At 13 years old I started my first real job refereeing soccer games. In the beginning I had a really hard time processing the emotions that went along with being screamed at by 40 year-old housewives during kindergarten soccer games. I had an older mentor who, after being brought to tears one day by a Dad who screamed obscenities at me the ENTIRE GAME, he sat me down to explain some things that changed my entire outlook on being the “face” of the game.
1. You will make good calls and you will make bad calls. The only thing that matters is how you react and learn
2. Just like with most things where someone is mad, they’re going to yell at the first person they see
3. Some people think they are never wrong
4. Some people think others are always wrong
5. You are a professional and need to conduct yourself in a professional manner
6. Some people can not take responsibility for themselves. Any game that is lost will be because of “bad reffing” no matter if you make every call perfectly or not
7. Some people are just jerks
My mentor taught me that all you can do is make calls for what you believe is right. Know the rules. Take the time to explain so people have the opportunity to grow and learn from their mistakes and your own. You can’t force people to listen to you but can offer information. When people get mad just remember it’s not YOU that they get mad at, you are a faceless shirt of stripes to them so try to see them as faceless players and fans. For players it’s the loss, the mistake, the fact that someone is better than them, and sometimes you just make bad calls. It’s a game. It’s okay. So when you get that gut-wrenching feeling of wanting to punch a player or coach in the face, try to see it from their “faceless” perspective.
When I started playing derby the norm of what behavior was accepted was very different from what it is now. I remember yelling at refs, making faces, swearing, and overall looking at an official as more of an enemy than an ally. I have had the privilege to play in some bouts with some of the best referees in the world. The more I’ve played the more I realized that how referees react to me, while making calls and seeing things from a different perspective, is an invaluable asset to have and understand. I have learned that knowing what an official is thinking while processing the game is something I just can’t understand from their view. The only way to overcome that wall is to have a healthy interactive relationship, which is something that I am constantly striving to do.
I am a roller derby player and, let’s be straight up, I love refs. I love that they volunteer their time to let me play the game I love. I love that they commit themselves to a league with all of the positive and negative things that come along with being a referee. A league should appreciate everything the referees and NSO’s do. Every minute that they volunteer, to take the time to learn to skate, to learn the rules, and to help skaters understand the game more clearly, is something amazing. Every single skater owes their derby career to them because without them skaters wouldn’t have one! I am also human and while I have recognized the kind of healthy relationship that I wish to have with officials, sometimes I catch myself slip. I am by no means a saint when it comes to this stuff. Sometimes I have to look back and remember what my mentor said to me and I think how to I translate my experiences into the way I play the game. How does the way that I react affect the officials?
The Skater Explanation
As I said, I have seen the game of roller derby progress in huge ways over the years. I have also seen the mentality of athletic growth and focus take a dramatic turn down Positive Avenue. Playing a sport is an adrenaline rush and there are literally 1000 things going on in your head at once. There are emotions that stem from passion, aggressions, frustration and sometimes desperation. There are obviously different ways that people react to these emotions. Some people come from leagues where unfortunately certain types of negative behavior are taught. Sometimes it’s behavior that is never corrected. Sometimes people don’t realize they’re even doing it in which a heat of the moment argument could be pleaded. There are also the rare cases, people are just dick bags. These are the excuses that I used to give myself to justify that my negative behavior towards officials was not directed towards officials.
The excuse: I didn’t do it – Adrenaline is pumping and were doing so much that I just forget to reel in my emotions. When I don’t think I’ve committed the penalty that you call me on I can’t be expected to take it lightly.
The reality: Yes, you are expected to take it lightly – by lightly I mean hear the call, skate to the box. Sit down. That’s it.
A ref is not going to change a call mid jam because you decided to say something. All that time you’re waiting standing there with your hands in the air is time that your butt could be in the box chipping away at your minute. If you have an issue, communicate to your captains to see if a conversation with the refs is necessary. In my experience a ref won’t make a call if they don’t see it. They will make a call if they do see it. Seeing or not seeing something during a jam won’t change in the next 30 seconds. I have learned to not go into the middle of the track with any expectation of something getting over turned. Instead I have learned to hear the reasoning behind a call and do my best to adjust. Say for instance the officials are really being hard on multiplayer blocks. You feel that your hand was not grabbing your teammate’s jersey but you keep getting called for a multiplayer blocks. The only way that you as a skater can control that situation is how you adapt to the issues the next time you’re on the track. Instead of getting mad, focus on using your body to give your teammate support instead of using your hands. Give the officials ways to not question you. Be a proactive skater! The only thing in roller derby you can control is your reactions.
The excuse: I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at myself – When I do get a penalty that I totally deserve I get mad at myself. I get mad I did that, made I have to leave my team a woman down, mad I could be so stupid! Sometimes I get a little mad that I got caught too.
The reality: If you’re mad at yourself it’s because you did something wrong – that is not an excuse to lash out. I feel as though I am being a productive skater when I allow myself to grow by channeling emotions into positive ways to move forward and make corrections or goals in the next jam. That didn’t work, what’s next? That being said, the way that I ref makes a call can hugely impact my feelings towards how I move forward. The tone of voice, the calmness of the action, and the overall interaction between a ref and a skater is much healthier when a ref can react to a skater with respect. I want to give you respect when you give me respect.
The excuse: I just make a lot of faces –I didn’t realize I was doing it. I have resting bitch face so deal with it. Most of the time I am making a face, at the call, at the faceless shirt of stripes, at a million things that go along with getting a penalty, not at you.
The Reality: Don’t make faces – You’re reacting physically to something that you’re processing internally. The eye roll, the hands in the air, just accept the call and and get your butt to the box. You should also consider saying “Thank You” to the NSO’s when they release you from the box.
The excuse: Ref discretion is bullshit - Every call is “ref discretion” so sometimes I have no idea why you made a call. Sometimes I feel like you’re being unfair, holding a grudge, or calling things one sided.
The Reality: It’s not - Maybe you saw something I didn’t realize I did, maybe your angle gave you a different perspective from what I saw you call on my teammate. Whatever the case may be, I need you to explain things to me as to why you made the call, even if I don’t agree with it. Obviously practices, scrimmages, and bouts all hold different levels of what acceptable communication is allowed but each situation should be a working relationship to understand each other. Basically Refs, I would like you to be opening to giving explanations that and would like even more if you offered explanations in the heat of confusion.
Here is a truth that I stopped hiding from officials: We ARE questioning your calls. We are second guessing you; we want you to explain things to us. That is part of playing a sport. That is a HUGE part of playing a sport that adapting and morphing as quickly roller derby has. Roller derby is a historically young sport. We are still growing and there should be 100% more questions and disagreements on the perception and execution of calling the rules. If I’m being a confrontational dick about it, tell me in a calm voice that you’ll send me an email, or talk to me at the next practice. Being defensive about questions is not a way for either a skater or an official to grow. As much as it’s our responsibilities as athletes to have good sportsman ship, it’s your job to facilitate that environment. There is nothing wrong with telling someone in a calm voice that you will talk to them when they’ve calmed down. One of our Refs always talks things out with me and if he doesn’t know the answer to something he will find it in the rules and email me. I love that. I’m not asking you to be right all the time but I am expecting you to be willing to work with me to learn!
As a skater, I really do respect you. The fact of the matter is there will always be times when I am convinced that I didn’t do something you call me for. There will always be times when you call me for something I really didn’t do. There will always be times when I want to scream at you. There will always be times when I deserved it. Just remember in that moment you are a faceless shirt of stripes as I am a number to you. The way that we conduct our reaction is something so fundamentally simple that gets lost a lot of the time. The connection between the officials and the skaters is something that needs to be severely fostered if roller derby is continued to grow. Take pride in your decisions and help create that working relationship with your entire league. You’ll be all the more wiser and happier…and so will the skaters.