Learning some basic refereeing skills is something I can get behind for anyone involved in roller derby, even if it’s just temporarily due to injury, some extra skate time before advancing to scrimmaging, improving your understanding as a coach, something to do on a casual basis alongside skating, or if you really do want to referee roller derby regularly. This is the first part in a short series of blogs to empower you to get started – for the motivation behind it, click here.
I owe a big thanks to attendees of my 2017 bootcamps, my foals at Wiltshire Roller Derby, plus the ghouls of Oxford Wheels of Gory for inspiring and guiding the content of this mini-series.
You don’t need much kit to get started refereeing, assuming you’re already into derby and have the necessary skates and mandatory safety equipment. If not, your local league will be full of advice regarding this if you’re taking part in their rookie program.
Stripes aren’t cheap
In this referee’s opinion, you really don’t need stripes to start. A comfortable, well-fitting, WFTDA-uniform-policy-meeting, personalised set can set you back ££, so, unless it’s a league policy, don’t feel like you have to invest in stripes just to start out refereeing practice and internal training scrimmages. Nobody should feel like they have to fork out a ton of money to get started in officiating derby.
One great, often completely free, way to promote team mentality amongst skating officials and to distinguish them from skaters is to all wear a shirt of a particular colour – my first league used to promote referees wearing blue at our midweek red vs black scrimmages. It meant our stripes were fresh and ready for closed door and open door games against other teams, and most of us had a blue top in a drawer somewhere, or it was affordable to purchase while we found our feet.
Avoid cheap pea whistles
Roller derby referees use pealess whistles. The main benefits are they sound like each other, you can get a good volume without risk of overblowing, and it’s easy to do short sharp repeated whistles – the whistle signals for ending the jam and calling lead jammer. If you invest in a “first whistle”, I strongly recommend a Fox 40 classic with finger grip. The Fox 40 classic is the preferred whistle for flat track roller derby, and while the finger grip costs a little extra, it’s worth it for the lack of “whistle fumble” when you need a minimum of obstacles between you and delivering a penalty call. CMG just means “comfort mouth grip” – a worthwhile investment, but not essential. (Read about whistles here, but search online to find a good price or your preferred retailer in your area – support your local skater-owned and operated businesses!)
Please for the love of all things derby don’t make your only whistle a Sonik Blast (or any other unnecessarily loud whistle) or a Pearl (they’re quieter and tend to sound weird against other officials’ whistles).
If you want to start learning to be a jammer referee, it’s handy to have a second whistle on a lanyard, alongside a finger whistle. Your league may have a pool of whistles like this – just make sure you sanitise them regularly! You can also wrap the lanyard around your hand to make a pseudo finger whistle, but honestly? As a self-professed clumsy person, I prefer the real thing.
Get a sturdy notebook
By sturdy, I mean one with a hard, durable cover that means it can survive regular travel in your kit bag. You can use it for your own self-study, by making notes (useful for some activities in part two!) and taking along to clinics and bootcamps. It’s also great for your own goal setting, ideas and prompts for training sessions and for recording achievements so you can look back later and see how far you’ve come. I am a serial scribbler and know not everyone feels compelled to write things down as much as I do. If you’re a fan of bullet journalling, this is something you can adapt to your officiating journey. Do what works for you.