Thursday, August 15, 2013

Being involved in derby - part 1: Officially Official

Being involved in derby
Roller derby can take over your life. It can and with me it pretty much has. In the first place I am a skater, but I do a lot of stuff in and around derby that doesn't have to do with playing directly. That's why I want to talk about the other ways that I am involved in derby and what I take from it. This is the first one, all about being official.

Picture by Christopher Yarrow

When I started Roller Derby I had no idea what this game was all about. Seeing how derby was still pretty new in Europe and we were the first league in our country there was not a lot of derby around to go and see and learn from. The first time I went to even see a bout after I started was 9 months later in Berlin. Not really around the corner, cause it's a decent 6 hour drive from Amsterdam to Berlin.
But even when I did get to watch bouts live or online, I didn't necessarily understand all of what was going on in the game. Especially cause I seem to have a little "condition" called "hooliganism". Whenever I get to watch a bout I turn in to a total hooligan and scream my lungs out. Which is all fine and dandy, and maybe fun for the teams playing, but it doesn't leave a lot of room for focusing on the game and whats going on.
The other thing was, that in our first year we were focusing mostly on skating skills and basic derby skills and we weren't scrimmaging yet. When you haven't played a scrimmage yet (or worked a bout for that matter) you don't really have that "feel" yet for the game. You don't feel the excitement you feel right before the first whistle, you don't feel the pain shooting through your body when you get a great hit, you don't feel your body working hard and you definitely don't get the same feel for the game as when you play. 

So what can you do to get more of a feel for the game when you cannot play yet? When you are still fresh meat, or even when a certain injury makes it that you cannot play.
I found that a good way was by being a part of the game. And not as the hooligan, but as an official.

The first time I ever worked a bout as a Non Skating Official (NSO) was in November 2010 in Stuttgart; Stuttgart Valley Rollergirls vs Go Go Gent Roller Girls. I had the position of outside white board and had no idea what I was doing. I of course had read about what I was supposed to be doing, but I had no idea what it would mean to be a part of the officials crew. I understood, of course, that I wasn't supposed to cheer. And I was supposed to be impartial. But I didn't really understand what it meant until I was working that very first bout.
Being part of an officials crew, means that even though you are impartial and not supporting one team, you are supporting roller derby it self in the highest way possible. Cause you are making sure this game can be played the  way the girls want to play it. 
For me, being a skater (first and foremost), this made a huge impression. Realizing how important our officials are for our game. 
But it did more then just give me respect for officials. It gave me that feel for the game, without being able to play. 
I was part of the action. And because of officials role, I for once got to focus on all going on, cause I had to keep my "hooliganism" in check. 
And it was a great experience. 
After this first time I went on to NSO the first German Meisterschaft: Roll DMC.
That's when I got a real feel of what it meant to be a part of team No-Fun.... It's so much FUN! I don't mean to say that officials secretly have a lot of fun and don't take their jobs seriously. Cause I think they take their jobs very seriously. But I did also see the "other side" of the officials. The side that they do not show on track. And that is a very fun side. 

The officials crew for Roll DMC
Picture by Michael Wittig

Accept for feeling like a part of the game, getting more of that feel for the game and gaining more respect and understanding for officials I also noticed something else. 
As I started working more and different NSO positions I felt like my understanding of the game and the rules improved immensely. And I am not saying that the only way of getting this understanding is by officiating. But I sure do think it helped me a whole bunch. There are several reasons why. First of all because in officials meetings and during the games you hear all about how refs call certain penalties and why. Another reason is that refs love to discuss rules. All.the.time. And even though I might not be the best rules nerd in the world and I will probably zone out after 30+ minutes of rules discussion, I do think I have picked up quite a lot of the years by hanging out with officials.
Also just the NSO jobs it self teach you a lot about how the game has been set up, how it works, as NSO's are there to make sure the game runs smoothly. And even though everybody (should) reads the rules, I still see that many people don't understand all the rules when it comes to the penalty box and jammers. Also being able to fill out all that paperwork and knowing what says what, where and why, makes it a lot easier to understand the stats book and to analyze it.

Now 2,5 years after I started NSO'ing, I've been playing bouts as a skater for 2 years, but I still love to NSO. I don't do it super often, as derby takes over you life enough as it is with "just" being a skater. 
But I do try and NSO at tournaments and a bout every now and again. 
And I still feel I learn something new every time. 

Last month I was working the Men's European Roller Derby Championships and in my very first bout I was working the penalty box and all ready learned something new. The blockers and jammer of one of the teams were super communicative while in the box. As in when their jammer had lead but there were several of their blockers in the box, the blockers would communicate to their jammer (every time he lapped the box) what their time was, so he would keep going until their box was empty. And therefore they could start the next jam with a empty box. 
I am sure this sounds like peanuts or basic stuff for some. But it was kind of an eye opener for me. As we have never really did it that way. Of course we try to empty out our box, but never like that. It was a very confident and "in control" way of running the game. And it was good to see. I am not sure I would have noticed the same thing or as quickly if I would have been in the audience. But because I was working the box, and the blockers kept asking every few seconds what their time was I noticed a lot quicker why they were asking, what their strategy was behind it. 

So yeah the conclusion of this blog post is that I love NSO'ing. For several reasons:

  • You get to be part of the game and get a feel for the game more then when you are in the audience. 
  • You get to be part of the funnest team no-fun there is
  • You get to facilitate the BEST sport in the world
  • You learn so much more about the rules and the way stuff is called
  • (a lot of times) I learn more about game play then while screaming my lungs off in the audience 

 - Furrrocious