This article appeared in the Ulster Match Day Program
So what is it like starting out as a referee? Learning to referee rugby games is largely a trial by fire process. On the field there is only one referee (although there may be a few on the sidelines), that referee cannot change a decision once made, and no-one else can help you (although they can complain.)
To start, you need a whistle obviously, a watch, a law book, a few cards red and yellow in colour, a thick skin, and a love for the game of rugby. You’d be surprised how often referees forget things like whistles and cards running on to the pitch. You get caught up trying to get everything else right and forget the minor, import details. The law book should be read and then enforced more than the traffic laws in Dublin, but less than the traffic laws in Germany. A love for the game of rugby gets one through times that one’s skin is not sufficiently thick. The first place a referee will try using a whistle and a new understanding of the game from having actually read the law book (which most of us never did while we were playing), is during a club practice. Learning how to watch the game as a referee; find ways to stay close to, but out of the way of, play; get used to blowing a whistle and starting play are important aspects of growing into refereeing. In Leinster we start referees off with underage, youth’s games. It gives them a feel for the game at a slower pace with often more obedient subjects, although the sidelines can be the hardest bit to overcome.
Once you’ve begun to realize how different the thirty-first position on the field is, it is time for more formal education. Watching at least a couple of senior referees officiate, touch judging for other referees, concentrating on the referee not the players. Looking at referees lines of running, their position on the field and so on are important aspects. We all get in the way and stand in the wrong place from time to time but avoiding doing this more often than not is important. A good referee is rarely standing still! If you can watch a match while talking with another referee on the sidelines, even better. Attending meetings in your area is another important learning curve. We are lucky in Leinster to have five fine area representatives in Norman Carter, Brendan Conroy, Simon Porter, Grahame Douglas and Tom Keating who run monthly workshops and meetings across the province. We also get massive support from the IRFU in the form of David O’Brien who facilitates these meetings with his excellent presentations and dry Cork wit.
Law knowledge as a referee comes from continuous reading and rereading of the Laws, (something some players and coaches should do), from area meetings, and from discussions with more experienced referees. Although discussions with players about the Laws are encouraged, it is a rare player at the lower levels whose understanding of the laws will contribute positively to your progress as a referee.
Fitness is a personal question but also key. A referee will often run 6 kilometers or more in a game. If you have played the game, you have some understanding of the pace and intensity involved. Rugby can be a difficult game to judge, but the closer you are to the activity, the better the chances of making the correct call. Fitness helps.
Putting all this in place, you are then still not ready for your first real game, but there’s no other choice but you have to start at some time. A lot of refereeing is learning on the job from the bottom rung of the ladder. I can recall my first game as a Leinster Rugby Referee trialist which was in De La Salle in Kilternan and I wasn’t great but got through it. I’m sure many other referees recall their first game, how poor they were and look back and laugh. Take a look at Alain Rolland – Roller took up the whistle when he was asked to referee a J4 game in Blackrock. He had a mishmash of kit and no whistle but like hundreds of referees became immediately hooked. He worked hard over the years and like everyone else started off at J4 level and moved his way up to the top. So there you go, beginning life as a referee.
The safety or players is paramount and the referee has an important role to play in helping to ensure that player welfare is always at the heart of the game. The protocols for referees are outlined in the video and download the IRFU Concussion Guidelines for Referees document which is available on the Leinster Referees and IRFU websites. It is an excellent resource and well worth looking at.
Have you got what it takes? The Leinster Referees always need more referees and opting to become one may be the best decision you’ve made for a long time. We are running a new referees course in January, details following soon.
If you are interested in becoming a referee get in contact with us through our Facebook and Google + pages, our website www.arlb.ie or through twitter @leinsterreferee.