New Year’s Ref-olution – where do I start, exactly? (2)

The amount to learn as a new roller derby skating official can be overwhelming. This is particularly the case if you haven’t played extensively or don’t have experience in various non-skating roles. Even if you have, there is still a LOT to learn, and not all of it is necessary to do at practice, on skates. Recently when I’ve asked new trainees what they think they need to do to get themselves ready for their first open games, “read the rules” comes up pretty quickly, but getting detail beyond that is a little more difficult.

When I started out, as much of my referee learning was done outside training sessions as it was in. Back then there weren’t the wealth of easily accessible resources there are now, both for skate skills and for referee education, but study, discussion and thought experiments were key for consolidating all of the new information.

Here are seven ideas of activities you can do from the comfort of your own home to give yourself a strong start. And none involve sitting down and just reading the rules. Do just one that really appeals to you, treating it as an individual project, then, when you’re ready, try another.  Most can also be easily taken along to training to do with a friend.

1) Get in tune with the language of roller derby

This is the closest I’ll get to saying “read the rules” in this post – read the WFTDA Glossary. Different leagues have their own names for various derby strategies and techniques, but the terms listed here are a consistent language across English-speaking derby to ensure everyone is talking about the same thing. Knowing, for example, when an upright skater becomes “down”, what “engaging” actually is, that “impenetrable” has a very specific meaning and how we define “relative position” all provide the foundation for learning about how to apply the rules to actual derby.

Think about what each definition looks like in real life. Draw pictures, act it out, annotate or highlight away – whatever works for you.

[LINK] WFTDA Glossary

2) Watch some recent high-level footage with your referee hat on

Try this game, here: Gotham vs Texas from 2017 WFTDA Champs is a fabulous showcase of derby (or alternatively pick your own)

  • What penalties are being called*, and why? (Rewind and use slow motion playback, if you can!) You might need to use the search function on the WFTDA rules mini-site to answer your question.
  • How do the outside pack referees work together to ensure maximum coverage of the action?
  • Follow a single referee through a few jams – where are they positioning themselves and why, what skate skills are they using, what are they observing and how do they communicate to the skaters, spectators and other officials?  Re-watch the same few jams, but following an official in a different role – how does their experience of the same jams differ?
  • If you see anything that confuses you, make a note of the time on the video, and find a friend to discuss it with.

*Remember a different hand signal and/or verbal cue may be being used if you’re watching footage from 2017 and reading this after WFTDA officially release the new 2018 hand signal and verbal cue updates!

3) Watch a video or three from Ref-Ed

Ref-Ed is a fantastic resource from top official Aaron Propes (formerly known as (Wernher Von Bombed), tying up derby concepts into mini lectures, with visuals. Taking one area of derby at a time is a really valuable thing you can do when starting out, even when trying to be a rules savvy player or coach. The videos are updated periodically when required, so always pay attention to the date! I think the following three videos provide a great starting point but there’s a whole list of them on the website and more updates to come in 2018:

Relative position – one of those great fundamentals from the glossary in the first activity in this list, build on it here!

Blocks to the back – this is great to get in tune with a relatively common penalty, and the idea of who is the initiator of an action

Illegally gaining position/Cutting the track – this is probably one of the first penalties new referees feel comfortable to call

4) Practice your vocal projection

We all need to use it, and it pays to practice, as long as you’re not irritating your housemate/neighbour/cat.  This activity can be done in conjunction with the verbal cues in activity 5.  Focus on saying things slowly enough so that they are clear, but efficiently enough so that you’re not taking too long to deliver your communication.

I frequently talk about “finding your BOOM”, particularly if you’re someone with a naturally higher pitched or quieter voice.  This involves using your diaphragm, speaking from the chest and working at delivering in a slightly lower pitch than your regular speaking voice. Experiment and practice, as everyone’s resonant frequency is different.

When we have to repeat a penalty call, it’s easy to fall into a trap of having a greater sense of urgency in our delivery – projection then morphs into shouting, and your vocal pitch can rise to become less audible on track than the original call.  Keeping our cool and remembering to project is essential.

You can find some resources below from outside the world of roller derby, to ensure you’re rarely accused of not being loud enough and you’re definitely not coming across as “shouty”:

[LINK] Projecting your voice without yelling

[LINK] Developing your vocal resonance

5) Learn the hand signals and verbal cues

Having a strong grasp of the hand signals and verbal cues is valuable in your player/coach/NSO life, as you’re well conditioned to recognise warnings or other communications that are not penalties along with what penalties have been issued and whether they necessitate a review.

We’re in a bit of an odd position right now as new signals and cues are due, and known to those bound by the WFTDA/MRDA non-disclosure agreements, but we aren’t exactly sure when they’ll be fully released into the public sphere. So, anyone wanting to learn for the first time may face an amount of re-learning very soon after. Regardless, the latest information will be in the WFTDA Officiating and Training Resources – just pay attention to the publication dates (and I’ll attempt to update this blog!).

Read the cues, but also practice delivering them, with hand signals.  Start to develop your so-called muscle memory off the track, then you won’t hesitate when you’re alongside it, reducing that delay from seeing a penalty, to calling it.

6) Get in touch with your peers

Discussion groups can be a great way to really start thinking about rules and their applications – it’s much more fun to learn with other people. Either set one up between those who want to develop refereeing skills within your league, join one for your local area/country, or even further afield with some worldwide discussion groups. You’ll quickly learn there are lots of different voices speaking from different levels of experience and officiating cultures, and they don’t always agree. Some groups on Facebook are private (e.g. Officials’ Lounge) and may require an invite, so ask an experienced, local official friend what groups they think you may find useful and could invite you to join. Some groups will have more requests to recruit officials for games than rules chat, but are still open to this sort of discussion.  Make sure you read the group rules before you post, or if there are additional hoops to jump through when you request membership.

To get you started, two Euro-centric groups:

UK Refs

Roller Derby Rules Clarification and Tough Questions

7) Take it a day at a time

Roller Derby Rule of the Day is a fantastic resource that most beginner derbyists are signposted towards, but I keep stumbling into people who haven’t heard of it. Hence I’ll keep sharing. Part rules education tool and part discussion forum, the team at RDRotD explain how a particular rule or casebook entry relates to derby gameplay. It’ll get you thinking about each rule’s part in the larger derby jigsaw – each post is the rules excerpt itself but the juicy explanation comes with the first comment from the RDRotD team.

Let me know in the comments which of these you enjoyed, and whether there are other useful ideas you’d recommend others to try.  In part three we’ll look at applying foundations of refereeing trackside, and part four will share further resources to help you take your next steps as a roller derby referee.

4 thoughts on “New Year’s Ref-olution – where do I start, exactly? (2)

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