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.