Guest Author: Professor Plutonium (referee)

Posted on May 25, 2011 by


Oswego Roller Girls Referee Team

This entry is by Tim Nekritz, aka Professor Plutonium, a mild-mannered higher-education web communication professional and adjunct professor of communication.  He currently serves as chair of the media committee, practice/scrimmage ref and other utility roles for the Oz RollerGirls league. This is replicated from his blog, which you can visit to read more about roller derby from a male/referee perspective.

I know it’s really hard to learn how to play roller derby, but say this much for learning how to be a referee: It sure isn’t easy. And since officiating is a key part of any practice right up to any bout, it’s something you can’t get wrong. Except that, as you learn, you will.

In practice, Coach Flyin Phil explains, referees are crucial to helping rollergirls learn how to play the sport the right way. “When the ref sends you to the penalty box,” he’s fond of saying, “you should thank them because they’re making you a better skater.” Which is great in that it reinforces the importance of the referees … but it also means that we are part of the learning process. Even as we learn ourselves.

I’ve gone through a three-phase process of learning how to referee:

1. The don’t-get-yourself-killed phase. In practice we have generally gone with four refs — one on each jammer (the speedy players who can score points) and two on the pack (everyone else). Jam refs can call penalties on jammers or those impacting jammers, count points and watch for the lead jammer calling off the jam. The pack refs make sure skaters stay together (in a pack) and judge whether the myriad of contact is legal. So I had to learn to watch all the action while skating in a tight circle and not running into another ref or tripping over a flying rollergirl. Not always successfully.

2. The sort-of-figuring-it-out phase. As practices went along, I became better at spotting what looked like a penalty. But in a fraction of a second, you have to 1) decide if it is indeed a penalty, 2) determine whether it’s a major or a minor, and 3) yell the team color, number and penalty (including blowing a long whistle if it’s a major sending someone to the box). This is not unlike learning how to play the piano where you get each hand doing something different — it looks really easy until you try it.

3. The putting-it-all-together phase. On my best nights, I’m finally able to put that all together — not killing myself, spotting penalties and consistently calling them in a timely manner. At this point, alas, that is not every night. Maybe not most nights. But I keep trying and learning and listening. And, perhaps, improving.

Becoming a good referee is like anything in life: You make a lot of mistakes as you gain skills and wisdom. I’m thankful to the coaches, fellow refs and rollergirls who tolerate my shortcomings as I learn the sport. Because knowing that part of my job is to make everyone better is a great incentive to work hard on improving my part of the game.

Posted in: LimboLand