Learning to trust myself as a trainer

Last night we ran week two of the four-week refresher program that I have written. It is designed to get the refs back on the track as the strongest and most cohesive dazzle of zebras possible. Last night refs from our crew were posting on Facebook that they were exhausted and smashed. I was dripping sweat within 20 minutes of starting and shaking with exhaustion by the time we were finished.

And if anyone else had been running the session I would have seen this as a good thing.

Then the judgements set in. And I don’t exactly know why.

Before starting roller derby I had never done a team sport that I wasn’t forced to do by a school. I had no experience with repeated physical training or exercise of any kind, except a kinda dodgy yoga thing I’ve had going for about a decade now. I find it hard to contextualize myself as a ‘roller derby referee trainer’.

But we do what we have to, right?

Around the middle of last year I wrote a training manual for the WIRD referees. I needed some guidelines to find my way to being a better referee and since we didn’t have anything like this I made it. It wasn’t sucked out of a vacuum – I read a bunch of other league’s manuals, scoured Zebra Huddle for drills and tips, chased referee training drills all over the internet. I asked the other refs in our league what the most important things we needed to learn were, and what order these things needed to go in and then I took the contents list we created together and wrote a manual around it. Printed out said manual, gave it to the peeps. They elected me as our referee trainer. And then I started to freak out. A lot.

What on earth makes me think I can do this? I said to myself. Why do I think that I have a platform from which to speak? How do I think I can teach other people to do things that I am so unsure of myself?

So towards the end of last year I tried to quit the ref trainer gig. I sat in a meeting and gave some piss poor excuses. I was shouted down by the crew. This is my job and I gotta stick with it. Apparently.

I decided that if the zebra crew trust me, then I can’t be doing too bad a job. I started to take this gig seriously. I wrote a few sessions towards the end of last year and the refs trusted me. They turned up to my sessions and did the drills I planned out. We got sweaty and silly together and talked about the drills we were doing, what they were teaching us and how they could teach us better.

The four-week refresher had been suggested at the same meeting where I tried to quit. We have star levels that our refs are tested on and the last week of our refresher will be physical, skill and theoretical testing. I’ve roped in refs who are good at things to lead discussions about those things.

The first week we covered real basics – reminding ourselves of all the beginner derby skating skills, how we run a scrimmage, what the handsignals are, the basics of the ref skating patterns. We had a great round table (actually floor) discussion about safety which ended with a really interesting conversation about ref safety and what we do to keep ourselves safe on the track. This week we moved onto more intermediate aspects, practicing the ref skating patterns and running some 10 and 20 foot drills with players. On Sunday we will talk about how the penalty box functions and what the pack refs’ job involves. Next week we start to look at specialised jobs on the track and then in week four we test.

Not too shabby. Considering it was all put together by someone who doubts their ability to ‘train’.

So I suppose what I am trying to say is that being a referee trainer is like pretty much everything else I have ever done. I think that I can’t do it, convince myself that I don’t have the skills, but then I get out there and do it anyway.

Being a roller derby referee is not an easy gig. We do the most work on the track and get paid the least (little in derby ref joke – no-one gets paid in roller derby). We spend hours on our own time reading the rules, thinking about procedures and jumping through hypothetical theoretical hoops. And yet most of us (in NSW, Australia, anyway) receive very little specific training from our leagues. Players train in teams but in most start-up leagues the refs fly solo (or close to solo). We get our stripes on, get on the track and are just expected to pick it up on the roll.

I am in a very lucky position to be skating with a ref crew of 8+ people. I am lucky that they trust me enough to turn up to my sessions and jump into our training with all eight wheels. We are lucky that our league values ref training enough to give us half of the venue every Friday night.

I might not think I am the best referee trainer in the world but if I keep trusting myself, pushing myself to learn more, and the refs keep trusting me and turning up, and the league keeps giving us space and players to train with then one day I will be a better referee and referee trainer than I am today and I will be able to trust that.

**This post was written in a 25-minute Pomodoro

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