When I was in high school, one of my side jobs was being a referee for youth soccer. I took the classes, passed the tests, bought the outfit, and sewed on my official patches. I even had my own flags and whistle! I wasn’t experienced enough to be a center referee (the one that runs around in the middle of the field), so I was a sideline ref. This meant I could only make about four calls during a game.
Although this might be easy for some people, it was incredibly stressful for me. I would make a decision, stick with it, and get yelled at by a crowd of angry parents. This was U10 (under age 10), rec soccer. Not even a competitive travel league, just a hometown group of kids getting together to play soccer on the weekends. After all of my training, I only reffed a few games. Although I got paid $10 each game, I easily would have paid $10 to NOT have to ref. So I figured this was not the right line of work for me.
I think that experience has given me so much respect for our derby refs and NSOs, even if I’m just as quick to dispute a call as the next skater. They are the heart and soul of roller derby – they have to learn all of the new and evolving rules, maintain their composure during heated conversations with skaters, endure a crowd of people yelling at them, and keep the bout running smoothly.
Because of this, I try so hard not to make faces, or noises, or questioning gestures when I get a call that I don’t agree with. I strive to be like one of those skaters who get a penalty and just skate to the box. No questions asked. I’m still very far from it – especially in the heat of competition – but I think I’m getting better. It helps to watch footage of yourself (or others) and see how silly we sometimes look when we’re getting angry about a call. Let’s allow our coaches do that for us.
When you get sent to the box as a jammer, your jam ref will be standing in front of you, watching you, during your penalty. Sometimes, when I am sitting in the penalty box, I wish I could have a quick moment with the jam ref to let them know I’m not mad. Sometimes I want to tell a ref that even though I scoffed and shook my head when I got a penalty, I don’t think it was a bad call (yea, ok, I MIGHT have cut the track back there…). Sometimes I want to apologize for the way I reacted in the moment. I don’t think I thank them enough for being such a huge part of the roller derby community.
BUT I’m almost 100% positive that most refs are too mentally strong to let one angry jammer bother them. They aren’t scared like I was when I reffed, and if they were, they probably wouldn’t have continued reffing derby for so long. I might be brave enough to endure getting beat up, knocked down, hit in the face, and kicked in the shin continuously, but I’m not brave enough to be a derby ref. So next time you’re at practice or a bout, try to remember to give refs and NSOs the respect they deserve!