Building rapport on and off the track

I have been asked to tell you a little thing that helps me as a ref that you might not hear from other officials a lot. I know that one of the most important things that I do with people on game day as a referee is build rapport. I often list this from the perspective as a Head Referee as this is where most of my experience comes from.

Obviously you need all the regular skills such as rules knowledge, skating ability, being able to see the flow of the game and to make a call if necessary. But I find what helps me as a Head Referee is having rapport with the people around me on game day. Who do I try and develop rapport with and why?

The first group of people I try to interact with and develop rapport with are the captains and alts. We will be communicating with each other through Official Reviews and by bringing any concerns we have to each other. I use the captains meeting as a chance to do this. I ask them and encourage them to come to me with any concerns or issues that they have that I am able to assist with. I encourage them to come to me during the 30 seconds between jams if they need to. Remember your body language during all communication as well as the words you are using and more importantly the tone of voice you have while saying them. I keep a very open communication with everyone who is there. If all goes well before the game even starts you have earned a level of trust and developed a small connection with the teams leadership. That small bit of trust can be worth a lot later during the game. 

The other group I need to build rapport with is the officials. Most teams are practicing together several times a week and have known each other a long time. Most officials are thrown together on the day and asked to work together like a fully functioning team. Some of these officials will never have worked together before and may have a very different level to each other. You need to build rapport with all of the officials. For the Head Referee and HNSO it is vital to get to know your crew and to communicate effectively. You can do this during the officials meeting using much of the same techniques as you would use during the captains meeting. Try to be open and encouraging. Get everyone to introduce themselves and ask questions about them. Make sure you know everyone name.

As the Head Referee it is very important to try to build a bond between the referees on a crew. At some games or a tournament you can use social media to help develop this rapport before the day even arrives. You can have your own Facebook group where you can communication and post things to.. In between games make sure everyone has what they need and is fed and has water and try to get all the refs on your crew to watch a game or 2 together so you can see what the other crews are doing well and what can be improved on. You can copy what is going well and not do what you see is not working for anther crew. Just like with the captains and the Alts the Head officials will meet with the officials at the half time in order to tweak anything and to check in on them.

Now skater rapport. If a skater likes or trusts a refs then they will react quicker to those ref and with less or no complaint. This helps the skaters and helps us keep the game flow moving. Now how do we build rapport with skaters now that equipment checks are gone? Easy! Make eye contact and don’t be afraid to talk to skaters from both teams before the game starts. We as referees cant be too familiar but there is no reason not to speak to both teams. As a JR I will tell a team I am their JR and to ask me any questions they may have regarding points. As a Head Referee I tell teams they can ask the JR about points too. Some Head Refs are more closed and don’t want skaters or benches approaching them in the 30 seconds. This to me sets a tone that you are not open and listening to their concerns and you are not approachable. If I was the bench coach or the captain I would find this very frustrating. Talk to everyone and be nice and friendly. If skaters are laughing and joking on the jam line why not smile too if they are all enjoying themselves? For me it is very strange to see everyone having fun and then these robots in stripes or in pink not smiling or looking like they are enjoying themselves.

I know all of this seems so self explanatory for a lot of you, but our derby community is very diverse and we have a lot of different personalities. Each person may appreciate different ways of communication or interaction. YOU might want to change your way of building rapport to suit the people around you.

Shref, from Dublin Roller Derby, has been refereeing since early 2011. He has officiated nearly 500 games at all levels, both men and women’s. He has been a crew head referee for both the womens and mens world cups as well as most of the major European tournaments. He has officiated in America, Canada and in most European countries.

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