I apologize for the length of this post. It is a revision of a recent status update I rage-posted. I feel like I wanted to say something… and so I will. MY BLOG YAY! I will start off with a snippet that I think is most important, because I know it is rare anyone wants to read more than 10 words in. I might have already lost you.
Thank you to all my zebra friends for being dedicated to roller derby. You have always made my derby-day happy, I have always appreciated the ups and downs we’ve gone through together, and you are 1/3 of this amazing sport. Thank you for doing your job and having integrity, even when it might cause backlash. Thank you for shrugging off the bad things and coming back for the good ones.
I will not say that all referees are the best referees. I will not say there does not exist a biased referee. I will say, though, that out of all the referees you encounter, no matter how good you *think* their calls are, the vast majority of them have trained for years to get to where they are, given up their spare time and (often) a great deal of money to improve themselves as officials for what?
There is no ref MVP at the after party. They get no tangible glory if their team wins. In fact, I will tell you outright: as an official in any capacity, I do not give two fucks about who won or lost, even though my friends are often on one of the two teams. It isn’t my job to care, and I am not an anomaly. I do not know a serious ref on the planet that would put their good name (which is, in fact, the only tangible they get, as it allows them to go to fancy tournaments and whatnot) on the line to make their friends feel good. Not because they are bad friends, but because they are good refs. They are a special type of people that like rules, skating, and derby enough to participate in a manner I have heard many skaters consider worse than a stick in the eye, and they love it.
Do you remember starting out at any hobby? I am going to default the example to roller derby, of course, so bear with me. Were you just the most amazing skater, juking through packs and jumping apices and all that? Or, were you falling all over yourself like a drunk person with no bones, wondering if “apices” is the plural of “apex” or if there’s a term you need to learn, becoming someone’s goat, and feeling like a dork in knee socks?
Well, guess what? Most refs do the same skating practice you do (minus contact, obviously), but then add on special ref training, like “learning the rules like they’re religious verses and Jesus is going to give a pop-quiz at half time,” “practicing for weeks or months on end to accurately identify penalties AND get their mouths and hands to cooperate with their brains so they call it in time, instead of way too late (this is actually a thing, and it only gets better with loads of practice),” and so on. It is a long journey and it never ends. Even high level, certified referees learn and evolve and practice, just like skaters do. There is no end. So, when you consider the length of training, the (essentially) private and field research involved, the concentration necessary, and the desire to execute the job correctly, remember that some refs are just recently approved by their Head Ref to officiate a bout, while others have been doing it for eons, and that both types are working hard to be their best for the game, not for some personal glory.
Name a famous ref (skaters only). Ok, now name a famous skater. Mmhmm.
Sometimes, there are mistakes. Chances are, they were accidents, no matter if you want to believe it or not. Refs aren’t robots, but they are trying their asses off to be as unbiased and correct as possible. Often, when I’ve heard people flipping out about a call, they literally are not familiar enough with the rules to understand why the call was made. Is ignorance a free pass for rage?
Oh, is the Official Timeout taking too long? Are you having to wait while the refs fuck around? They’re probably talking about what toppings they want on their pizza or what happened on Breaking Bad last week. God, what dicks… Oh, wait! Maybe they are discussing an issue or an error at length so they can come to the best possible solution (which means “according to the rules,” not “for one of the teams”)! That is a novel concept! Better yell crazy shit at them so they get done faster, because that certainly isn’t distracting and sadness inducing! I hope the announcers join in, because being unbiased and trying to appropriately follow the ruleset is wicked dumb!
Consider referees like this: probably 90% of the rules are in place for safety, and the remainder is to make the game a game. Would you flip out on a cop for stopping someone from doing something that put others in danger? Would you flip out on a parent who stopped their kids from eating delicious glass shards? When someone says to me “well, it’s the heat of the moment, and you’re all full of adrenaline and it just comes out,” all I hear is “the only way I could assuage my anger about a situation or action that I could not actively control was to displace my terrible rage at someone, and it seemed like the refs, who obviously are unfeeling objects, were my best bet. Oh, and I never said I was sorry, because I don’t feel like I have to.”
Here’s a fun fact: everyone can access the same ruleset as the referees. Everyone can learn the rules, adjust strategy to keep it legal, and understand all the calls and more just by using your eyeballs to read words and your brain to consider them. For those who make wild accusations in and out of the bout, consider that, really, if they had a leg to stand on, they would have called for a review and gotten real results instead of resorting to petty name calling.
Oh, and guess what? Refs also spend extra time talking about rules and instances on forums, in chats, over texts, in person, and anywhere else you probably wouldn’t want to talk about rules. True story. Hell, for a while, there was a WFTDA confidential file for refs only, because they need to know so much shit, it gets weird. Why? Oh, because for every nuance they learn about a single rule, they get $10. No, wait, sorry, I meant “because they love derby.” Generally a $0 endeavor.
We have clinics, you know, where high ranking refs (who we get giddy about, just like skaters do about their own derby-crushes) talk to us about strange rules scenarios and learn extra stuff like “professional composure.” It’s always bothered me that while non-officials are throwing what amounts to a toddler’s hissy fit at the officials, they must remain calm. Keep your game face on. Do not engage. In fact, we aren’t even allowed to make friendly contact with our buddies at the bout, get in the hug-dog-pile if our team wins, or… dance. We are prevented by an established conduct expectation for officials to not dance.
No one is plotting against anyone. The refs have not gotten so jealous of your ability to dance and smile during a bout that they have a vendetta. Zero plots, well, until a group of butt hurt people decide to shout “bias” from the rooftops as a misguided attempt at retaliation. That would be an active plot against the ref, and in my mind, social suicide. No one pays off the refs on the sly, and it doesn’t matter what the affiliated league’s rankings are to them (other than to be like “yay! That’s neat!”) If you have ever seen someone heckle a ref, talk shit on them in front of a group of derby people, or outright try to ruin their day, let me nudge you toward the answer to the age old question “why are there so few refs at practice?”
I would also like to mention a few things:
When a skater gets all whiny because they were in so many lines, think about the Outside Pack Refs. If the leagues were lucky to field three, then great, but regardless of whether it is less… they chase the pack every single jam from the farthest point possible. The pack sprints and they have to spring faster. The pack abruptly slows, and they must as well. All this while looking up and down a gaggle of bodies, evaluating if they are completely in bounds, refraining from committing contact penalties, keeping some eye contact communication with the inside refs, shouting penalties from that distance over the noise to the penalty trackers…
I am using an actual bout that I have sitting here (it’s a few years old, but I have a copy of a lot more stats than one would imagine) to illustrate two examples. This bout was between two competitive rosters, and the final score was 117 to 83. See, you know it’s old because the point spread isn’t one million to four.
In this bout, the OPRs (on rotation, ask an OPR if you don’t know what the rotation is) skated about 5 miles (if you imagine they hug the outside line, which, well, they don’t), not including the times they had to chase a skater who missed being called repeatedly. There are one to three OPRs, so math math math 1 OPR = a bit above 5 miles; 2 = a bit above 2.5; 3 = a bit above 1.7. All at varying speeds with some abrupt stops mixed in.
I chose to show one of the two Jam Ref’s journeys in this same bout, so just over 2.6 miles (they are closer to the line than OPR, but this is again, assuming they are hugging the line) at high enough speeds to keep up with the jammer, while dodging inward falling skaters, the other JR, the two IPR, and anything else that might wind up right there.
Sorry, how many lines did you say you were in?
Get out your stat book and check your %. Was it “100%?” Right on. Spare a high five for your zebra friends.
Cherish your officials. Encourage them! Constructive feedback is a good thing; being a flippant child to try and make yourself feel better is not. Think something is amiss? Schedule a meeting for the players to have a rules discussion with your coaching committee and your refs.
Chastise those who harass referees because I will tell you right now: there are leagues that I literally refuse to officiate even if I am near the city they are visiting and are begging, because I have seen this type of behavior. If one of your friends or teammates is doing this, STOP THEM! Bonk them on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, frankly. Too humiliating? Well, it’s shameful behavior, so I stand by it. To drive my point home, the derision was never even directed at me (I’ve actually only ever been yelled at by one skater, and it was at practice, and she was wrong and a half… and I totally have a PDF of the latest ruleset on my phone). That’s how strongly I feel about this aspect of sportsmanship.
Good sportsmanship is more than getting beers and leg wrestling with the other team after a bout. Wake up and make sure you and your league support your officials as much as humanly possible. I can’t tell you enough how much the smallest act of appreciation goes in the ref world. It should not be that way. They should be so used to being spoiled that it is sickening, but it’s just not the case…
You should consider your refs part of your league. Did you notice they are on your WFTDA roster? Do you think that’s a coincidence? Does negative reinforcement fly on your bench or seem to get your players to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and somehow magically become what you want them to be? No? Seem like stupid questions?
Newsflash: it isn’t an “us versus them” scenario unless you make it one. It is an “us and us” with different jerseys on and different jobs. Skaters: skate strategically and follow rules. Refs: skate in a circle and make sure the humans you are monitoring are safe and playing the game per the ruleset.
And, yes, I left off any possible NSO stuff because I want to stop writing the longest status ever, but I love and care deeply for them, as well.
Go love a ref, but don’t hug them unless you know it’s ok. I think it’s weird. You wanna press your chest against my chest as some act of affection or gratitude? I dunno. Your call.