Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Skaters: So you want to be an official!

So. You're here. You're either here to help out your league, the area at large... Or are looking for a new challenge after mastering the art of the Skater.


This may be the most rewarding and frustrating world you could ever hope to jump into, but jump into it you have. We're all brothers and sisters here in the world of officiating, and we always could use more soldiers in the war against chaos.

OK, yeah, that's me being a little grim, but I just want to start off by saying: Thanks. Thank you for broadening your horizons to a completely different avenue of derby that changes everything about the way you look at the sport. I promise it'll be a very weird, but very interesting journey. And all the things you learn in this part of the sport will give you the context you need to both be a better skater, and help with the sociology of our little part of the world.

Some statements to start your journey:

  • Skating-only skaters will not understand what you're doing - It's true. There are a lot of skaters out there that either don't understand what officiating is about, or don't think it's that valuable. I don't necessarily blame them--officials are "the enemy" to a lot of skaters. It'll almost be a betrayal to some of them. But soon you'll realize how silly that is when most officials love the sport just as much (but in a different way) as skaters do. It's just another way to participate and help.
  • You'll find a new appreciation of what we're doing - You can try "getting it" but you probably won't "get it" until you do it. Seriously. That seems like garbled nonsense, but trust me, once you see the chaos from the outside-in with a critical official-eye it's a bit different than spectating or playing. Even on the NSO side you'll understand that there's a lot more to this world than you probably realized.
  • It'll make you a better skater - Now, I can't confirm this personally--I'm not a skater. But I've been told by skaters I know and trust that officiating actually helps you understand what we're looking for, what the boundaries are, and just how to play cleaner and better in the sport. I'd believe it (i.e. I think the logic follows) but I guess your mileage my vary. I am very aware of how different it is to watch/officiate derby versus playing it, but it'll definitely give you that broader context.
  • It'll help the world of derby at-large - Seriously. We need more officials, bottom-line. But even if that weren't the case, skaters understanding how officials tick is just one more band of understanding that can tie us together into an understanding knot. When your teammates start screaming at the referees, you can easily go, "No-no-no. That's not what they're doing. Here, let me explain." There are a lot of places this world could use some crossing-the-aisle-in-understanding; derby is no exception.
Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Brush up on the rules: Seriously, look at the rule book, the case book, the hand signals documents, the statsbook manual, officiating guidelines and the risk management guidelines. Anything that has a "policy" is usually just associated with the association (such as WFTDA and MRDA, etc.)--and as a new official, you really don't have to worry about those.

    Now, when you look at all those things, it'll be like drinking from a fire hose. What you'll want to do is try to absorb as much as possible so that you're aware of most of these things. You'll learn tons more by doing than reading, guaranteed. So try to brush up, but don't stress too hard about it.
  • Contact your local official friends to get started: No, seriously. If anybody knows where the scrimmages are, your local officials will be the ones. Whether it's with your league or with another one (which might be easier to officiate people who aren't your teammates), you'll be able to find out what's going on in the area you may have not been aware of.
  • Set aside time to make it a thing. This has two components.
    • One, that you don't want to let your skater skills atrophy if you're not fully committed to officiating. Also, find some valuable time to do so. Is it on a day your home league doesn't have scrimmage? Great! If not, see what kind of impact it has on things like attendance.
    • Two: Talk to your coaching staff about your interests--in many cases they'll have thoughts and feelings about officiating. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, but you want to make sure expectations are set when you're adding more to your plate that may take away from scrimmages as a skater or drills that everyone's expected to do.
Now you're doing it! Or have just jumped in! I'm super excited for you. Hopefully you'll reap the benefits of having a new hat to wear when thinking about derby. Included in this are some tips of encouragement as you're doing the new stuff!

  • The rules are a mess and confusing, but better than they used to be: Don't be discouraged by the esoteric language of the rules; it's evolved to be a quagmire. you'll get it. Nobody in any sport goes into it understanding all the pages of rules. No MLB baseball umpire understood all 180+ pages of the rules when they started out, you'll get there. And the Rules Theory and Rules Application groups of WFTDA have been more streamlined and humanistic with their approach to the rules than they've ever been--just be patient with yourself.
  • Find your "ref voice." - Most people are very reticent to call things when they first start out. This is the biggest hurdle to refereeing. What you need to do is call things with experienced officials, get the cadence for yourself. Loud, firm, not screeching, not angry, just confident. Color, number, penalty, hand signal. You got this. If you get it wrong, good mentors will overturn the call. Don't get discouraged by this. They should then explain the nuance of your call and you'll understand not just the what but the why of the calls over time. But the goal is to break yourself out of the habit of being timid or not-calling calls you think should be.

    This also applies to NSOs. You'll need constant communication between each of the NSO job families and having the right mindset to communicate those things, or communicate to skaters, or anything else requires you to find that voice. Jump in with both feet and try it!
  • Learn by doing! There are a lot of things you just learn by doing. Seriously. As an example, conceptually you understand what ten and twenty feet look like. You might even be able to see it while you look at the ten foot marks on the track. But you won't be able to do it at-speed until you do it enough times that it becomes second nature. That's when you take the information from the front part of your brain to the back part of your brain. It becomes intuitive over time. This goes for the NSOing side of the fence too--sometimes things don't make sense until you just do them. There's a rhythm to every job in derby.
  • Reframing Skater-Brain: Sometimes you might know what a forearm penalty is. You know it. But only as a skater. You might not know exactly what we're looking at and why we call it. ASK ASK ASK! Make sure you ask "Why" something is a penalty, or what you're looking for to call it. It's a completely different world, and so re-framing what you think you know is appropriate and even necessary at times. And fully-dedicated officials, if they're doing their job right, will accept as many questions as they can to make sure you understand what you're doing!
  • Self-Advocate: Sometimes you have to make sure you're just as adamant that a call is correct as a skater is that it is not. Or that you messed something up and that you are still learning. This is called self-advocacy. I try very hard to make sure that scrimmages are very visible as both a skater and official learning space. It's hard to do because you're new at what you're doing, and you're officiating friends and league-mates most of the time, but you'll get there.

So to sum it up:

  • Thank you.
  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Ask all the questions.
  • Advocate for yourself.
  • Jump in with both feet and do it.
I believe in you, and you're helping the sport become healthy with officials and crossing the murky wall between officials and skaters. You're making the derby world a better place.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Treating People Like Humans: Derby and You

I honestly don't know how to create titles anymore that don't sound like they're a freshman-in-college writing something they think is a lofty masterpiece for an english literature class.

But I digress.

Today we're going to be talking about the idea of "treating people like humans"--otherwise known as "not being a shitbag."

It's been bandied about that the number one rule of derby is "don't be a douchebag." Its gendered connotations aside, it's a really good derby lesson (and really good life lesson). "But," you may say, "Ria... What does it mean to 'not be a douchebag?'" Let me explain!

1. Remember we are all here for the same reason!

So, hey. Remember when you joined roller derby and you really enjoyed the novelty of the sport? Remember when you found a tribe of like-minded individuals trying to have fun?

Yeah, that hasn't gone anywhere. In amongst the politics and people-dynamics that happen within every subculture, is that nugget of "what you fell in love with derby in the first place." Find that. Remember that we're all here for that feeling.

2. Remember that we're all doing our best.

Officials, remember that the skaters are doing their best. Skaters, remember the officials are doing their best. Like, why would you go into something like this and not put in the energy? Give people the benefit of the doubt. Let them screw up, call them on it, but bring it from a place of learning and love, not of they're-screwing-it-up-on-purpose or they-don't-care.

3. Remember that roller derby is a silly sport.

I've said it about a hojillion times... But think about what we're doing with this sport:
  • The players are skating around in circles hitting people.
  • The referees are telling the skaters that they're skating around in circles incorrectly.
  • The NSOs are tracking how the skaters are skating around in circles correctly and incorrectly.
  • The announcers are letting everyone know how people are doing at skating around in circles.
  • The bench coaches are making sure the skaters are skating around in circles strategically.
  • The photographers are taking pictures of people skating around in circles.
  • The spectators are watching people skate around in circles.
When you think about it in its base components, it brings a sense of levity into this. It helps take ourselves and our hobby a bit less seriously.

4. Remember that nobody gets paid to do any of this.

It is a hobby. Outside of some very rare sponsorships and even rarer WFTDA BOD positions, nobody gets paid to do this. Everyone's putting their bodies, pocketbooks, and energy on the line. That investment means a ton when you remember that everyone's doing it. That in and of itself requires some baseline respect.

5. Officials are human, too.

I've harped on this about a thousand times on facebook, but we're at a critical juncture of this sport where we have more and more leagues, and less and less officials. Not just in relation to the amount of leagues there are (i.e. static amount of officials versus more leagues), we're actually in a lower amount than we've had in a long time.

Do you want to contribute to a culture that makes it seem absolutely insane to try to officiate for?

6. Skaters are human, too.

Officials, you aren't exempt from the "don't be a douchebag" rule; you're involved. When you officiate, and you get a heated skater giving you the "aww, c'mon" or "are you fucking kidding me" face, that isn't just at you. That's because they've been training to play. They put their bodies on the line for this sport. It doesn't excuse actual abuse--but remember when you're officiating that adrenaline and frustration are real things that can contribute to that.

Before assuming that someone's just a jerk 'cause they're acting like a jerk, stop and give them the benefit of the doubt too--how would you feel if you had an oops and you had to sit out and let your team down for a whole thirty seconds? Make sure to give that leeway.

7. Life is too short.

Seriously. The meme going around with the Marie Kondo clutter stuff is that if it doesn't bring you joy, you should probably get rid of it. Physically, mentally, calendar-wise--these are all good things to think about. Does derby still spark joy for you? Over my years of observing this sport the most toxic people are the people that have fallen out of love with derby and decided to start poisoning it for the rest of us. I'm not sure it's a conscious thing, but it definitely happens. When you start feeling garbage about the sport, maybe take a step back and see if this is still something that you should be doing? Nobody should be doing a hobby purely out of habit--they should be doing it because they enjoy it.

If derby sparks no joy for you anymore... Get rid of it.

Otherwise, let's make sure to encourage the joy in others.

8. We only have each other!

This subculture is still niche, as large as it's gotten. And honestly? We're the island of misfit toys over here. That's what makes it so great.

Derby started as the sport that the small group of huddled masses in the rain developed.

Let's not throw that community away by being trash to one another.

9. Everyone has their role to play.

Skaters play the sport.

Referees are another boundary of the sport, like the track or the engagement zone. They make the conceptual rules actual boundaries.

NSOs make the games official, and make sure that everything's documented.

Bench coaches are the kabuki dance between skater and official, fighting for their team, giving a broader context to gameplay, and overall being the strategy-maker.

When you realize we all have our roles to play, and that the game itself engenders feelings, it's easier to step back, give a wider context to the actions that people make in the sport... And just overall acknowledge our shared humanity and purpose with the sport.

10. Just be good to one another.

I'll say it until I'm blue/purple/black in the face--it's all about treating one another with love and respect. Bottom-line.