Diary of an Adolescent Zebra – episode one

My name is Grumpy Cates, and I stepped into the world of refereeing almost two years ago. I hadn’t joined roller derby with the intention of being a referee, but I had really got into NSOing and it was taking me a long time to pass minimum skills, so I gave a helping hand to the ref crew to get more skate time. And boy, was it difficult! I mean, I wasn’t expecting it to be an easy ride, but it is so tricky to see what’s happening on track. It’s not really until you step into the skates of a ref that you realise just why there are more referees than members of a team playing at any one time during gameplay.

When I started reffing, I didn’t feel like I was achieving much. I’m definitely not a natural at this hobby of mine! Initially I was just happy with the realisation that I could skate without thinking about it because I was focused on something else. Baby steps, and all that. Next came being able to award lead jammer and call off the jam when appropriate. Then came a loose grasp of point-scoring. Other small steps included learning the OPR (outside pack referee) rotation – this means that each of the three OPRs are in the right place at the right time. Then I started being able to position myself better to see the skaters, and offer communication to the jammer refs in the right places. Then I had a go at FIPR (front inside pack ref), where I started calling ‘out of play’ to skaters when they strayed too far from the pack. It wasn’t for nearly five months – yes, that’s right, NEARLY FIVE MONTHS – until I called my first penalty, and my word did that feel good! It was a bit of an anti-climax, though, because it was such an obvious back block that the skater was already taking herself off track!11914968_10153589607237269_853685417717574479_n

I found my slow progress frustrating at first. I could see all these other great refs around me, and I could see where I wanted to be, but I just wasn’t getting there at any kind of speed. My point is that progress when learning to be a ref is much the same as learning to skate in the first place. As cliché as it is to say, this is your own journey. You will be better at some things over others. There will be some concepts you grasp more easily than other concepts. You might pick things up really quickly, or you might take more time – like me. But that’s okay. It took me a long time to make peace with that fact, though.

When you learn to ref, it’s the small victories that count. Rather than spend my time being frustrated at my slow progress, I learnt to concentrate on the positive steps I was making (most of the time!). After any significant training sessions or scrims I would come home and make a list of the things that went well. The new things that I did. And come up with small, achievable goals for next time. And actually, I learnt that refereeing isn’t actually all about calling penalties – which is a concept which many of us seem to focus on. In fact, referees can be useful and offer support to each other on a whole number of different levels.

It wasn’t until a year of learning to ref that I refereed my first actual, open bout. Since then, I have spent many weekends reffing and made a lot of progress. Not quick progress, but progress that I am happy with. This coming weekend will be a year since I reffed my first bout, and I’ll be celebrating by reffing a game in Tier 2 of the British Championships. I believe that that is something to be proud of. And I couldn’t have made it this far by myself – referee crews are fantastic, supportive communities in which to learn. The sense of camaraderie wherever you are and whoever you ref with is something I’ve not experienced elsewhere. It’s one of the many things that makes all of the hard work worth it. Working as part of a team, challenging yourself mentally and physically, and also progressing on a personal level leads to a very satisfying experience, all in all.

So that’s an introduction to me, in a nutshell. I’ll be blogging here every month and focusing on specific aspects of the journey, of reffing, and of the community. I hope you’ll join me again.

Welcome to the home of the Birmingham Blitz Dames! We're an all-female, full-contact, flat track roller derby team based in Birmingham in the UK. We skate fast and we hit hard! Our league is skater run and owned - and we're proud to work and play as a team, and compete at the highest level. We take women from all backgrounds and train athletes. Whether you've played roller sports all your life or never tried on a pair of skates - if you'd like to join a great team and play a fast-paced, hard-hitting, athletic sport, come and join us! See you on the track!

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