New Year’s Ref-olution – exercising your referee brain (3)

The first two blogs in this mini-series for those new to being a skating official concerned things you should invest in, and learning activities you can do to make a strong start away from the track.

Now is the time to start observing and training that referee brain whilst at practice. Before you try any of the activities below, always check with your league’s coaching team, head official/s and session coach to see if it’s appropriate during their session. Most coaches should be amenable to working with you and making the most of referees at training. Particularly inclusive coaches may well let you look at their training plan if you ask nicely, so you can plan what to work on in any given session.

Even if your primary role at practice is that of a player, some of these ideas can be approached while rotating out of a group drill and observing your teammates. Unlike part two, I advise taking these ideas in order, and building up your skills. It’s a long post, and each activity can be experimented with adapted to different drills happening on the track.

1) Positioning – the foundation of rules application

Arguably rules knowledge is the foundation of refereeing, but you can’t apply the rules unless you’re in an appropriate position to see what’s going on. Some positioning you can adjust for yourself – being too far away from the action, having idle skaters obscuring your view of an action close to you, being too close to the track boundary when skaters are hugging it tight, or not looking “under” the action, where applicable.

You need to be open to always adjusting your positioning to reflect what’s going on on track. Some positioning is partly determined by your role – a front inside pack referee (FIPR) is reasonably expected to be in a certain area, a jammer referee (JR) should be approximately level with their jammer and if every single outside pack referee (OPR) is behind the pack – you know you’ve got a problem.

Play with your positioning on both the inside and outside of the track, thinking about it along three axes:

  • X axis – what can you see if you are further along the track, ahead of, behind or level with skaters
  • Y axis – how is your view affected if you move further away from the track (particularly if the action is close to the boundary, or the engagement zone is spread out)
  • Z axis – what can you see better if you get low and look “under” the action.

This exercise is great to do during a player drill where approximately the same action is repeated over and over. Where are the best places to see if a particular action is legal/illegal? Is one position great for seeing one thing, but not so much another? Are multiple referees needed for full coverage? If you were an IPR/JR/OPR in this situation, where would you want to position yourself and why? What skating skills are required if you need to adjust your position with speed and control? This drill isn’t about being “right”, it’s about exploring.

This won’t be my last word on positioning on Skewblogs – it’s one of the things it’s easy to gloss over while learning, requires guidance and feedback and it’s something you never stop working on.

2) Who initiated?

So, you’ve got a basic feel for where you want to position yourself to observe a particular action on track. To assess if any engagement (block/assist) warrants a penalty we need to determine the initiator and, when it’s a block, if there was any counter-blocking. Who was responsible for that contact? Don’t worry at this stage if the contact itself is illegal or not – determine if a block was initiated and/or countered and by whom. Remember all hits to opponents are blocks, but not all blocks are “hits”. (Unsure about the terminology? I refer you right back to activity 1 of part two. Honestly. It’s ridiculously useful.)

You can use this activity to consider assists (between teammates) too, but if you’re starting out, stick with thinking about blocks – that opponent-to-opponent contact – only.

Watch different actions using different positioning, and if your positioning is hindering you being able to determine the initiator, switch it up. If you can, try to do this drill with a friend or mentor and verbalise what you see. Try to observe drills in practice where it isn’t solely one-on-one blocking and multiple individual blocks may take place near-simultaneously.

3) Legal or illegal contact?

Once you’re getting comfortable with determining the initiator, it’s time to decide whether a block or action in itself is legal or illegal. Refresh yourself of the relevant rules (particularly the target/blocking zones diagram). Get in an appropriate position to observe what blocking zone contacts what target zone, and remember that who the initiator is (or if there’s a counter-block) informs which is which – or if something is both a blocking and target zone simultaneously!

For example, someone can quite happily block with their back or buttocks, but an opponent cannot legally block them by contacting that part of their body.

Great drills to practice this are where skaters have been asked to execute a specific type of block that may carry the risk of contact from/to an illegal zone (such as contact with/to the lower leg). Think about exactly where the – sometimes fuzzy – line is between legal and illegal zones on each skater, and recognise some contact may straddle both legal and illegal zones.

4) Impact on gameplay

Possibly the toughest step so far as a beginner is getting comfortable with what is sufficient impact on the game to warrant a penalty. You’ve determined who was responsible for the action, you’ve determined it’s illegal, but is it penalisable? The rules and casebook in section 4 of the WFTDA rules give guidance on what is sufficient impact on the game, but don’t cover all possible eventualities. Recipients of blocks going down, going out of bounds, pr losing relative position are probably the easiest impacts for beginners to spot, but there are other common examples – stretch yourself and find them in the WFTDA rules and casebook.

For every illegal action you identify, ask yourself “what is the impact?”. Most of my trainees (including long suffering partner) will know I’ll often come over after a penalty call and ask this very question. It’s not because I doubt your ability or your call, but because I want you to always be walking yourself through this thought process. It’s also essential to learn to be able to explain clearly what you called and why, ready for questioning teams and coaches.

Happy you’ve seen a penalty from start to finish? Have a go at calling it.

For this activity to work, the skaters you’re observing need to be working at or close to “game-intensity”. Drills where, for example, the jammer is only going at 50% intensity to “walk through” a new technique, are less likely to produce illegal contact with an impact on the game. In this case, use the time to focus on something different – maybe re-try one of the “build up” drills above, or challenge yourself on that skate skill you want to nail.

5) The “fake” penalty drill

I fibbed a little about everything being done in order. If you’ve studied up on activities 4 and 5 in my previous blog, you should absolutely try this drill – and it only really works if you get your coaches on board. It involves calling full penalties on players, but they needn’t be things they’ve actually done. This gets you used to the (new) hand signals and verbal cues and the appropriate positioning to clearly deliver a complete penalty call. It can help you get over that newbie referee fear of calling penalties to skaters. It’s a great inclusive drill as it also gives the players practice at responding to penalties and quickly adapting what they do on track when they temporarily lose a player.

Collaborate with your coaches and find out when they’ll next be doing a drill that requires those on track to adapt to losing someone to a penalty, or any drill for which a penalty call could act as a prompt for a skater to do *something*. Make sure everybody’s aware before you start that all calls are “fake” (unless they’re not!) and if you’re making the calls, try and do as many different ones as you can without repeating a previous call made. If you’re practising in a group, taking it in turns and want to get competitive, the first ref to repeat a verbal cue is “out” – keep going until you get a “winner”.

Remember when you deliver a penalty call to position yourself so you can be seen and heard by the skater in question.

6) Scoring basics

Roller derby scoring is complicated by various factors, including how we deal with scoring on the other jammer, scoring on skaters in the penalty box, and when we instead don’t credit a jammer for the pass, instead signalling “no earned pass” – this is all knowledge to build on. Instead start small, with a drill, where all four blockers from a team are on the track and a jammer is trying to pass them.

a) Make sure you’re aware of the blockers’ roster numbers and any identifying features they may have (e.g. the pivot, the one with the neon helmet, the one that’s much smaller/taller than the others)
b) Follow the opposition jammer, using good positioning to see when their hips pass the hips of others – this is when the pass occurs
c) Before the jammer has passed any of the four blockers, and when they’ve passed one of the four, it’s easiest to track points in your head by remembering who has already been passede.g. nobody passed, pivot passed
d) As soon as the second blocker is passed, your focus switches – who is yet to be passed? This ensures you never have to hold more than two skater roster numbers (or sets of identifying features) in your head as once the jammer gets the point for passing a skater, they won’t get credit for passing them again – e.g. yet to pass neon helmet and number 75
e) When the drill resets, which may or may not be after all four skaters have been passed, signal the number of points scored with your left hand held high above your head. Is it 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4?

Once confident, practice basic scoring at the same time as looking for initiators, illegal blocking/target zones and other contact, and impact on the game for actions involving your jammer.

How have you applied these ideas in training, and how might you extended them further, or adapt to the way your league trains? Let me know in the comments.

The next blog is the final in this short series, but will give you some ideas of where to go next, signposting you to the wealth of resources out there, and ways to approach your future referee training.

7 thoughts on “New Year’s Ref-olution – exercising your referee brain (3)

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