Spotlight on Officiating: WFTDA Education Meets Dublin Roller Derby Officials

by Catherine Beat-Her Bonez

Welcome to the second edition of Education Meets. We are still shining a spotlight on officiating and for this, I have been talking to five team members of Dublin Roller Derby Officials.

Dublin’s Officials have been traveling the globe to officiate (four Dublin Officials were chosen to officiate at the 2018 International WFTDA Playoffs in A Coruña), while training others in clinics and being active in roller derby and WFTDA committees. They stream games live, work on the CRG scoreboard, AND they have a YouTube channel for Officials training. So, of course, I was curious to hear more about their educational efforts and maybe get some tips out of them.

Have fun reading this month’s interview with:

Brain of Terror (Brain) – full-time NSO
Shref – full-time referee for over 10 years
Miss Fury – skater, NSO, and occasional referee
StrangeBrew (Brewdoll E.Lowcock) – Head of Officials and co-captain of Dublin’s Charter Team
Riff Reff – one of the longest-serving Officials in Europe

Dublin Roller Derby Officials
From left to right: Brain, Miss Fury, Shref, and Riff Reff (Photo by David Dyte)

Catherine Beat-Her Bonez: Hi there and thank you for answering my questions today. First off, tell us a bit about officiating in Dublin. How are you structured and organized in your league?

Brain: Our league has an Officials’ committee, and a Head of Officials which is an appointed position. The Head NSO and Head Ref are elected by “eligible Officials”, which is basically most of the league.

Brew: Yes, our Officials’ committee is not exclusive to Officials, and everyone has a role to play. But I think the main difference is that our Officials are a genuine part of the league and not just a committee. We have full-time skaters that handle scrimmage sign-ups, printing paperwork, and schedule/run training sessions; and full-time Officials that act as our league strategist, stream games for game production, and handle the organisation and distribution of league merch. Our league doesn’t feel like a group of skaters and Officials, it feels like a group of people who love the sport of roller derby.

Brain: It’s a great place for officiating, as not only do we have a high standard of officiating but also a solid culture. Doing a small bit of officiating is part of joining the league, and from that many skaters get interested. Last year for example, two thirds of league members officiated at scrimmage at least once, many of them at games both home and away, plus we have several full-time NSOs and refs.

Riff Reff: When I joined the league in 2016, I was in awe of the high awareness among the skaters of how beneficial officiating is to them, how crucial it is that skaters learn how to officiate, and do so at scrimmages and games they are not playing in. If you do not have two dozen Officials in the league, this is the only way to achieve high quality scrimmages and games for skaters and Officials.

CBB: That sounds like a great place to officiate and skate. How did you personally build up your own trainings skills?

Shref: When I started, there was very little happening in Europe. I had two people to ask questions to, and that was Riff Reff and Ballistic Whistle, who were both benching and reffing at that time. Most of my learning came from discussing online with other Officials around the world and from trying to implement it at practice. It was hard work, but things have gotten so, so much easier for new Officials, thankfully.

Riff Reff: Similar to Shref, I had very few people to guide me when I started. But I realised after some time being a roller derby Official  to look for resources outside of roller derby. Take a look at how other sports operate. Read about perception and psychology, e.g. conflict resolution is not a derby-specific topic. You find a lot of input from sources outside derby. Book tip: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Fury: I feel very lucky to have started officiating in Dublin – the standard of officiating was so high and everyone was so generous with their time and experience. The important thing is for Officials to try and train the next generation of Officials and I think that in Dublin it is done very well.

Brew: It’s definitely a big plus for Dublin that the Officials we have are genuinely interested in helping new Officials and training anyone interested in officiating, even if it’s just for a scrimmage or two. The biggest hurdle is just to decide that you’re going to officiate. It’s just like starting to skate, once you’ve done it a couple of times, and you realise that falling on concrete doesn’t hurt as much as you thought it would, it’s easy to keep going.

CBB: Since you already mentioned some tips and tricks, do you have any other training recommendations you want to share with us?

Brain: In DRD we’re privileged to have scrimmages every week, and a strong officiating culture, so I’m not sure what works for us would automatically work elsewhere. On the other hand, we’re on a small island so we usually have to head to the airport when we want to officiate. Offering to officiate with other leagues is always useful, not everyone does things the same way, and more than once I’ve picked up tricks from others. You don’t have to apply immediately to big tournaments—local low-level games are generally more relaxed and you have a much better chance of being accepted.

Look out for “learnaments” (learning-tournaments, such as The Challenge in Oslo). They are explicitly looking for less-experienced Officials so that they can help them improve.

Make sure you’re in the appropriate places to learn about nearby events. In Europe that’s Officials Lounge, for example.

If you’re a more experienced Official, look for ways to help level up local or isolated Officials. If there’s only one or two Officials in a league, it’s difficult to learn the various positions on their own. If they do want to advance, invite them to your scrimmages and games, staff them in positions they don’t usually work, and have someone there to support them.

Brew: My top tips, in order are:

  • Read the Rules! Then go and read them again.
  • Go to scrimmages and review your performance; don’t just pack it in at the end of the day.
  • Find an Official who’s more experienced and ask them ALL of the questions (and actually listen to their answers).
  • Get feedback from skaters (and try playing the game if you can); they just might know more than you.
  • Once you think you have a vague idea that you can do this on your own, go outside your league and get experience working with other Officials (and get to know them).
  • Don’t stop learning; do all the things well (even if you have one thing you do really well).
  • Don’t focus on one position. You’re more likely to get selected to crews if you’re well rounded, and you’ll just be a better Official if you know what everyone else around you is doing.
  • Finally, train others. The best way to test your understanding is to teach someone else.

CBB: These are all great, thank you. Let’s talk about your YouTube training channel. You are covering a lot of topics – from how to use the paperwork for penalty box, penalty tracking, lineup tracking, and scorekeeping, to star pass scenarios. You also have a series called “Official Review,” where Officials ask other Officials about their experiences. Where did these ideas come from and what tools and resources did you use?

Brain: The main driver behind our current training program is part of getting the Irish governing body (the IRDA [Irish Roller Derby Association]) recognised by the government so we can access funds and other support. We made a big list of everything to get covered and there’s also a long list of videos to be created. I ended up doing the NSO paperwork ones first as they don’t require coordinating a pile of skaters and finding time in the training hall. Part of my work is producing training videos, so I already have a green screen, good microphone, and know how to use Open Broadcaster Software for this (we also use OBS for streaming games). The only extra thing to add in is DocHub as a convenient PDF editor, and when I need to show a stopwatch. Each video is only a few minutes long, so they’re easy to digest. They’re recorded in one shot, which usually takes a few takes to get a good enough version.

For the star pass videos (beware, they are for the old rules), we recorded footage of various scenarios. They were then played on a movie player on my computer, while Brew talked through the scenarios and all of that was recorded. Not exactly high tech, but it doesn’t need to be.

One of the challenges is avoiding the content getting out of date. If we know that something is changing from confidential information from WFTDA, we can delay doing a video covering that topic rather than having to redo it.

Riff Reff: “Official Review” was a spontaneous idea, when Shref and I were in Karlsruhe, Germany, for some games and spent the day after with a group of lovely Officials. We thought that everyone knows a thing or two that could be helpful to other Officials and we should document it. Even if you just take away from it, that there are others like you, with the same passion for derby. We simply used a phone to record and I edited it in Adobe Premiere.

CBB: *Takes all the notes* Okay, final question. Let’s say I would want to start an Officials Training program in my league. Where do I even start?


  • The first thing to keep in mind is that you’re not the first person to do this, and there’s up-to-date resources out there that can help you. As with most things, it’s good to start small. Don’t do every position at once, focus on just one or two. One good place to start with NSOing would be scorekeeping, by just writing down the scores. Similarly for reffing, our league usually has new refs do Jam Reffing but only doing lead, points and call-offs—no penalties.
  • Get your league behind you and try to build an officiating culture by having skaters understand that scrimmage is also for training Officials. A league that is known for shouting at Officials that make a call they disagree with is a league that will have difficulty finding and retaining Officials. Have skaters try their hand at it themselves, but don’t make officiating that thing you do only when you’re injured. Some people just don’t like officiating, others prioritise skating over officiating. Both are fine. This is only a hobby after all, we’re here to enjoy ourselves.
  • Look to bring in more experienced Officials to offer training, and get other local leagues involved if possible so costs and benefits can be shared. Tying it to an existing event can work well, as you’ll already have people present and there’s often a spare meeting room available in a venue.
  • If you’re looking to produce videos or other materials, keep in mind it doesn’t have to be fancy. One quick video once a week is better than spending months on video production. You can do a lot with a tripod and a mobile phone.

Brew: It’s really about the culture (never mind about the resources). Our Head of Officials is also a captain of the A Team (that’s me!); having this duality breaks that divide that sometimes exists between athletes and those who officiate them. I feel like we’ve created an environment where the skaters are welcome to officiate at any time (and not just because it’s a requirement for rookies). It’s a great feeling to know we could crew a game solely with DRD members in a pinch!

Dublin Roller Derby Officials
From left to right: Brew, Riff, Beans on Toe-Stops, Brain, Shref (Photo by Brew)

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