There’s no better way of learning derby than playing derby, and the best practice to a real game is to make the scrimmage situation as similar to a bout as possible: key factors in this effort are the proper officials. Poor officiating in the practices will lead to frustrating and futile penalties and lack of experience in the game day. Good officials are needed in the games, and practice makes perfect applies in officiating too. Thus it was in HRDs interests and goals for this year to build a functional officiating culture, and to kick-start this new hab, Emma Luukka (aka Phoenix Down) and Satu Huotari (aka Ei se Satu) were elected as HRDs new head-NSOs.
Referees and NSOs work as a team. Photo by Marko Niemelä.
NSO stands for Non-Skating Official. They are the ones wearing the light pink shirts (according to the distinctive color of the Womens Flat Track roller Derby Association, WFTDA) and multiple stopwatches, showing weird hand signals to referees and marking things to their binders.
What they really do is not sorcery even though that’s what it might appear like to an untrained eye: they are the ones in charge of EVERYTHING related to the games that cannot be done by the referees, like timing the jams, recording the scores, timing the penalties and instructing the players in the penalty box, documenting line-ups and passed laps and penalties…
It is the quiet but important work that happens during each and every derby game -you know, cause otherwise we wouldn’t know who won and stuff.
Congratulations on your election, Emma and Satu! As newly elected head-NSOs, what are your primarily goals for this year?
Emma: “HRD is Finland’s oldest roller derby league and its skaters and referees are awesome! Unfortunately there are not that many dedicated or even semi-dedicated NSOs (Non Skating Officials). I hope to see a change in that and get more people involved in the officiating side. Nobody needs to choose between NSOing and skating – Satu is a perfect example of this, and skating and officiating support each other.”
Satu: “Like Emma mentioned, we wish to get more skaters involved in officiating. We are also establishing a new tradition of having a NSO education in the Fresh Meat Training Period -this should teach a lot to our new skaters!”
I heard that you indeed got a really good start with the new freshmeat skaters! How are they doing?
Satu: “They were just awesome -and we have already seen some of them in action in Friday scrimmages! Besides glorifying the beautifully pink NSO-world we also tried to emphasize the learning opportunity offered in officiating. The winter will show us whether this proves as a good concept, and I think it will.”
Emma: “I was a bit worried how well we could keep them engaged through almost two hours of rules and officiating (during the NSO lecture), but they asked insightful questions and seemed genuinely interested in both the rules and officiating. I hope we can feed the enthusiasm. There were also two people present who are planning on becoming full time NSOs which is beyond exciting!”
The happy officials after the HRD Queen B’s vs Vienna Roller Derby -game. Photo by Marko Niemelä.
Wow, you two really bring it on! With this enthusiasm you surely have sky high goals- in your letter to the skaters you mentioned that you wish to “highlight the importance of each and every player of our league”. This surely is an important goal both for the individuals and for the whole league, because in HRD (as in most other derby leagues out there) everything is done “by the skaters, for the skaters”. There’s a lot of work in running your own league, and everyones input is needed. But HOW are you planning to achieve this?
Satu: “This is a big question. NSO work is a two-way street: on one hand, it is a great value to the development of the league and to the individual skaters, and to the whole roller derby scene. On the other hand it provides an easy access and a nice way to support your league.“
Emma: “I do not mean to take on thanking everyone for doing something (though they should be thanked every time because they keep things running no matter how small their task is). Instead, I hope to help give people within the league a higher sense of their own value through officiating. This can be done in two parts.
First and easier is to provide everyone a chance to help even if they do not want or cannot skate. Some people do not feel comfortable skating, but still want to be a part of the roller derby community. Some people want to do nothing but skate, but might get injured or cannot attend all practices and fall out of a team temporarily. Officiating is a way for these people to participate and help their skating counterparts.
The other and more ambitious is to provide skaters a way to monitor their progress. NSOs’ goal is to gather as much information from a game as possible. The more information we can gather the more information is at the disposal of the skaters and their trainers. This requires a lot of effort since we do not always have a full crew of NSOs and some information is lost. Also the information gathered might not be very easily readable so the skaters need help in making sense of the information.”
Emma and Satu in full action in a scrimmage.
So great improvements in officiating and stats -wise can expected in near future! Sounds like A LOT of work, but I can’t help noticing that somehow the NSOs have fun at the same time. So tell us, what is the absolutely best thing in this whole NSO-business thingy thing?
Emma: “Picking just one aspect is very hard. Roller derby is a niche group to begin with and NSOs are a niche group within that group. It’s all about bright colors, unicorns, sparkles and love in the locker rooms and after parties infused with rock solid knowledge of rules and professionalism on the track. Knowing that without you the game would not be as good is a great feeling. Being in the zone, getting things done and giving knowing nods to fellow officials is such a rush.
Officiating opens also easy avenues to seeing different teams and players play. There are a few Finnish officials going to Dallas in December and they’re going to be within reach of the best skaters in the world!
And also cake. There’s often cake and other goodies for the officials.”
Satu: “For me it’s getting the best of both worlds! I’ve learned a great deal about officiating and it has been a good way of getting involved in the “big girls games” as well! As a student I naturally appreciate the free entrance to the games, and of course also the awesome delicacies offered to the officials!”
Thank you for your broad and very analytical answers, readers will surely find your thoughts inspiring. Do you have something more you’d like to tell them?
“NSOing is a great way to become a part of roller derby. Whether you want to skate or not, it gives you a front row seat to the game and a way to get to know the rules like nobody’s business.”
You can join us whenever you want! Don’t be afraid to get in touch.
Derby name & number: Ei se Satu, #505
Who are you (in non-derby life), actually? I’m doing my thesis in world politics, and after that I will be a secret agent.
Skater idol: Difficult to say! There seems to be a bunch of fine players in London Rollergirls, such a Kamikaze Kitten and Juke Boxx. Someday I will be as good as Nina Erwes or Sexy Slaydie.
Ref idol: I HAVE TO say Jay Stark. Even though I am relatively green in officiating, it has always been very easy to ask even the silliest questions from him.
NSO idol: I have had the honor of officiating with a pbunch of great people… Kirahvi from KRR knows everything about everything and makes people super interested in NSO-stuff. Puppy Shredder build a brilliant ground for me and Emma. But I must also mention Emma: to have enthusiasm AND tranquility in one package is HUGE, as is all the work she does to our league.
Your totem animal: Swan. Both in derby and in the dance floor.
Your biggest goal right now: To get my thesis done, learn to hit properly, and all the above mentioned. I will also try to get the officials rule test done before the summer!