Refs Are Human

If you missed issue #7 of Lead Jammer magazine, then you missed Pulp Friction’s article on respecting your referees… catch up here!

Zebra box

Refs Are Human!

To us lowly amateur derby girls and guys, refs can sometimes seem pretty intimidating, they are the big kids in the schoolyard pushing the rest of us around, keeping us in check. And whilst I completely understand the need for them to remain detached, there is something eerily disconcerting about their deadpan faces as you get ready to bout, almost like the seriousness of the game rest squarely on their shoulders.

In this respect, I kind of feel sorry for them, because it’s just as nerve racking for them as it is for us, but they can’t even crack a smile or mess about like I find we all do during the warm ups and skate outs. For most of us, we make jokes and try to laugh when we feel nervous, probably in an attempt to convince ourselves that we are not about to fling ourselves at random strangers whilst strapped in a pair of skates!

So what does it feel like to have that taken away? It’s not really acceptable for the refs to dance around the inside of the track or playfully hip check each other, and ultimately I guess I’m glad, because I want them to take the game seriously – I want them to be watching intently when the opposition clockwise blocks our jammer! And I want them to call it!

Establishing a healthy distance from the bouting girls is the best thing the refs could do, but does that mean when the bout is over, the distance is still there? How hard is it to break that intimidation we feel towards the ref crew, and what is the best way to overcome that gap between the bouting teams and the monochrome clad individuals who pull us up on our misdemeanors? Is it silly to expect us all to hi-five each other at the end and act like a big old happy family? And do the refs even want that?

From what I have been told, the refs want their judgement to be taken seriously, they don’t want to appear biased or lenient and during bouts they want respect from the players, the NSOs the crowd and each other – which is their right. But once the last whistle is blown, the tape has been ripped up, and that first glorious pint is sitting on the bar, the time for distance is over. When they’ve stripped off their stripes they are just a man or a woman – exactly like us! (Albeit with an exceptional knowledge of derby rules!). So use that time to break down the barriers that have been put up during the bout and get to know your refs, they are human after all! (Well I’m pretty sure they are!! xx)

Ref's meetingUnfortunately with the sweet comes the sour and after getting to know each other, we have to ask ourselves whether the lines blur between knowing a ref socially and then seeing them on track. In every sport, refs are brought in to make sure everyone is playing to the rules, but one question that frequently comes up; should refs be allowed to ref for their own team? Is that acceptable in any other sport? Would you see that in football for example? And how can we guarantee that there is no bias towards one side?

For many amateur teams, if we can’t use our own refs then we can’t bout. There are simply not enough refs to go around, and unfortunately the result of that is having no choice but to utilise what is right there on our doorstep. Some people might say that technically you shouldn’t ref for your own team because over time you become blind to your teams faults, that their style of play is so familiar you don’t watch out for everything you should, and maybe for some refs that is true, all I can say is that certainly isn’t the case in my team.

If anything our refs are over the top – they watch us like hawks, we don’t get away with ANY naughtiness, and I know in my heart that I wouldn’t want it any other way. I have full confidence in our ref crew, they take their jobs seriously and I know they would never be biased towards us, simply because they respect the game so much. To intimate they are lenient towards us, is actually like a slap in their face, an insult to their intelligence and a reason to kick off in a big way. And I would imagine most other refs feel the same way.

Yes they know us on a personal level, yes they know our style of play, but all this means is that they know where we tend to make mistakes – so surely, if anything, this works against us, not for us. If anything our own refs are more likely to pick us up on penalties than they would with a team that is foreign to them.

I would imagine most refs worth their salt would never dream of throwing a game, what would they gain but a bad reputation and ultimately damage to the purity of their teams winnings?

What it all boils down to is the fact that in sport like this where resources are scarce, we have to use what we can to keep roller derby alive and healthy, and whether we like it or not, that means teams have to use their own refs during bouts. All we can do when facing an opponant who is using their own ref crew, is trust that their training and judgement is fair and unbiased, and assume they take the game as seriously as you do.

One thing we must always do, is keep roller derby a respectful sport. I absolutely love that we fall to one knee for an injured skater, that the refs and NSOs are treated with respect, and that if someone has a hissy fit the insubordination call is one hand signal away. So many other sports have allowed players to disrespect the refs, to push the rules to breaking point and to speak to each other in a negative way, and I think it is so important that we stick to our guns and keep roller derby a respectful sport, for respectful individuals.

Very recently I actually jam reffed a scrim for my team because we were down, and I could not believe how hard it was! Not only do you have to remember all the hand signals but your have to make sure you count the points, look out for penalties and keep up!! What many of us fail to remember is that whilst we go on every second or even third jam, the refs are on EVERY jam! It is hard work and I would strongly recommend every skater have a go, because it is a real eye opener!


I have major admiration for the refs, they have so much they must remember, they make our bouts possible, they make us better skaters and they anchor the bouting teams to a clean game. Remember that when you are on track, because let’s be brutally honest – no one wants to be the douche that disrespects the refs!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the refs that have been doing their thing on track whilst I’ve been doing mine – it’s been an honour, and I look forward to meeting you all again soon! 🙂

Big Hug Little Hug Kiss Kiss
Pulp Friction

All photographs on this page copyright of MAL Langbridge at Gradient Photography.

Words by Pulp Friction.

This article was published in Issue #7 of Lead Jammer magazine, and is re-used with kind permission.
Click below to see it as it was formatted and published in LJ.

Refs are human LJ

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