So long, and thanks for all the fish!

So this is it. This is my final blog post.

Argh it feels weird. Good but weird.

Before I leave, I wanted to share some thoughts that have been swimming around my head as I prepare to cut you all off for good (lols).

I think this list can be best enjoyed to the tune of Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To wear sunscreen)”, feel free to hum along in your head.

  1. Whatever part of roller derby you get into, network. Go and meet as many people in your situation as possible and create friendships. You need to help each other. If you can, get a mentor. Then when you’re good enough, mentor others.
  2. Buy skates that fit. They don’t stretch as much as you hope they will.
  3. If you think you’re shit, you’re probably not. If you think you’re mint, you’re probably not. This sport is ridiculous and not to be taken too seriously. As long as you’re trying your best, don’t beat yourself up. If you have already stopped trying, maybe consider stopping entirely.
  4. If you upset more people than you please, you’re the problem. Not everyone else.
  5. In the words of a non-derby person I know “roller derby is a sex cult”. If you are a willing participant, then enjoy. Derby has a lot to offer you.
    However… You know that song “roller derby saved my soul”? I’m pretty sure it did the opposite for some. I know first-hand that it caused an awful lot of heartbreak. Don’t be reckless with others peoples’ hearts and don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours. #recklesswheels. (Because God knows a derby comedown is difficult enough).
  6. With that in mind, ROLLER-DERBY-FAMOUS IS NOT A GET-OUT-OF-JAIL-FREE-CARD (and neither is the growing need for officials). There are so many rising stars – and so many people waiting to fill in the spaces – that you shouldn’t allow someone to get away with bad behaviour in whatever guise it presents itself. Protect yourself and protect your team mates.
  7. When you leave roller derby you will realise how often you blew off real-life things to do derby. If you’re like me, you will feel a huge amount of regret about this. You will see your derby friends continuing to do it. They will even do it to you. So before you say no to that one-off celebration that your best friend invites you to, make sure that you ask yourself “Is skate practice really more important?” Sometimes it will be and that’s fine. Good friends will forgive you to a certain point… but trust me when I say it’s fucking hard to do.
  8. Tell people you admire that you admire them. Don’t be a suck up, but do tell someone if you think they’re good at what they do. It’s nice to hear and it doesn’t happen often enough.
  9. If you’ve been saying for a year that you need to take a break… you really need to take a break. You will have terrible FOMO, but trust me, you can step away for months and jump back in. No one notices.
  10. There is life after derby. And it can be exactly what you want it to be. Beautiful, scary… and just the next step in your ongoing unfolding life. Don’t be held back by any misplaced feelings of obligation or duty. You do not owe anyone else your time. Reclaim it and do whatever the hell you want with it (even if you decide you actually really wanna go back to derby). There is more to travelling than seeing the inside of sports halls.

So, that’s it.

In an effort to properly move on, I’m now going to delete people on FB that I only know through derby and have never actually spoken to about anything other than derby. I currently have nearly 1,900 “friends” on FB. I think a normal amount of friends is more… what… 500? That’s a lot of people I don’t really know, who now see a lot of posts about me having taken up field hockey.

If you disappear from my friends’ list and you actually want to be friends… friend request me. Just don’t talk to me about derby drama – I’m done with it.

If you want to reinvent Ref School… please do it. I’m not precious.

If you need to reach me, you can still email me: vonsleaze@gmail.com

Aaand. That’s it. Thank you for a wonderful nine years. Good luck. Oh yeah, and wear sunscreen.

Nine years is a good amount of time

It’s finally getting to that time. I’m ready to wind-down and say goodbye to roller derby.

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TO BE FAIR, I’ve been doing it for like forever. I started skating in September 2007, I took up refereeing in July 2012. That’s nine years.

The start of the end was in July 2015 when I stopped skating for about 6 weeks to let my ankle heal… and it didn’t. So after putting on skates for a single England training session in September 2015, I took my Antiks off for the last time; cleaned them, put them in my North Face bag, and put them to the back of the wardrobe.

It’s been a weird nine months being off skates. People asking when I’m reffing next, saying they haven’t seen my name pop up for a while… am I ok? But I’ve really enjoyed having the time to take stock, and really look at what this sport means to me, and what I still have to give.

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I’ve continued being involved in the ways I can be. I am still England’s Head Referee, I told them I was off skates and they said they still wanted me. They have continued to test my knowledge, and have wound me up and made me laugh in equal measure.

I have only recently handed over Head Referee status at Crash Test Brummies (to two of my Ref School graduates no less *beams with pride*).

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I have being off-skates Tournament Head Referee at 4Nations, BEARDi and England Sevens, which I loved. I’ve learnt how to sensitively expel skaters. I’ve learnt that I can opt for informal conversations when needed. I’ve given feedback to referees that have years of experience over me and I have been amazed at how few people actually ask for feedback on their refereeing.

I have taught some amazing up-and-coming new refs with the Blitz Dames, I’ve talked about Increasing Cohesion at UKROC, and I have benched a team at the Louisey Rider Cup.

I have tried to stay engaged with the sport, but I have felt my love for it slipping away and being replaced by a desire to do something else with my time.

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So with that in mind I have agreed to work with the Welsh Women’s Aid. Spending my spare hours writing for them rather than writing references for officials. Planning social media strategy for their campaigns instead of writing Captains’ meeting notes.

Women’s charities are very close to my heart. Being a survivor of domestic abuse and violence, I am proud of myself for what I have achieved, and particularly now that I feel confident enough to use my professional skills to help others in that shitty position.

I know my time in derby has contributed massively to this self assurance. Not just because my skater buddies housed me during the bad times (Thanks Kalamity, Fritha, Sniper) and helped me get my life back in order (Thanks Boxall, Brie, Gin, Marie and all the Newcastle Roller Girls), but because I learnt that skaters never leave a girl behind. I learnt how to be myself again, and I have learnt to pay-it-forward ever since.

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I told the WWA about my blog post about sexual harassment (and the positive messages I received after writing it) as an example of my passion for making things better in the communities that I live in.

That passion is why I pushed so hard for the Diversity and Inclusion panel within OffCom. I’m sorry to see that it hasn’t done the work I had hoped it would have achieved already, but sometimes things don’t work out the way you planned. However the ball has started to roll, and I know there are some great minds sitting on that panel, all ready and willing to give it some momentum – with or without me. And that’s a good situation to be in.

So. What next?

I’ll be finishing off the year with a few more tournaments:

  • Men’s European Cup. I’ll be co-THR with Miss Trial; someone I have looked up to for a long time. MEC takes place in Newcastle, the place where I took up refereeing. It is my derby-home and the event will always be an important one for me and Mat.
  • The Gauntlet. I managed to get this far in my career without doing a Sur5al, so of course I get dragged into doing one the moment I say I’m quitting. I’ll be co-THR with my ref pal Bryn – Tre Cruel. We were roomies in Dallas and he has supported me a lot during my time on skates, so doing something with him seems appropriate before I finish.
  • BEARDi. Of Course. I’ll be handing over the reigns to Roisin and Minx, the new co-HRs at the Crash Test Brummies as I teach them their final Sleaze-lesson: How to deal with the crazy shit a tournament throws at you. And this gives me a chance to say a fond farewell to the league that let me HR them for a huge chunk of my reffing career.

I’m also getting chance to say goodbye to my teaching side – I’ve been booked to travel to Ljubljana, Slovenia, to teach some new referees in September, and in the run up to that I am going to update Ref School to include the new verbal cues, so I can leave it ready and relevant for anyone who wants to use it going forward.

I’m hopeful that during these next few months I will get the chance to say goodbye to the officials I have loved working with and the skaters I used to share a track with.

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If I don’t get chance to say goodbye to you, please know that I have loved *almost* every second of my time in derby. (Big shout out to all the pricks that made me stop loving this sport – you know who you are!)

I have met a lot of wonderful people over the last nine years and I have fallen in love with more than my fair share of them. And I’m thankful for that.

I’m stepping down, I’m not dying, so, you know, don’t be a stranger. x

It’s been ages since I blogged last. Like two months.

In that time I have:

Had three pre wedding parties
Left my job
Found a new job
Got married
Gone to Hawaii
Moved to Cardiff
THR’d England Sevens

There were other things too, like I did some painting, but those are the main bits. You’ve missed LOADS.

I also realised (when someone asked me why I wasn’t on skates at Sevens) that it’s been nine months since I last skated. I really don’t miss it. I’m surprised to see myself type that. I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Topless derby dreams

I had this dream the other night.

I was an off-skates THR at an event where the ref crew asked me to offer them support because they were all new. Like newbies new. I sat trackside and had a whistle JUST IN CASE anything went wrong.

Everything was going fine until the teams changed and the new line up entered the track, wearing nothing above their waists. No wrist guards, elbow pads, helmet or mouthguard. And no top or bra.

I flagged it to the nearest ref and they just stared at me. I mouthed: “They can’t play like that” and the refs just ignore me. At this point they’re all lined up and the jam is about to start and I’m freaking out.

I try to blow my whistle and it doesn’t make any noise.

I start screaming TOOT TOOT TOOT TOOT and everyone looks at me.

I run into the middle and the jam is called off. I bring everyone into the middle to ask WTF they were playing at.

None of them realise that it was against the rules to skate like that and say I’m over reacting.

Then I wake up.

WHAT DOES THIS MEEEEEEEEEEEEAN???????????????????

Can I stop being poorly now?

Two weeks ago I got laser eye surgery. It knacked. It took nearly a week of sitting in a dark room to feel normal again. And by normal I mean “like someone wasn’t pouring shampoo into my eyes and rubbing it in”.

I then spent a week being like NO NO, MY EYES ARE FINE, PLEASE STOP SCREAMING IN HORROR AT THEM. They looked, in the words of Becks, like raspberry ripple ice cream. They go bloodshot because that’s how eyes bruise. Who knew? Also when you’re healing you can’t wear make up and you have to sleep in special goggles so you don’t get all that much rest. Basically I looked like a total babe.

Then this week I got ill. YEY. It started on Friday morning and got slowly worse while I was at work. You know when your colleagues start to say “Are you… ok?” and they really mean it? Like they’re worried you might pass out?

I ended up at home and in bed by 5pm, and I didn’t get out of bed until around that time the following day – and that was only because I realised I hadn’t drank in 24 hours. I missed the final day of Ref School with the Blitz refs. I assumed if I slept longer I would feel better and would be able to make their graduation on the Sunday. Matthew was in Newcastle (doing roller derby) so I just went back to bed to try and sleep it off.

I woke up with a huge puffy hamster cheek on the right hand side of my face. An allergic reaction to the mix of painkillers and sedatives I had taken to help fix myself. It made my eye go puffy. I totally freaked out.

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(Awww. I think I look kinda cute. Also… look at those eyes. They can SEE things. Amazing.)

I missed the graduation and all of Sunday. Sunday night I decided to try eating for the first time since lunchtime Friday. I threw it up and felt instantly better. Weird huh?

It’s now Wednesday and I’ve only JUST got back to ACTUAL normal, so I’m now looking back at all the awesome stuff I missed the past few days…

Week 12. The final session of Ref School. After training new refs for (over) three months, it’s horrid to miss the final session because you can’t get out of bed. I asked if anyone else could take it but everyone had games on… so I put it to the trainees that actually, they could totally do this. Merri printed off a few copies of the lesson plan and our resident presentation-guru Xan took the session. To say I am proud is an understatement. I laid in bed grinning (in between the winces and incredibly lady-like swearing).

 

At the start of Week 12 I had arranged for the Blitz photographer to come take some headshots. She’d bought a new white screen for them and everything. The guys shared their stripes to make sure everyone looked the part, and you know what, I can see why parents give out school photos of their kids now. I was sent the photos first – to share with everyone – and I squealed. Their lovely faces, professional, striped up, looking excited at the reffing ahead of them. Argh. They’re so lovely.

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Sadly, my fat face meant I couldn’t go to the graduation awards night, which is a bummer… since I asked for us to have one. Gayna came round to pick up the awards from me and drop off a fucking lush card and flowers (thankyou), and said she didn’t recognise me. THANKS FACE.

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Klaire made some sexy certificates – one for every graduate, and then a couple of extras: Magic Moment, which went to Gaddy for her amazing abilities on “Stop me when I get to 10 foot”. Best Attendance, which went to Paul, Steve, Hayley and Karen who only missed ONE session each. Frick even I missed three of the bastards. Dedication right there guys! And finally, Most Improved, which went to Minx Dodd. She arranged with work to have time off to come to the sessions (which means probably working every weekend for the next year now, sorry Minx!), and really made the most out of her time. She asked so many questions, pushed herself every time we tried something new, and took on board all my feedback. I have heard great things about her reffing at the various scrims she’s been to since starting with us. Lovely to see someone throw themselves into it. I expect great things in the coming year.

It’s been fun doing this again. I assumed I would want to do it again with another league right after finishing this one, but I’m not so sure. I have really loved meeting people and watching them develop, but spending every Saturday teaching on top of all the other stuff I do is actually pretty tiring. I say this, knowing full well I have been contacted by another league that I will almost certainly end up travelling to teach on a semi-regular basis. Maybe this time I’ll agree to help facilitate Ref School, and not actually teach the full thing. We’ll see how that goes. But for now, congratulations graduates of 2016 <3

Leagues and Officials: Increasing cohesion

I was asked to talk at UKROC. Well, that’s not really true. I was asked if I would share some of my findings and work so that a talk could go ahead. I said yes of course, let me know what you need… you can have anything. A long pause later and the question of “Well, if you’re free and you FEEL like talking…”

So that’s how it happened. The event is pretty new to the UK, but takes its cues from a similarly named European event. It’s run by the UKRDA and although small at the moment, anything that strives to further the sport and those within it is usually worth the effort of a few hours driving in my mind.

I was asked to speak about building relationships within leagues, aimed at both officials and skaters. It’s not usually a topic I would talk about, but with a history as a league-leader for a few years followed by an official for the last three years, I actually had a fair bit of advice to share. So I set to putting together a PowerPoint presentation because I usually just talk… but I wanted to be MORE PROFESSIONAL. And nothing says professional like slides.

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/\ Look at the lovely pink and blue lines on THAT. Aww. So lovely.

ANYWAY, the event was in Salford, but me and Mat stayed over in a hotel in Bolton the night before because it had free breakfast and a gym. It seemed like a good idea until I dropped a 10kg dumbell on my middle finger (it still won’t straighten and hurts to type… why am I writing a blog post right now??).

I had stress-packed several changes of top, but was handed a UKROC tshirt with my name on the back to wear for the day:

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I did the talk and it went really well. I was really pleased with it. I had lots of interaction, lots of questions; a couple of people messaged me afterwards to talk more in-depth about their issues. I felt like I did a good job. So when someone asked me to share my slides, I decided to put the talk down in a blog… mainly because I was told never to share your slides, it’s poor presentation etiquette (the slides shouldn’t tell the full story, you should) and also because, well, when you see the slides below you’ll realise how fucking useless it would have been to send these to anyone.

So, sit back, relax, and enjoy my thoughts on building a better league relationship with all your league members.

Leagues and Officials UKROC v2

I don’t know everything and I would never pretend to. I have experienced a few things and I’m willing to share those experiences with everyone. But all experiences are valid, and anyone with views that contradict mine are welcome to speak up. Anyone with anything to add is welcome to speak up. Just be polite, be considerate, and be humble.

So I start by saying who I am and why I think I have any right to be talking to them today. Skater with two leagues, co-creator of one. Captain and Vice Captain and league-leader for several years before learning to officiate, struggling to find my way around the stripy world and then eventually end up doing pretty well for myself.

I tell them how and why I created Ref School. How I was one of the lucky ones and I had a lot of support. But that in travelling around I realise that’s not the norm. I encourage people to run proper training, to help other leagues starting out, and to create their own plans. Everyone nods along in agreement.

I know both sides of this issue. I’ve been a brand new referee. I know what it’s like. I’ve also been that Captain trying to get refs to stick with the league and having no idea how to do it. 

I ask how many people feel supported in their progression within their league. For the first time in a long time I’m faced with a lot of happy officials who feel their league offers them what they want. This is amazing for me. I usually talk to refs who are asked to skate at the side of the hall during practice and are (genuinely) told to “keep quiet” so they don’t interrupt the skaters (whaaaaaaaaa).

But these people are still here to make things better, so I press on, waiting to hear where the issues lie.

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(See what I mean about the slides now? I was told the best PowerPoints contain no words at all… So I illustrated all my points with photos)

Referees are important. You need them in order to run games and stay within the rules. They will get you a crew when you need it. They will come to training and help point out how to stay on the right side of the rules during drills. They pay subs and contribute to the league. (I’d HIGHLY recommend nominal subs for your officials if your league can afford it. Have them pay £2 or so a month which includes the right to vote within the league but shows them that you value their time and skills more than you value their coin… and if you’re from a league that doesn’t let your officials vote you may want to consider why you’ve taken this stance. I can’t see a single benefit in it.)

They also look good in stripes. (See me and Big Smack, bottom)

Skaters are important. We wouldn’t need refs if we didn’t have skaters. They give refs something to work on, they push us to always try our best. They are the people that bring in the audience. They are “the game”. They will also be your cheerleaders when you do well. (See left middle, the Central City Rollergirls travelled to the Gotham v London game in Leeds where we supported one of our referees, Major Travis T aka Trav)

Raise the standard of game play. More refs, better refs… more people to discuss rules with, and more eyes on your training helping you to work within the rules spending less time in the box as a team. Skaters have to trust referees, they make calls that impact on gameplay. It’s important to work together to improve the league as a whole.

Create a nurturing environment. This works both ways. If your league is happy with a growing ref crew and you all get on… skaters will want to join you too because of the benefits this brings to any newbie. Also your new referees will see that skaters are polite and supportive of newer refs and will feel happier pushing themselves in that group. (See picture top right. This is the turn out for the first of my Ref School sessions with the Birmingham Blitz. They created an environment where everyone felt included, and had over 30 people sign up to the training. Amazing work.)

Grow your league. It’s what we all want right? If your league is harmonious you’ll automatically be a league people want to join. You’ll be an inviting prospect for skaters and officials who are relocating, and you’ll be a place where people want to bring their friends to try out the sport.

(The picture on the top left is the first time I managed to get together an all-female referee crew. It was a huge celebration for me because I had helped train some of them and was so pleased to have this lovely easy-going game where we all worked perfectly together.)

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This is one area that I feel very strongly. Like I said, I had a better start than most. But I still had people being angry with me when I smiled at myself for FINALLY making a call correct from start to finish. And I had people shouting at me for not calling out of plays when all I was working on was back blocks. I had it good, but it could be better.

I talk to new refs a lot; I teach Ref School and see people completely fresh to the idea of refereeing. Not all of them are from a derby background. Some of them have to learn to skate, learn what the hell we do, and then learn how to officiate. It’s a lot to take in.

But I still see the skaters’ view too: You’re in stripes, why aren’t you reffing?

So I always give three pieces of advice:

For referees:

  1. Don’t let anyone else tell you how fast or how slow to go. Go at your own pace.
  2. Be honest. With others and yourself.  Speak to the coach – can you work with them to slowly build your skills? Then tell the team what you’re working on that week. Don’t expect to be Cherry Fury in your second week.
  3. Network. Go to mixed scrims, make friends with other newbies and learn together.

For leagues:

  1. Don’t rush anyone. Trying to get someone to IPR, JR and call cuts on the outside is going to make them feel unloved, unwelcome and like a failure before they begin. As a skater we spend AGES on min skills, refs are going back to square one and learning ref skills. Give them time to do it.
  2. Be constructive. You don’t have the same view on track as they do off track. I can tell you I didn’t deserve a single penalty I received in derby… all those calls were absolute crap. However I managed to foul out of a game once and regularly spent time in the box… because you know what, I have absolutely no idea what my body is doing when it’s full of adrenaline and a desire to win. So don’t assume what you did was legal. ALSO… your refs are learning. Don’t kick off that they don’t know everything instantly.
  3. Be inviting. Getting others to come along and help your refs will be a huge benefit to you and your zebras. If you can host mixed scrims, invite other local referees along, or take your ref with you when you go to mixed events… do it. It makes a huge difference.

At this point someone raised the issue of people who just AREN’T getting any better. We’ve all seen them. I used to be the person brought in on the final week of Fresh Meat to tell the skaters they didn’t pass. I guess the idea of saying that to someone is horrifying to most, but then being told that info badly is the actual issue.

The example raised was someone who has been officiating for years and is still not “getting it” despite so much support and time and effort. It sounds callous, but that person needs to have less attention given to them. We all do this in our spare time, we don’t have endless amounts of time to waste on people that don’t want to put in the effort. Like we say to skaters – you’re responsible for your actions; so are referees. You’re responsible for your own progression, you’re responsible for making sure you’re pushing yourself, keeping on top of the rule changes, and developing your skills as the game changes around you.

My advice to the question was to set clear goals (we get on to this in a second) and stipulate that now these goals are personal to that official, so they need to work to reach them. In this situation that official was one of very few in the league and therefore always ended up on crews even when their skill set wasn’t at the desired level. This is an issue that you should address with your officiating structure within your league. stubble entendre shared a “level” grading system with me and I tweaked it for Ref School. It’s something you could consider implementing in your league to help officials keep pushing themselves to reach the next level and not become complacent with just doing the bare minimum. Have your HR and HNSO work on this; don’t let skaters grade your officials, it will become a popularity contest.

Always be open, honest, and if you have the balls, sit the person down and explain where you would like to see them get to in the next six months, and ask if they see any reason why they shouldn’t reach those goals. It may turn out they’re not trying because they don’t want to progress and then you can stop worrying about pushing them along. We have rec skaters, some people want to blow whistles on a weekend and never give it any more thought than that. Remember though, there is pussy-footing around someone and there is being a complete dick. You want to be somewhere in the middle – you would want someone to tell you if you had a leaf on your face, you wouldn’t want them to take a photo of you and put it online saying LOOK HOW STUPID YOU ARE YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU HAVE A LEAF ON YOUR FACE. Got it? Good.

Then Rocky complained that he wasn’t in a single one of my photos, so I took a selfie with him:

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BACK TO THE TALK…

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Time for some quick wins. We all want to make things better, but what can we do? These tips should be easy to start implementing, they should be easy for everyone to adapt to:

Talk to each other. Compliment each other when necessary. Consider your language when you do talk – stop saying “us” and “them”. 

Don’t keep officials and skaters separate. Give them all the same perks. If you help fund skaters to events, do the same for your officials. If you can’t afford this, do fundraising. Do your skaters get reduced kit? Give your refs reduced cost stripes. (See top left image. Newcastle Roller Girls’ officials created a team called Agents of S.T.R.I.P.E they had hoodies printed up and gave them to all the officials that had helped the league that year. Wonderful gift. I was given mine at the Last Action Heroes tournament and I am pretty sure I cried. The league contributed to costs.)

Give them as much coverage as you do your skaters.  Put them on your website, talk about their achievements on FB and Twitter. Give them awards at the annual party.

Include them in your plans. Don’t book games without telling them. The leagues that I consistently hear positivity from are the leagues where an official is on their Board of Directors, they have input at that high level and know all the league decisions.

Treat them like a team within your league. Arrange training for your officials and arrange events for them just like you would your A, B or C team. This includes having a ref come teach them things, or putting on mixed scrims just so they can meet new refs. (See middle top photo, at Central City Rollergirls all the officials decided to solidify their team status by having varsity jackets made up with our names on. One skater said we always look like we’re having so much fun that the skaters get jealous. I don’t think many ref crews hear that from their skater buddies?)

Train like it’s game day. Skaters wear numbers, refs in tops that clearly make them stand out. Have a captain and an alt, and direct your questions to the ref crew. It allows everyone to learn together and not have one ref be inundated with questions. It stops the newbies getting their confidence dashed, and it teaches skaters to take a breath and raise issues through their captain or alt.

(The other images tie in with general engagement. The middle left is when my leaguemates at Newcastle Roller Girls came along to one of my first games as an official and held up supportive signs for me. Top right is when me and a few Midlands-based officials got together to do some fundraising by doing Europe’s longest zip wire. It was haggard but we survived. Bottom left is when we had a family day (all the CCR refs and their partners and children) went water zorbing, then we met up with the CCR skaters for a meal afterward. And bottom right is the first group to ever do Ref School – the Crash Test Brummies ref crew of 2015. We went out for a few meals together just because we wanted to get to know eachother. I will admit that SOMETIMES I sprung homework and quizzes on them. But mainly it was just a fun get together.)

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So now you have the quick wins down, it’s time to start looking at actual proper engagement within your league. These are the things that will take time, perseverance and constant re-assessments. Just like all good relationships. Put in the effort and reap the rewards.

Train together. This is vital to bonding. Try to split your sessions into non-contact and then contact. Make it clear that everyone is invited to join in with the non-contact stuff. It will help your officials to mix with your team and keep them fit.

Mutual respect only comes from knowing each other and seeing how hard you work to be the best you can be. If this doesn’t happen naturally in your training sessions, organise additional events outside of skating. Whether it be going for a curry, or to try another sport. Make the time to get to know and respect each other.

Goal setting. Be clear about what you want from everyone. Set clear league goals and include everyone in these goals. Then look at how you can reach these goals together. Your officials can help you and you can help them.

Act consistently. Don’t make changes for a week and then change. Build in change and stick to it. like we said earlier, train like it’s game day and everyone will always know what is expected of them.

Deal with conflict. Have a proper way to deal with complaints and issues that come up. If you don’t have one, create a complaints and grievance procedure, get the entire league to sign off on it and sign up to it… and then USE IT. If you don’t have one of these, message me. I have made a heap of them in my time using info from when I used to be a union rep. I will happily share what I have for you to build on.

Always assume good intentions – from both sides, this is just good life advice.

Create support structures and perceive everyone’s mistakes, including your own, as team mistakes. Work to rectify mistakes, learn from them and move on together.

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And that was it. My timer alarm went off to tell me I had hit 75mins (and I couldn’t turn it off) and everyone said thank you and politely wrote down my blog details. I took a selfie with the room.. look how many people came!:  talk

And I went to meet friends for lunch, where I was asked advice on dealing with building cohesion between officials and their league… I shit you not.

The importance of humility

So I’ve been watching “Making a Murderer” and the bit that really stuck with me (aside from the terrible situation that is the American justice system) was when Dean Strang said that people needed to show a bit more humility.

He basically says the police, the attorneys and the judge and jurors all need to realise they’re not infallible.

It’s probably a weird connection to make, but my brain instantly said “like referees”.

Now, I’m not one for throwing people under the bus and that’s not what I’m doing here. I’m just pointing out that we’re not perfect. We all make mistakes. But you should be willing to accept that rather than refusing to concede that MAYBE you got it wrong.

Since stopping skating I have spent a lot of time doing off-skates coaching, giving feedback and watching referees from a fresh outsider angle. I don’t know if I simply wasn’t privvy to it before, but I’ve really noticed how many refs will refuse to listen to eachother, or, and this is a more common one… listen to non-officials.

We see ourselves as the rules-know-it-alls, but damn, the rules are public knowledge. I have spoken to skaters who have out-rules’d me on a few occasions. It isn’t a bizarre occurrence. It happens. Learn some humility and move on. It doesn’t make you a crap referee if you admit that you got a call wrong. It does make you a bad referee if you refuse to learn and insist you’re right.

There have been times when I have thought the unwillingness to discuss, to compromise, to negotiate… the bloody-mindedness of it is just unbearably embarrassing to witness.

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While I’m on the subject of lacking humility, if you’re applying for a position in a tournament, don’t take the opportunity to be a cocky bastard on the application form.

It’s an application form for God’s sake.

If you’re rude, disrespectful, and demanding… no right-minded person would put you a crew. You’re clearly going to be difficult to work with.

Remember you’re asking for a position amongst peer competition… Be humble. Be honest. Be professional. Or be rejected.

The ramblings of a two-time-THR

Things I have learnt from two stints as a THR (Read: I don’t know much, but I know some things and I’m willing to share them, so shhhhh).

No matter how much you prep you will have forgotten something.
But don’t fret about it. If no one else knew it was meant to happen, they haven’t missed out. If it’s not important, live without. If you can fix it, fix it. If you can’t, don’t. It’s just a game after all.

You need: A hall, teams, officials and medics. If you forgot to invite an audience, bring the merch, sort a photographer, or get that wrestling tape to go over the track tape with… it’s not the end of the world. Make sure you have a mate there that doesn’t mind asking reception to print things for you, and has a car for that last minute trip to the shop to buy bottles of water and you’re laughing.

But of course, the more prep you can do the better. And if you share this prep with your crews, that’s more eyes on the info and more opportunity for people to flag things you may have missed. Plus sharing info early with your officials stops them stressing… which means your job is easier during the event.

Captains meetings and officials meetings are pretty similar.
There are things you need to remember to tell both:

  • Thankyou: That you’re happy to have them there, who you are, what you like as a THR and how you want things to go.
  • Timings: Of everything. Meetings, start whistle, end whistle. Half times and warm ups. When can people leave and when do you want them there.
  • Space: What is theirs, is it quiet, is there food, where is the water, where is kit safe and can they leave it overnight.
  • Seedings: Who is higher, who is lower. Are you having the higher pick which bench they get? Will the lower seed decide whether to swap at half time? Are you giving the higher seed the choice of warm up slot?
  • Procedural things: Which ruleset are you playing to? Are they full length games? If not, what are the changes? Where is the point of no return, and how far across that can you be? Can you straddle the penalty box? How will warm ups work? Where will captains meetings happen? What do they need to bring? What colours are they wearing? Will there be evals? Have they done evals before – because you may want to offer to go through these with them, your officials will thank you for it. How are you dealing with foul outs/expulsions/suspensions/injuries? When can they test the floor? Where will you share rankings, positions and timings for the next day? Can the Penalty Box Manager issue penalties?
  • Human stuff: Is anyone hard of hearing, visually impaired or colour blind? Any other ailments you need to know about? Has everyone completed a waiver? Where are the bathrooms, showers, lockers and nearest shop. If you can get a nice food van at the venue for the entire event, you’ll have made a large group of people love you.
  • Remind everyone not to turn up pissed. You wouldn’t think you have to say it. But you do. Also some people take drugs, a good catch-all is to say “anyone under the influence” of whatever substance they choose to imbibe.

Being a co-anything doesn’t mean you will do half of the work.
Before agreeing to co-THR, really think about how you work compared to the other person. If you’re both heavily into admin and hate talking to humans, you probably are not an ideal pairing.

You need to balance out being able to stand up and talk to a group of people, engaging them in your plans and answering their questions confidently; and being able to work out stats and handle masses of paperwork. You may have these qualities yourself, but you need to make sure that as a partnership you can at least support each other if you can’t easily divvy up the jobs.

Set some ground rules before you dive into this. You may end up doing all of the work while the other person gets to take half the credit. This is fine if you’re ok with it, less so if you’re not. If this happens, take solace in the fact that everyone around you will know you did the work. People can spot an imposter a mile off.

If you’re taking this role to help gain experience, be prepared to do whatever your more experienced co-THR asks you to do. Suck it up and give it a bash. Otherwise you will never learn if you can do all these jobs on your own.

Where possible, learn to do all the jobs on your own. It puts you in a better position.

Set a good example.
You’re the face of the event for a lot of people. Make that face an enthusiastic and positive one. Don’t be half-arsed. Don’t THR tired. Don’t THR hungover. Turn up on time, be prepared, be polite and check in on people. Even if you don’t really know them, or you’re not super keen on them.

Speak to the teams and ask for feedback. Make sure people know you want this event to be the success you told them it would be at that first meeting.

Keep making things better where you can. If you say you will do something, do it. If you’re not going to do something, don’t say you will. Feel free to chuck in the ol’ “I’ve listened to what you’ve said and i’ll take that on board, thank you” when you want to tell someone they’re asking for bizarre things and you have no intention of taking it any further.

You’re a buffer-zone for your CHRs, protect them from the madness of the event, the teams and the crowd. They’re a buffer-zone for the refs, so pass on feedback directly to them to give to their crews if they see fit. Allow people to do their job and they will. Don’t over-reach.

If you can, take a bit of time for yourself before and after the tournament.

Writing evals is important.
Ref cert will send a person a few bullet points taken from their evals. Really consider what you write on an eval as you don’t want to impact on someone’s progression because of a badly-phrased comment. Watch the officials; take notes of what game you’re writing about, what position they played, and how the rest of the crew worked at the same time. Take everything into consideration and be honest.

Food is more important than evals.
You may not want to let others down, you want to be able to write about their entire game on an eval. But if you haven’t stopped trouble-shooting and giving feedback/holding meetings for six hours, it’s likely that you won’t really remember this game later anyway. Go eat some food. Close your eyes in a quiet room for a few minutes and relax. Also drink a hell of a lot of water. It may make you need to pee, but that’s a good reminder to get up and go sit down in a quiet room for a minute. You need that reminder.

You will be expected to play mum to a lot of people that you didn’t give birth to.
THR is a bit like HR in that you do a lot of meetings, you need to make sure the medics are there, that the teams are wearing high contrast and that the officials are all on the same page and able to do their job.

But you also need to do weird things, like pick up any odd jobs that don’t happen. Stand in for people when they aren’t there and things need doing. Help women find baby-changing facilities. Speak to angry crowd members that have drunk too much. Go and get whistles and medication out of ref’s bags for them.

You’re the person that people come to when someone said something and they don’t know what to do with that information. Or they just feel a bit “meh”. Or they’re having a problem with their HR. You need to keep your ears and eyes open to spot potential issues and fix them. You also need to be emotionally aware of any issues between individuals… if you can spot that and separate people before they have chance to rub each other up the wrong way, you will save yourself a lot of time later in the event.

It’s also a good idea to find out when the venue closes… because you will be keeping an eye on your timings and if someone is injured you’ll need to sweet talk the venue into letting you overrun.

If all else fails, give people booze.
Free beers at the end of a hard event will really make people look back with rose-tinted glasses. Get everyone drunk and tell them how great they were.

Then go home, have a bath, and sleep for England. You deserve it.

4Nations. 2Days. 1Winner. (me)

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This weekend I Tournament Head Refereed 4Nations. I was considering just leaving this post as that one line. But I won’t.

What a fricking achievement. I got to do it with my buddy Becks Macfarlane too, which made it even more fun.

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We ran a fluid ref crew, meaning we could tailor the skills of the crew to the teams that were playing.

We had people who trained me to referee on board and even had two Level 3 referees (well, three now but he was a Level 2 at the time!) in the mix. I had so much positive feedback on the crews it was amazing.

Someone *who shall remain nameless* said they always spot things referees miss, but had only spotted one thing so far. I managed to ref-face that idiot and walk away. Believe me when I say they aren’t the best at rules so I highly doubt they would know a good call if it came over, introduced itself and proceeded to date them for a month. Plus. DAT CREW THO. *swoon*

The event ran pretty smoothly. Hardly surprising given the amount of prep that went into it. I was part of the planning group and worked alongside Niks and representatives from England and Wales.

Me and Mat even went on radio to talk about it. And we weren’t even that shit!matandkareninthemorning

I took on the officials, the medals and trophy, the after party, housing the food (as I live close to the venue), and acted as moral compass when situations got tense. Me. Moral compass. Ha. I also helped word things. Because I’m dead gud at werdz.

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I wanted 4Nations to be brilliant. And it was. Here are the things I learnt:

  • I am good at meetings, planning, and troubleshooting
  • How to deal with situations where personal issues encroach on derby-life
  • How to tell people their private lives are now my issue, without kicking off about being dragged into their drama
  • Niks is a feeder
  • How to do expulsion paperwork and conduct meetings
  • How to do suspension paperwork and conduct meetings
  • I am good at giving feedback and constructive criticism (well, no one cried when I gave it, so that’s a bonus)
  • I am not as good at remembering to eat as I thought I was
  • Not skating at a tournament means you will get COLD

I’m really pleased with how it all went. I’m pleased that I had the chance to THR such high-level games and to THR such wonderfully talented referees. And I got to smush faces with this twerp all weekend: (Krystal Vice is such a babe).

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It was actually nowhere near as scary as I thought it was going to be.

You know what REALLY worried me the whole weekend? Not that my leggings would tear. Not that I would get something wrong. But that the after party games I planned wouldn’t be a success.

How trivial right?

But really… I was planning games on my own. With no input. And if people didn’t like them it would be SO obvious and horrible and I would have to leave immediately and change my name and never go back to roller derby again.

We agreed to hold the party at the pub we usually end up in – the Rose Villa Tavern. I booked the upstairs room and bought loads of flags and bunting to decorate the room.

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I arranged to go there at 1pm on the Sunday and decorate it, so I turned up, just after 1pm with Sniper and Laura Haman, checked in with the staff and started setting up. Singing along to Sniper’s music, and Laura’s unwavering lack of fear when climbing on unsafe objects to stick up flags…  we had it looking mint in no time. We emptied out the huge bin bags full of balloons and smiled. Just as the bar manager walked in and announced they had messed up and they needed the room for a party before us. Damn.

He looked around the room at all the flags and offered to put them all up for us after that party finished. We laughed a lot. It was ridiculous. Then a young lass walked in, saying she booked the room for a surprise party for her mum. I ask if she would be up for a snazzy 4Nations theme at all? She looks around the room, eyes and mouth wide, puts her hands to her face and says “WE’RE IRISH!”

Cue me, Sniper and Laura laughing at the awkwardness and her running away crying.

We took photos and packed up, on the understanding that the venue would put it all back up for us later… HOWEVER… this never happened. I rang during the half time of the final (not stressed enough at this stage) and the manager says the Irish party are refusing to leave so he’s put up our decorations downstairs. Argh. Nightmare. Not what we wanted at all. He offers to take photos. He sends me them and actually…it doesn’t look that bad:

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Good lad. I ask if he can sweeten the deal for me with a few free drinks? Yes. Yes he can. He hands us a “bottle of shots” as we arrive and says we can get it refilled later if we want. Sometimes the biggest stresses turn into huge positives.

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/\ “Bottle of shots” one was blue. “Bottle of shots” two was orange. I have no idea what either were.

 

So… back to those games. I now have a bunch of shots to give out to the winners, so it seems useful that all of my games are like Frat Party fodder:

  • Peg Face (stolen from Boots from CCR). In twos you have 15 seconds to attach as many pegs to your partners face as possible. One pegger, one peggie. (As Poupa Test screamed loudly and repeatedly THAT IS FACIAL HAIR AND NOT FACE. Iain is a total cheat at Peg Face.)iain_pegs
  • Marshmallow Mouth. In twos again. You have 30 seconds to push as many normal-sized (not the giant ones) into your partners mouth. One gives, one takes. Photo by Marj Orie.
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  • Sex Balloon. Yup, you’ve guessed it, twos again. You have to pop balloons in as many sexual positions as you can in 1 minute. You can switch up who gives and who receives. Extra points for flair.
  • Bum Money. Just one person needed for this. Put an empty pint glass about a metre away on the floor. (If you’re me, your mate will walk over and smash it instantly. If this happens, get a new pint glass and repeat). Have a bunch of 50ps at the ready. 1 minute on the clock. You need to put the 50p up your bum crack, waddle to the pint glass and try to drop it in. This is surprisingly hard. Also nearly every person playing this game asked if I wanted them to take their bottoms off… I did not.

I didn’t take a photo during Bum Money. Mainly because I was amazed at how bloody good Bomb Weasely was at it. So here is a photo of a peg I put in Rob BG’s bum crack instead:

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I also put together Dat Ass Tho. This made me laugh so many times. I asked all the team captains to send me a photo of their naked bums. They all agreed without hestiation. How is that a thing? I even had two girlfriends send me photos of their partners’ bums. So. Funny.

I asked my beautiful assistant (Mat) to put them into black and white and then print them out. We had five altogether: two Scottish, one French, one Welsh and one English. Only one person guessed all of these correctly, but I’m impressed to say the whole of the French team recognised their Captain’s butt instantly. Well done lads, and well done Spider for a smashing rear!

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/\ Not Carnnage’s actual bum.

Now to recover and do it all again next week with BEARDi.

Reasons to love Ref School

  • It gives me the chance to successfully talk a group of adults into leaving a room and hiding when two people go for a toilet break.
  • I get to throw sweets at people for knowing a hand signal.
  • People give the teacher apples. This really happened. It was mint.
  • The students can sometimes amaze you.

So I did the whole “tell me when I’m 10 foot away from you” drill with the trainee refs.

First one up stared intently at me and then shouted STOP. This is how far away I was:

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Argh. SO PROUD.

We have reached Week Five. We have looked at the difference between contact and non-contact penalties. How to blow a whistle. The hierarchy of calls. Blocking and counter-blocking. Initiation – established/temporary position/trajectory. Hand signals and verbal cues. Multiple-player blocking. Track cuts. Blocking with the head. High blocking. OPR rotation. That’s a fair amount in only five sessions. 

The next session is 5th December. I won’t be around as I’m THR at BEARDi, so Kickard is taking it for me (it’s his birthday too!). So I got to end our session, on 14th November, with Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

The next session will be Week Six. Half-way through the 12 week course. Crazy talk. THEY’RE GROWING UP SO FAST!