice the refs and NSOs when either we disagree with them, or whole heartedly agree with them because that call they just made threw the other team's jammer in the box.

2.  Look for consistent calls. Are they consistently calling out of play? Are the consistently aware of skaters creating the pack? These are great things to point out, because consistency is important in a ref crew. Conversely, if they are making the incorrect calls consistently, that is something to point out. Do they constantly miss define the pack because they keep missing blockers from both teams? Are the calling 9 feet closer to 5 feet? If they are constantly consistently calling the wrong call, that can be room for improvement as well.

3. Do they know the rules? Sounds like a dumb question, but it is an important one. If they're NSOing, do they understand the protocols of the penalty box? Do the refs understand who initiated the contact? Can they keep track of their jammers and keep the the number of points earned? Having a good grasp on the rule set is essential for NSOs and refs.

4. Can they skate confidently. I know that we, as skaters, tend to be hyper critical about skating ability; we train so much to be great at what we do, but refs need to be confident on their skates as well. Do they need to be able to skate on one foot around the outside curve while spinning around? No, but it's important that they can keep up with the pack and jammers, and not worry about their ability to stop when needed. There have been several refs I've watched miss calls because they were looking at their feet instead of watching the game. Refs need to have great awareness as well, you never know when a jammer will get her world rocked and thrown into a ref at the worst moment possible.

5. Are they professional? I've dealt with amazing refs who had great interpersonal skills; they could diffuse angry bench coaches by listening and making them feel like their needs were being heard.  Conversely, I've dealt with ref crews who were dismissive, or seemed flustered, or were even arguing amongst themselves. I know refs are human too, but keeping a professional front helps keep games go smoothly. And speaking of smoothly, I do tend to wonder when a ref crew has to have tons of official time outs. If a ref crew is calling official time outs every other jam to either get the score straight or correct calls, communication has broken down and the game is definitely impacted.

Is reffing and NSOing an easy job? Oh heck no! I've dabbled in both during my derby career and I have immense respect for the people who volunteer to keep the game going safely and efficiently. We all should, but both refs and NSOs should be open to constructive feedback. We all want to improve our skills, and I am sure that the dedicated women and men who ref and NSO are trying to do the same. 


  1. Thanks so much for this column! Just a few words about *why* these evals are so important to officials, and why you may be confronted with a stack of them at a sanctioned or regulation bout.

    The WFTDA certification process for officials is quite challenging. In addition to passing a difficult exam, (so much so, that the NSO version is known as the "hellahard") certified officials also need to have demonstrated their competence by working sanctioned and regulation bouts away from their home league, and accumulate a decent number of evaluations for their work. (Evaluations from your own league don't count toward certification.)

    And certification isn't just a pretty patch on your sleeve - it's an essential step if you want to be staffed to work higher level tournaments, playoffs, and the like. So these evaluations are critical for an official's career in derby. Which is why it means so much to us when you turn them in. (I estimate I get about one submitted for every four I request.) The fact that the certification process is taken so seriously also means that when you see those patches on an official's sleeve, you can be fairly sure you're in good hands.

    So please do be 100% honest in your feedback. This article is a *great* list of suggestions on how to do that. Bear in mind that if the referee is interpreting the rules fairly and consistently, it's not necessarily a negative that their interpretation is slightly different from yours. But do turn those evals in! They can only help make derby better for everyone.

  2. Thank you for taking on this topic! I thought about it while I was scanning in stacks of evals from a recent event. There are a couple other points I think people should know....

    If you don't understand a call, try to find out about it after the game. I have had people approach me for clarification, and then ask for another eval sheet when they realized they had skewered me on the eval and didn't understand what I was calling. Understanding why someone called something they way they did may not mean you agree with what they saw, but would help with the general rules questions that come up so often.

    Did you know that Officials don't get to see what is on our evaluations? Nope...they get sent in and we only get to see that they exists. So how do you build a better Official if they don't get to see the feedback that we are asking for and you are working so hard to provide?!?!?

    I try to remember to add my email address to the sheets that I give the Captains, in the hope that they may copy me when they send it in to RefCert / NSOCert. Not guaranteed, but a better shot of getting the information. Or if they don't want to sent it to me directly, they can send it to the HR who can filter it to me.

    Anyway you try to do it, it is really all about trying to get the best Officials that we can,and that can only be accomplished by communication and feedback. Honest, specific, timely feedback. Clinics and classes can help, but that isn't where the skates meet the track.