New Year’s Ref-olution – next steps (4)

Gotten bitten by the refereeing bug? Have you read the intro, plus parts one, two, and three? Put them into action?  Looking out onto the open track and wondering where to take it from here? Here are some suggested next steps.

Remember that any individual league may have certain policies re: safety/level of skating skill that might impact on your participation in some of the following activities. If in doubt, chat to the head of referees and/or coaching at your league, and the organisers of the event.

1) Feeling confident you can position yourself reasonably well and deliver a penalty call? Go to mixed scrimmages.

(This may be a very UK-centric thing, as in most parts of the country there tend to be several smaller leagues within approximately one hour’s drive, but I’d be interested to know in the comments whether they are common elsewhere in the world.)

Over the last few years a *lot* of leagues have started doing a £5 pay-to-play (officials free, obviously) monthly mixed scrimmages. Often operated as open-to-all, they *can* be a great environment to develop your officiating, particularly if you don’t get regular scrimmage time or the opportunity to work with other officials at your own league. Even if you do, working with officials outside your regular circle and seeing different strategies, speeds and types of play from different skaters is enriching too.

A word of caution – to get the most out of these events, try and go to ones where there are a reasonable number of other officials in attendance. This gives you the best practice at working with others, particularly if you’re lacking in numbers at your home league.  It also helps reduce the chance of developing the bad habit of making calls you are not in the best position to make, but feel you have to because nobody else is. There are also few worse things than feeling unsupported as a new jammer referee without OPRs,  as a lone OPR, or practising IPRing for the first time alone.

Find out about mixed scrimmages in your area by asking other local skaters and officials, or by liking the Facebook pages of leagues within a commutable distance. If you’re in the UK, the best way to help you pinpoint neighbouring leagues is this website by the lovely Daniel Errington. Alternatively, these leagues may scrimmage internally or with others and be able to offer you additional practice opportunities.

Make sure you get plenty of scrimmage opportunities under your belt before you start refereeing open or ranked play, to build both your experience and confidence and give you ideas of what you need to work on in a lower pressure environment.


2) Find a willing mentor

Find a more experienced official who’s happy to discuss your officiating journey, give you ideas of things to work on, answer questions and be there with a second opinion. This can be someone that’s relatively nearby (and can see you in person regularly) or someone a little further afield who can offer the alternative perspective of somebody who’s removed from your personal derby environment.

Formal mentoring schemes are rare, and it’s generally better to ask someone you’ve already interacted with directly. Explain your situation, your current level of progression as an official, what you’d be looking for in a mentor, and what you’d hope to get out of a mentor/mentee relationship. Remember your prospective mentor may decline – they may not be a good fit for what you wish to achieve, or may not feel they have the time. Mentor/mentee relationships go both ways – you should be prepared to put in as much as you’re willing to get out and take ownership of your own progression.

Having a network of experienced officials you can go to whenever you need someone to bounce ideas off is invaluable. You’ll build this naturally as you interact with more and more officials online and on the track.


3) Attend a bootcamp or clinic (or several!)

You have several options here: find out when a WFTDA clinic is next on near you. Chances are there’ll be one or two in your region each year, hosted by a WFTDA league. Next, find out if any leagues near to you are running their own bootcamps/clinics/ref school programs – these are often advertised in local events, referee and NSO groups, so join as many of these as possible and keep your ear to the ground.

Struggling to find a bootcamp? Host your own. An experienced official may be happy to come along and teach if you host – ask them. Sometimes leagues need persuading to host officials’ events, with financial viability being a primary concern. What can work well is running officials’ bootcamps alongside one for players, who can then all come together in a scrimmage at the end. Alternatively, at a larger league, it could be run alongside regular league training. This requires a venue with sufficient space to accommodate all groups, remembering skating and non-skating officials may require separate spaces at various points! If your league is already planning a skater bootcamp, investigate if it would be viable to add on something for officials.

Finally, if you want something tailored to your league’s specific needs, perhaps ask an experienced local official if they’ll guest coach your officials for a bespoke session. Maybe you could invite officials from a neighbouring league to share in the experience, or non-officials who fancy some additional insight.


4) Make some goals

And make them S.M.A.R.T. If it helps, structure your goals in a pyramid, so you can break your long term goal into medium and shorter term goals. This classic article by athlete and coach extraordinaire Sandrine Rangeon covers this beautifully.

Share your goals with your crewmates, mentor, league coaches and anyone you think can help you achieve them, review them to see if they are indeed S.M.A.R.T. goals for you, or you think could hold you accountable.

Then stick them on your fridge, bedroom door, side of a mirror, or somewhere where you’re going to remind yourself every day of what you want to achieve.


5) Try some other resources

For greater rules understanding and my favourite roller derby infographics on the interwebs, Adam Smasher’s Rules Colored Glasses is a must-visit. As well as Smasher’s own resources, there are also links to official WFTDA information, as well as other useful places to go, including structured referee training programs.

If you want to improve your skating skills, but need some inspiration, there are so many content creators on YouTube and Facebook. Radar Wheels, This Rad, thePolerin and Miracle Whips are a great list to get you started, but making use of the YouTube search function will find lots of useful content. Most skating skill videos are pitched at those who want to play the game, but there is much to be found that’s beneficial for skating officials…plus anything that helps us develop greater control on our skates is good, right?

Want to understand pack shapes, no packs and engagement zone? You can’t get much of a better start than playing with URDUMB, courtesy of Wonder Zebra and Vienna Roller Derby.


6) Don’t limit your derby knowledge to refereeing, or your refereeing knowledge to derby

It’s important to break out of your personal derby bubble and immerse yourself in understanding the wider context of the sport. The work being done by The Apex is pretty much unparalleled in derby right now to get a window into the mind of support staff, fans and player alike. The weekly round-up blog from their partner site NoxTalks is another way to discover the wealth of perspectives out there, along with Nox’s videos.

Learn those people skills and others that aren’t so derby-specific by getting insight from other resources for sports officials. has some fantastic articles to discover. Talk to your league coaches about what sports psychology literature they recommend, as many of these principles can be used by you, too.


7) However experienced you get, remember to keep re-visiting the basics

Re-read the rules and casebook periodically – you’ll absorb different things as your knowledge develops, and the “keep in minds” may suddenly take on new meaning once you’ve experienced them in real life.

Go back to part three of this blog series, and ramp up the difficulty and include new things to identify, and focus on more than one thing at a time. Use the exercises to consider direction of gameplay issues, assists, illegal contact penalties etc.

Spend time drilling yourself improving skating skills you’ve already got a reasonable handle on, as well as working on new ones. Focus on doing things with greater speed and control, and while you’re actually refereeing a drill. Train that weak side/leg for transitions, stops and more. (You know which one it is. It needs nurturing too.)


And finally…

I really hope you’ve found something in this series useful, either to kick start your own officiating career, find new inspiration, or help a friend start their journey. If you have any ideas for future blog subjects you may find useful, or questions about this series, please do leave me a message in the comments. I’ve got plenty of ideas in the pipeline, but I’m always open to suggestions.

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