Whistling at wheelie feet – why I love officiating roller derby

Hannah Blog Image 2

I’ve never been one for sports. In school, I couldn’t be bothered with fitness; I had better things to do. Football and the like left me cold. I dislocated my knee aged 15 and I was actually relieved that I wouldn’t have to do PE any more. So the idea that one day I would end up involved in any sport was unthinkable, if not downright hilarious.

I’ve now been a roller derby referee for a year. Yes, you read that right.

I’ve heard this story time and time again; people who thought they’d never be interested in any sport accidentally stumbling upon this thing called roller derby and developing something akin to an obsession. I was never interested in playing – the aforementioned knee injury made sure of that – but when my good friend and Super Smash Brollers player ‘Dark Side of the Boon’ talked me into accompanying him to a training session, I decided to see what he’d been going on about. Besides, I had nothing better to do except sit in my pants and watch TV, and I could do that on any given night.

Upon arrival at the sports centre, I was presented with a pair of skates and an insurance waiver. After donning some pads, I was told to whistle and point at whichever guy with the star on his helmet got through the mass of skaters first. I didn’t have the foggiest what was going on but for some reason I kept going back. I continued to have very little idea what was happening, but slowly things started falling into place. Suddenly, I realised not only did I love officiating but roller derby was a sport that I could actually get passionate about.

Hannah Blog Image 1

Officiating isn’t something that strikes you as exciting but when I’m refereeing a game, or a scrim, I get the same kind of buzz I imagine the skaters get. Skating-wise, good referees require as many skills as the players and it’s fast paced and unpredictable. Making a good call – seeing an illegal action being committed, blowing the whistle and administering the correct verbal cue and hand signal… It doesn’t sound like much, but after peering in confusion at what can only be described as human soup for months, it feels pretty good to be able to recognise a penalty when it happens. Officiating isn’t about telling people off, though. It’s about safety and fairness; facilitating the game so that players don’t give their team an unfair advantage and ensuring that everybody is safe and having fun.

Officiating also feeds my endless thirst for organisation and knowledge. The WFTDA roller derby ruleset is long and complex, sometimes explicit and sometimes asking for a little more interpretation and referee discretion. It’s not exactly War and Peace, but it’s also not black and white. It’s very easy to become engrossed in understanding every last tiny nuance of the rules, immersing yourself in the multitude of discussions online and developing your understanding of how to officiate the ruleset appropriately, backed by consensus and experience. I watch reams of derby footage, read countless debates about particular rules and standardised practices, think about impact and game consequence and how to officiate new tactics, as well as study the ruleset to clarify my own gaps in understanding from those more experienced than me. Which brings me to the final reason I love refereeing roller derby – the people.

Roller derby as a community is pretty tight knit and inclusive, and officiating is no exception. There are relatively limited numbers of us so by the time you’ve been a referee for a couple of years you’ll probably at least be aware of the vast majority of officials in the UK, if not count them as your friends. It’s a community that nurtures its members; nobody is there to judge you if you make a mistake or misunderstand a rule, they’re simply interested in helping you to improve and to officiate to the best of your ability. After all, the vast majority of them were as confused as me when they started, and all they really want to do is shower you with zebra love!

So, to conclude, even if you hate sport and can’t even stand up on a pair of skates, you should definitely give roller derby officiating a go. Everything about it is awesome (I promise), and I would never mislead you. I am an official, after all.

Stop! Hannah Time

If you’re interested in becoming a roller derby official please email officials@nottinghamrollergirls.co.uk