How To Actively and Effectively Recruit Officials

Some of you have probably noticed that I can be quite vocal on the ways I feel officials recruitment needs to be stepped up, especially in Saskatchewan, I know I can be quite headstrong on this (pssssh, whateva!). Well, this morning I saw an EXCELLENT post over at the Army of Darkness ~ Thoughts on officiating in roller derby blog that I’d like to share as it reaffirms some of my opinions on officials recruitment. Namely: whether your league is big or small, you CAN effectively recruit and maintain a ref crew in conjunction with skaters by raising awareness, being enthusiastic about it and advertising it in the right way.

A few points mentioned in the How to recruit officials – and engage the ones you have: a quick guide that really stood out to me include:

  • Generate interest in officiating and recruit for it CONTINUOUSLY.
  • Recruit skating officials first, then concentrate on NSOs. The reason for this is that there is little for an NSO to do without any skating officials to work with.
  • Encourage and support them to travel to events and boot camps.
  • Encourage your officials to create a strong bond together, perhaps develop a crew logo/identity.
  • Don’t JUST use your officials for practice scrims. They have knowledge about rules and procedures that skaters do not, and are usually more than happy to share this knowledge. Engage your officials outside of practice by requesting and encouraging things like rules nights and Q&A sessions.
  • Small gestures, like thanking your officials for being at practice with you, will make them feel appreciated.
  • Host workshops and boot camps that include learning opportunities for your officials too! Allow them to have the opportunity to learn and pass on their knowledge as well.
  • Flaky, unreliable refs are of little use to your league. Don’t waste energy or resources, let them figure out for themselves whether or not they want to stay involved with the sport.

All things I can get behind but there are a few more things that I personally would like to add and expand upon.

1. Have unique posters focused on just officiating or include an official more prominently on your posters WITH skaters. The vast majority of league recruitment posters I see are extremely skater centric. These posters usually draw attention to sentences in large print such as “you could play/want to play roller derby?”, “looking for ladies/women 18+”, “skaters/freshmeat/derby girls wanted!”, etc. The images are almost always of a fierce derby girl or league logos. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, a poster might feature a blurred or partially obscured referee in the background of the skaters playing. All great stuff for your league BUT that’s not going to generate you many refs to staff your home bouts and I hate to say it but slapping the words “ref” or “NSO” somewhere off to the side in medium sized print ain’t gonna do it either. Consider either making 2 posters every recruitment season, 1 for skaters and 1 for officials, OR put a referee prominently on your poster BESIDE a skater. If you already have a local official(s), get THEIR faces on those posters with whistle in hand and their stripes worn with pride. Check out some of these referee focused examples:

As you can tell, it doesn’t have to be super fancy. If you’re tight on funds then simple, fun posters can be created in Microsoft PowerPoint or even MS Paint (I’ve made a few in these programs before). There are also plenty of editing software you can try online. Ask around to other leagues for advice and start right away!

Also, here is quite possibly one of my personal favorite examples of a GREAT recruitment poster.


Simple and EXCELLENT exposure for both skaters and officials. Love it! Boom goes the dynamite!

2. Have questions about the rules? If you have your own official(s) ask THEM, not some other league’s crew!!! Your most dedicated officials are knowledgeable and they are there to learn and grow. Going to sources outside of your officials for answers is robbing them of the opportunity to engage invaluable conversation about the rules. It can potentially also send them the message that you do not trust or value them, that you don’t believe they are good enough or knowledgeable enough to provide an adequate answer, so you have defaulted to somebody from another league. It can be incredibly disheartening, especially to newer officials. Trust that if they don’t know the answer, then they’ll look it up or they will reach out to an officiating contact within their own ever expanding network (which is often much larger and more specialized than the average skater has). Posing questions to your refs and NSOs allows them the opportunity to invaluable discussion, contemplation and research. It also encourages them to connect with other officials, to consider other perspectives and to seek out more and more resources that will expand their understanding of the sport, which they can then bring back to YOU and YOUR league! What’s not to like about that? I’m not saying don’t ever talk to other refs but if you’re at home and a question or confusion pops up, text your officials! Help foster their growth so that they can provide the best officiating services that they possibly can.

3. Stop treating officiating like it’s just something “to do” if and when you can’t skate! Not everyone is guilty of this, but the mentality still does exist in quite a few places. Treating officiating in this way gives the impression that nobody actually wants to do it and that officiating is just that sad side of the sport that injured players or your freshmeat can do until they benchmark and become REAL derby girls. Stop! Though I can get behind skaters expanding their knowledge of the game by officiating, you need to focus more on recruiting dedicated, passionate OFFICIALS. Not skaters or family members who will just do it if they have to or as a favor to you. Stop going to your cousin to ask him to score keep when you know he doesn’t like it and is only doing it because you won’t stop hounding him. If a new potential member asks about officiating, be enthusiastic! Ask other dedicated officials that have been around for a while WHY they like it and share those perspectives with others! There is a LOT about officiating that is amazing. Here’s a few very quick reasons as to why I love it (there’s so many more than what I list below):

  • I get to be involved in as many roller derby events as I could possible want to. With the amount of officiating requests I get, I could be on the road to derby events almost every weekend of the year. Unfortunately, travel ain’t cheap and I got bills to pay so that can’t happen for me right now BUT in 2012 I officiated 45 bouts at various double headers, single game events, invitationals, scrimmages and tournaments and in 2013 I officiated 35. That’s 80 bouts, 80 unique and unforgettable game experiences in just 2 years!
  • I am regularly offered incredible travel opportunities by leagues all across Western and Northern Canada! To date I have reffed in 14 cities across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where I have met hundreds of fascinating people at various stages in their derby career. Next year I plan to seek out new experiences and increased knowledge through officiating opportunities in British Columbia and down in the United States (North Dakota and Montana in particular).
  • Because of the aforementioned I have developed a resource and support network, both for derby and for me personally, unlike any other I have ever had in life!
  • We have fun too and officials in most areas have developed a close knit community of their own! I’ve made some truly incredible friends among my officiating colleagues and wherever I go, I almost always feel welcome and accepted as a valuable member of team zebra!

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts to hopefully get your mind working toward ways your league can help expand your province’s officials pool. I guess for me personally I can get pretty frustrated sometimes when I hear people say that small leagues can’t recruit or draw refs. Bull-hooey! Step it up and put your creativity to work toward it in the same way you do for skater recruitment! If Rocanville, Saskatchewan can attract and maintain a pretty impressive, dedicated officiating crew then so can you!

Have any other thoughts, opinions or suggestion? Have you stumbled across any other interesting ref recruitment articles? Please feel share them in the comments below!


Headshot1Written by Kevin “Kevlar” Dennison

Sometimes Stubbornly Opinionated


One comment

  1. When I started in derby, I attended their recruitment night. There were several derby girls there and they did an excellent job of making me feel excited and interested… In becoming a skater. There were three other guys there who were also interested n becoming refs, but officiating was barely mentioned. I left there actually feeling conflicted and a little degected, because I just spent an hour being told all the things I couldn’t do and wouldn’t get to experience (I now know there’s mens derby, but didn’t at the tme). I that for next year’s seminar we can improve upon that, or have a separate session for potential refs.

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