Recently, for a couple reasons, I decided to dive into the officiating aspect of roller derby. I feel being able to understand how the game is seen from the referees perspective will not only make you a better skater but will also teach you to respect the calls made (or not made) by officials whether or not you agree. The referee’s perspective of gameplay is substantially different than a skater’s perspective. Consistently, when I make calls, skaters argue with me or act as though they didn’t commit the penalty. From their point of view perhaps they didn’t, but from mine, it was clear as day. Being able to have this experience makes me realize how my own actions on the track may seem legal to me, but the referee may be seeing something else and can result in a penalty.
The biggest thing I am learning from refereeing is how difficult it is to actually see what is happening within the chaos that is 10 skaters, all doing different things, while simultaneously trying to maintain safe gameplay for all involved. As a skater, there have been several times I thought to myself how a referee needed to ‘pay closer attention’ because they were staring directly at me when I was hit in the face or illegally. After throwing on stripes I realize this is an unfair thought. When I have jam reffed (the one who counts points scored), there have been times I was staring and watching my jammer when her head would snap back and was immediately followed by holding her face. I didn’t see the hit. I immediately thought I was doing a terrible job as a referee. By not seeing what was in front of me, I had somehow let down the skaters. It was then I realized, the skater was looking at me how I have looked at countless refs, as if to say, “Hey ref, how did you NOT see that?” But I didn’t see the hit, I only saw the aftermath, which means I cannot call the highblock. That right there was one of the biggest learning experiences in roller derby I have had. I knew reffing wasn’t easy and wouldn’t pretend it is. However, I have gotten very mad when calls didn’t get made that happened while the referee was RIGHT in front of the illegal activity or seemed as though they were staring at me when it happened. I can attest that while you may be looking at a penalty as it happens, the focus may be on a different spot or skater entirely in that area.
I have not been reffing long nor have I reffed a lot of games. I just started this journey 3 months ago but I can already tell it is changing my attitude on the track during gameplay and my interactions with officials. I encourage everyone to get this type of experience so there is an understanding of just how difficult and stressful making calls actually is. It is not the referee’s responsibility to skate safety, it is the skater’s responsibility to play by the rules. When illegal situations arise, everyone needs to remember this is a contact sport which will result in injuries, penalties, and missed calls, but the referees are doing the best they can.