How I write a referee training session

1. Be willing to admit that you know nothing. I started derby three years ago with no athletic/sporting experience at all and everything I know today I have learned from doing sessions with awesome trainers, reading blogs and derby forums and watching what other people do. Roller derby is pretty much a baby in the world of organised sports and every single trainer, ref and player has started out knowing nothing. It can be hard to admit that you don’t know what you are doing but I have found that every single person I have approached for help has been more than willing to do what they can. One of the first things I did after deciding to become a referee was jump onto this site and do the free online Introductory Officiating Courses. I am now working my way through the Introductory Coaching Course as I think this will pad out my training skills. (This course is free to Australian citizens – not sure if similar options exist overseas.)

2. Find out stuff and put it somewhere sensible. Like I said earlier, I read a lot of blogs, watch a lot of trainers and train with as many different coaches as I possibly can. Some of the places I have gone hunting for drills include: All Derby Drills, Hooli’s Drills and Spills Page, this awesome Zebra Huddle post (and lots of other posts on ZH), a search for ‘roller derby drills’ on YouTube and SkateLog Forum’s Roller Derby Forum. Initially I just stored the drills in my head but that got out of control pretty quickly. Then I started writing them down on bits of paper and then later started to actually type them up in documents on my computer. This worked for a while but now I have so many scraps of drills floating around in a few different folders that it is getting hard to keep track of them all. This morning I hit on the brilliant plan of making another unadvertised blog to store them in. I am hoping that with categories and tags it will be much easier to find them when I need them.

3. Write the sessions that your crew want to do. It’s all well and good to be writing the sessions but if you are working with a crew of mostly new refs then advanced sessions aren’t going to cut the mustard. Talk to the people you referee with, ask what they want/need/think about first thing in the morning and then write the drills they are asking for. If you know that you need training in, then they probably know what they need training in. The ref training manual that I wrote for WIRD refs came from a contents list that the whole ref crew brainstormed. So now go back to all the drills that you have collected, pick a bunch that build the skills that your crew want to work on, work out how much time you have to fill and then pick drills that will take that long. You now have a session. (Back in the finding out stuff stage I also read a lot about warming up/cooling down and stretching – include time for these in your plans.)

4. Fake it till you make it. Running your first (million) training sessions is daunting. You are moving from a spot in the crowd to a spot out the front. You might be terrified and feel like people are going to throw shoes at you for even trying, but the best thing you can do to convince your participants that you are capable is to act and look capable. Think about the great people who have trained you. They stand up there with sweat on their faces and a whistle around their necks and manage to appear completely in control. You can be that person. And if you don’t feel like that person right now then stand up there with sweat on your face, your whistle around your neck and appear in control until it actually happens.

5. Don’t let the finished product be the finished product. My first drills were tiny scraps of writing with very little detail,  shorthand notes to remind me of all the stuff I was carrying in my head. A few months ago I had it pointed out that the best drills can be picked up by anyone and should have enough info for them to run it without having to do any other research. This was an explosive moment for me. I googled ‘training session template’ and found out all the info that needs to go into a good drill/session. I started to expand on my tiny notes. Be honest with yourself, if you didn’t know anything before then chances are you still don’t know everything now. Ask for feedback from everyone you train, listen to the feedback. You will may find that after you run a drill a few times you will be able to see the ways it could be improved and you will want to make it better/stronger/faster.

This process changed this drill:

’20 mins: ON SKATES: Ref skating patterns. Running mock jams and rotating through all ref patterns. Get all refs giving other refs feedback about where they are/what they can hear.’

into this drill:

Objective: Practice referee skating patterns, work on vocal projection and build communication skills between refs
Typical length of drill: Twenty minutes per part – forty mins to run full drill.
Materials needed: Stopwatch, whistle, taped out track.
Skill level required: All levels

Description: This is a two-part drill. The parts can be run concurrently or over separate sessions. It is basically a skater-less jam drill where mock jams are run to the full two minutes.

1. Refs only – no bunny. Refs all select a position to start in. Encourage them to start in a position that they do not usually/often skate in. On the start whistle all refs skate as if there is a pack and jammers on the track.  A single ref is asked to both set the pace of the ‘pack’ and to initiate penalty calls (which are mirrored back by all refs on the track)/rules discussion with all other refs on the track. Encourage refs to make eye contact when they are speaking and to provide feedback to other refs about what they can hear, what they can see, if they are getting enough eye contact. Rotate refs through all roles and make sure everyone has a go at setting the pace/initiating the rules discussion.

2. Refs with bunny. Refs all select a position to start in. Encourage them to start in a position that they do not usually/often skate in. On the start whistle all refs skate as if there is a pack and jammers on the track.  A single ref acts as the ‘bunny’ or ‘pack’ and another ref is asked to initiate penalty calls/rules discussion with all other refs on the track. Encourage refs to make eye contact when they are speaking and to provide feedback to other refs about what they can hear, what they can see, if they are getting enough eye contact. Again, rotate through all roles and make sure everyone has a go.

Additional notes: Experiment with who sets the pace/initiates the penalty calls.  Asking an OPR to project well enough to be heard by every ref on the track will really push their projection skills.’

6. Be willing to admit that you know something. Once you get to the stage of writing and running your sessions it becomes a little hard to keep it a secret. People will know that you are ‘training’ and it can get very tricky trying to pretend you’re still just skating around with the participants and not leading the class. Be willing to stand up and say ‘I am a trainer’. One day, if you keep practicing, researching, responding to feedback, you might just be one of those people that others approach for advice on being an awesome trainer.

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

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