How to make the most of referees at training

This is adapted from a post first shared on Facebook in the Autumn of 2017.


Several referees shared insights on Facebook over the past year regarding the fundamental differences in experiences for officials in roller derby compared to players. They’ve covered everything from costs, expectations on game days and the way officials are spoken to and about on track.

Inequities in the derby experience for officials are also present outside of game days – ie. in everyday training, affecting rookie and experienced officials alike. 

Officials are often reliant on what players are doing in any one session to inform what they themselves can practice. I’ve experienced having scrimmage cancelled last minute. Sometimes by coaches, sometimes due to players not notifying their absence and numbers being unexpectedly low. So it’s time for drills instead. Okay. Refs can adapt. For NSOs it can be more limiting.

Here’s the rub – the choice of drills matter. I’ve been told drills will need refs and they really, really don’t. There are few things more disheartening than feeling that you, the official, are struggling to get the necessary training time so you can become the confident official you and the derby world would like you to be.

In the spirit of addressing this constructively, here are some really small things for coaches and players to get the most out of your refs and the refs get the most out of practice, even when it’s not scrimmage. It’s not exhaustive and it’s very ref-leaning. (Sorry non-skating officials – I would love your ideas in the comments!)

1) Players – please wear your numbers. Arm numbers *and* back numbers. It helps efficiency in calling penalties, practising counting points, and feeding back particularly when the crew is short, and helps reduce the ‘see-call delay’ for newer refs. The longer the delay, the more unsure the rookie gets, and their confidence to make that call ebbs away. The same goes for appropriate colour tops aiding good pack definition. We get sharper. You get sharper. Win win.

2) Leave space for refs to practice skills/positioning in their natural environment. Particularly if the current drill is low intensity or you’re stepping it through, make sure refs aren’t shut out from doing anything at all. Ensure the infield/outfield ref lanes are free of bottles, debris and lots of extra skaters.

3) Invite refs to non-contact drill sections and involve them. Feed back to them as you would any other skater as they need to work on those ‘soft’ skills, too.

4) A truly ‘reffable’ drill is one done at approximately game/scrim intensity. Lower intensity usually means we clock the illegal action, but there’s rarely enough impact on the track for a penalty. If you know you’re just going to be feeling things out, let the refs know. Empower them to adapt their practice and don’t make them hover if there’s nothing to see.

5) If refs are watching, empower players to ask questions. Do I keep using my forearms? Was anything ‘nearly a penalty’? Challenge your refs to improve their rules knowledge and to communicate what they can see using the language of the rules. Having clear and friendly ref-player comms is a valuable skill to develop.

6) Agree between coaches and refs if you want penalties to be called and how players should respond. Make sure the players, referees and coaches are expecting the same things. Just a nod of recognition? Leave and re-enter the track legally? Report to and time themselves in the box? These expectations should realistically change depending on the drill, so keep communicating!

7) Find a natural cue to reset a drill. The awarding of lead jammer. The second jammer leaving the engagement zone. The jammer pushing the blocker out of play and blocker responding accordingly. These are all things that refs and players have to identify and respond to in-game and it’s an easy bonus practice opportunity for everyone. Expecting refs to blow a whistle “when players aren’t actually doing the prescribed drill” or something similar is where coaches can cut in.

Happy training. 🙂

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