Roller Derby Tournaments – by the numbers

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Last December, I was asked to be part of the Stats Crew for ’Bloed, Skates and Tranen’ – the Dutch Roller Derby Championships held in Eindhoven. I love working at tournaments, so was really excited, but having never been part of a tournament stats crew before, I was also slightly apprehensive.

It’s not that I’m against doing stats or think they’re boring – on the contrary, I’m a stats nerd and I’m responsible for the bout and scrimmage stats for Copenhagen Roller Derby – I just imagined a hectic weekend of sitting at a computer, crunching numbers!

Well, there was some of that, but there was plenty more besides!

The Tournament HNSO was Off Track from Crime City, and he had a vision that the stats from the tournament weren’t going to be something that the trainers could look at maybe a week later to see if there was anything they could use. He wanted to create a situation where the teams could look at the stats books between bouts so they make any changes they needed to for their next bout a couple of hours later.

As with the vast majority of NSO-related activity, it was all in the organisation and preparation. Here’s how we did it.

We were a team of three – Eddy Awesome, Solid CeilingCat and me, Barney Trubble. We had the tournament organiser send us the rosters as soon as she could – in this case, 2 days before the tournament. That meant that we could prep the paperwork for the first morning and would only have to print them out when we arrived at the venue. I was also able to prepare stats book templates for the rest of the tournament so they were ready to add in the rosters as soon as the results of each bout came in.

This advanced preparation meant that we could concentrate on inputting the data and not fumbling around creating stats books from scratch every time.

(Side note – there were no sanctioned or regulation bouts, and this was an advantage for us. As the bout paperwork didn’t need to be scanned and sent off, it didn’t need to be pristine. That meant we were able to put the entire roster on the paperwork and then cross out the names of those that were not in the 14 for the bout. Though it saved us a little bit of time on the day, it wouldn’t have been a lot more effort to get official 14-skater rosters from the trainers – although there were often last minute changes due to injury.)

As soon as the first period of the first bout was done, we started filling out the stats – score, penalties, line-ups and penalty box (though we ended up dropping the penalty box because of a hard-coding issue). Even though the bouts in the first round were only 2 x 20 minutes, there was still enough time for us to finish each period before the next period was done. As there were 3 of us in the crew, we were able to rotate positions. One would input data, one would collate the finished paperwork and prepare paperwork for subsequent bouts, whilst the third would hang loose and deal with those little things that always seem to crop up – getting rosters to the announcers, dealing with trainer questions and e-mailing completed stats books to the respective trainers, etc.

It was this last element that made a huge difference to the participating leagues. Because the stats books were completed no later than half an hour after a bout was done, we were able to e-mail them immediately to the leagues that played. Every single trainer (and some skaters) came to us to say how receiving the stats books so quickly made a difference to the way they played later in the tournament. That they had the ability to use the stats and adjust their game plan on the fly was something they had never anticipated would happen – and it showed on the track as improvements were obvious.

After a while, and to keep things a little more varied for us, we started to rotate from period to period rather than bout to bout. We knew what our colleagues were doing and where they were supposed to be, and the whole process became a well-oiled machine. Naturally, when we were in a groove, I wondered if it would be possible to be a 2-person stats crew. I think it would, as long as you had two very capable stats people, but having a third person means that there is that breathing room – and means you don’t have to eat on the go!

We ended up with the stats for the whole tournament done and sent to whoever wanted/needed them within an hour of the tournament ending – a feat that provided great satisfaction to us, and made Off Track a very happy THNSO!

There are some things that are essential for this to work –

  • Get the rosters in advance (as I mention above)
  • Plan the workload within the stats crew, so everyone knows what they are doing, and when they’re supposed to do it
  • Have strong communication with the crew HNSOs – have the things they need ready in good time, but also let them know what you need from them (e.g. the first period paperwork at half-time)
  • Build good (professionally non-biased) relationships with the trainers and/or team captains. Their heads are going to be all over the place during a tournament, so tell them clearly when you need their rosters (both for the tournament and for individual bouts), and explain to them how this will help the tournament run smoothly and benefit them in the production of the stats books.
  • Equipment –
    1. At least 2 laptops (3 is better)
    2. 2 high quality, fast printers
    3. Lots of paper
    4. 
    Extra ink cartridges (you don’t want to run out of ink for the final!)
    5. Good tech back-up. We were fortunate that the host league, Rockcity Rollers, supplied us with an excellent tech person. We only had a couple of minor glitches, but she solved them very quickly and got us back up-to-speed with little time lost.

When we NSO, our main goal is that bouts or tournaments run smoothly so the skaters can skate and the audience can be entertained. But we also want to be able to take something away from bouts and tournaments as NSOs, so it is important that we look at what we do and learn from it.

Being a part of a tournament stats crew really re-emphasised the importance of preparation. Whether it is a closed doors B-team bout or a major tournament, going in anything other than fully prepared is a recipe for trouble. Also, communicating with people other than officials, I learned more about the way skaters and trainers prepare for bouts, which will in turn inform my understanding of boutday and the way different people approach it and why they might react a certain way in certain situations.

From a stats perspective, working on the tournament showed me how stats, if properly utilised, can affect a team’s performance in positive ways – something I will be sharing with our own Copenhagen skaters very soon, and likely the subject of a future blogpost!

Statistically yours

Stats Sergeant Barney Trubble

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Score keeping – eyes like an eagle, communication like a champ

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It’s no secret – I love score keeping. It’s one of my favorite positions and one of those where I see myself as not just good, but actually really good.

While the basic functions for the scorekeepers are to observe, mirror and record the scores delivered from the jammer ref and relay them to the scoreboard operator, good and really good score keeping is so much more. The reason why I love score keeping is not because I’m crazy about math, have a hidden affinity for hand signals or have a crush on every single jammer ref out there (only the cute ones…),  it’s because it’s a position where good communication is at the core of the job. And it’s a job where you can really make a difference for both zebras and fellow NSOs if you do a great job.

The communication is both verbal and non-verbal, between you and your co-NSOs and between you and your jammer ref and is what most of this post will focus on.

Good score keeping means that you’re always observant on the jammer ref, that everything is put down in the paperwork, you have clear communication with ref, other scorekeeper and scoreboard and avoid math dysfunctions.
Super score keeping means that you’re not just observing and recording perfectly – but helping, supporting and correcting the jammer ref and have a clear, flowing and ongoing nonverbal and verbal communication with both jammer ref, fellow scorekeeper and scoreboard – as well as other NSOs who might need it. This way you can actually make everyone’s lives easier by delivering the needed information when it’s there.

Of course there are other things than communication that are important when score keeping: The ability to stay focused during the entire bout and the desire to maintain stellar eye contact with your jammer ref all the time, while you’re alert and ready for the points.
You need to keep attention to both details and the big picture, both on track, at the penalty box and in your paperwork. And you should always be checking math and paperwork in all time outs and remember: Double (heck, triple!) check your paperwork and make sure that all boxes are filled out by the end of each period – also the silly ones at the bottom. WFTDA paperwork says jump, we ask how high and what size pencil…
But all these abilities are useless without proper communication.

So without further ado – Communication!

As scorekeeper you work (and communicate) with:
Your fellow scorekeeper:

This is your fraternal twin during a bout. Keep each other updated, but don’t confuse each other. Clear verbal cues like “red has lead/I got lead/you have lead”, “my jammer’s in the box”, “lap point for your jammer” are exactly what’s needed. Remember to confirm jam numbers with each other and scoreboard operator in the fashion of “going into 8, 9 etc..” to avoid confusion.
Check each other’s paperwork at halftime and after the bout if there’s time – two set of eyes are always better than one.
Help and support each other and and make sure you both keep focus and energy. If one is stressed out, help where you can, but don’t complicate stuff by burdening the other with info or questions when not needed.

Scoreboard Operator:
The person behind the scoreboard is depending on clear understandable information from you. Keep it loud, but don’t shout, and simple, so it’s easy to understand under all circumstances. Talk about how you should deliver the info – say: “Black jammer 22”, “Black is lead”, “Black 5/+5” etc., and remember to confirm totals regularly.
The Scoreboard Operator cannot (repeat: can NOT!) take the points directly from the jammer ref, but keep the flow of their work easy by being quick at mirroring and noting it down as soon as you give confirmation and then deliver it right away. That way everybody can be ready for the next scoring pass.
Also keep an eye out for the Jam Timer, so you can help the Scoreboard Operator with information about timeouts, official reviews and corrections of the time.
If needed – run to the jam timer to get the correct time, but only if your own paperwork is in place and you have the time. You’re not doing anyone a favor if you get behind on your own post trying to help others.

And last, but absolutely not least: Your jammer ref:
The jammer ref is your BFF for the entire bout. Look them in the eye before the bout, during the bout, after the bout. You’re going to have an almost improper amount of eye contact with your jammer ref – so make sure you connect with this person, both on a personal level but also on an officiating plan.
So flirt with your jammer ref, look into their eyes, connect – and then remember to talk to him/her about: mirroring scores, confirming scores, how to correct scores.
Make sure they: confirm info such as scores at end of jam, NP and lap points, check the paperwork properly and remember to connect in those split-seconds after the passes.
Talk about how to correct mistakes or confusion by nonverbal cues during jams (the insisting hand signals) or in the 30 seconds in between.

Your jammer ref will give you a moment of connection to confirm scores – be ready for it – and react to it. Positive reinforcements are nice once in a while, give them and you’ll receive them. Make yourself easy to contact, even for the slightest amount of time – be focused, keep your hand up, show the points clearly, seek out the JRs eyes, give them the opportunity to confirm with just the smallest look – make their job easy for them, ‘cause you can actually do that.
The coolest moment is when you get to a point where you trust your jammer ref and they trust you – if the Jammer Ref misses the split second of eye contact that confirms the point on a pass: Note the number they show, make a tiny mark and note if there’s stuff you should remember (box situation etc.), deliver points to SBO and remember to talk to your JR in between jams to make sure everything is confirmed.

And at the end of this post – let’s just return once more to the importance of having good eye contact with your jammer ref – it is one of the best things ever, so cultivate it, cherish it and take your score keeping to the next level.
Smile if things are going well – it powers the entire operation and makes everything better. But also be the one who supports the jammer ref (and your fellow NSOs) when things are going less than great.
Do it if you are on top of your game, because you will have the energy to do so. A smile, legit help and attention to details important for them – that can totally save the day for somebody not feeling at their best.

As a scorekeeper you have a perfect opportunity to help other people at their jobs too, if you remember how important communication is.
Lousy score keeping can make even the best jammer ref look crappy… but an awesome scorekeeper can make the rookiest jammer ref look good and inspire confidence in the shakiest zebra. Be that score keeper.

//Record Breaker

Paperwork… ch-ch-check it out.

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As an NSO there’s a lot of important things you need to remember.
Being unbiased, professional, all around awesome and rocking the black official’s uniform are some of them.
Not all of the important tasks as an NSO are equally sexy, and therefore you might overlook them on occasion.
One of these overlooked things of grave importance is:
Always (ALWAYS!) check your paperwork!

Not once, not twice and not just you alone. Do it in the half time, do it after the bout. Get your co-NSOs to check it if they have time. Switch papers with the NSO you’re partnered up with on the positions where you’re two.
And if you have to get your papers signed by a ref (score keepers, I’m looking at you), always make sure that the ref takes it seriously and checks it for errors, mistakes and other human conditions.
And then check again. If needed ask your Head NSO if he/she will have a look too – a fresh pair of eyes can sometimes spot typos and weird stuff that you’ve continuously missed. Especially if said eyes are attached to an experienced NSO.
After the second period – make sure that you not only check the papers from that one, but also cross reference with the papers from the previous period, just to avoid any kind of discrepancies.
And discrepancies suck! And so do faulty paperwork!

And yes – you will be tired, especially after the second bout of a double header.
And both you and the ref might need to use the bathroom, have a breath of fresh air, some water and a hug.
But get the paperwork checked in the most OCD-like manner you can imagine!
Even though NSO’s are a special awesome breed of humans, we are still but human – and thus we err.
We are working in a stressful situation and have to deal with whatever the derby-gods throw at us.
The acoustics might be horrible.
There might be no oxygen whatsoever left at the venue.
You might be tired, hungry, have itchy feet or even a hangover (shame on you).
You’ll have to deal with strange new gameplays, angry skaters, inexperienced refs and 12 people sharing one bathroom.
You might be distracted by the bout, the crowd, crazy stuff happening at other NSO-positions, by your favorite song or an extremely handsome co-NSO.
This happen and so do mistakes.
So check your paperwork obsessively, repeatedly and thoroughly. Every time!

There’s really no valid excuse for not doing it:
If you’re having trouble adding the numbers – use a calculator.
If you’re in doubt about something – ask someone who can help.
If you discover an error – tell it to the relevant people immediately.
Never hide a mistake, own up to it and do whatever possible to fix it within your limits. Otherwise ask your Head-NSO for help. Never let it go into the final paperwork expecting that no one will notice, cause they will.

And get your papers looked at by someone else than yourself. You’re very rarely able to see your own typos – we all know this from exams, job applications and drunken text messages.
So help your co-NSOs and have them help you out.
And even though you want to go to the after party NOW, never-ever-NEVER leave the bout before you’re a solid 100% sure about your paperwork.

This might seem like a lot of words on a relatively small subject. But by being observant and maybe a bit pedantic about this, you will catch the faulty entries, miscalculations, unreadable handwriting and stupid mistakes before you’re sitting by the computer on stats night.

And you will not be forced to write a blog entry about the importance of doing, what you obviously forgot to do: Checking your paperwork just that one more time!

Army of Darkness presents: Non-Skating Official Christmas wish list

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The holiday season is upon us! Even though some officials may not celebrate Christmas and we know that it is not all about gifts, we just couldn’t help ourselves. We’ve seen lists with gift ideas for skaters and referees but were disappointed to find none for NSOs. So this is our take on a wish list for those of us not on skates – ranging from the simple to the, well .. More extravagant. What would you give an NSO as a gift? Share your ideas!

Support signs: Go to bouts and support your favourite NSO with a sign. Even officials need support when they’re in action and this is an easy way to encourage them while they’re on track. You may think the officials do not notice support signs because they rarely smile – but we do! Just make sure it’s not in any league affiliated colours as all officials pride themselves on professionalism and impartiality.

Pencils or whiteboard markers: Officials can never have too many of these invaluable items. Somehow they always seem to go missing in bout halftime or whenever skaters want to “borrow” them for writing numbers on their arms. These will always come in handy and no NSO can do a bout or scrimmage without them.

Clipboards: Another way to make that special NSO in your life happy – clipboards! They come in different variations and materials and an excellent gift idea is to buy clipboards in a sturdy material, so they don’t break easily. Buying different variations with the clip on either the top or the side is also possible, as is buying extra fancy ones with pencil holders.

Stopwatches and batteries: These babies are an essential part of any dedicated official’s kit and like the clipboards, these come in a multitude of variations. Look for stopwatches with a reasonable sized display and digits; numbers should be easily read. The stopwatches should also be easy to handle. Starting, pausing and resetting should be done without problems. And don’t forget batteries!

Whistles: This is a far more personal gift than the ones listed above as officials usually have a preferred brand and type of whistle. A recommended brand in Roller Derby is the Fox 40 Classic and the Fox 40 Eclipse. Depending on the official, they may have a preferred colour and length of lanyard as well, so this is a gift that needs a bit of thought – but no matter what a new whistle will be appreciated by any official.

Non-league affiliated derby merch: Officials may pride themselves on being impartial but that does not mean they do not want to show that they are in fact fans of roller derby. A shirt or pin that says “ROLLER DERBY” or “OFFICIAL” will still be considered impartial when in civil clothing. There are many options and if you are creative, you can perhaps make your own merch as a personal gift.

Earplugs: For any official who works on the inside of the track, this will be an invaluable gift. Trying to keep your hearing and your sanity is not easy with five whistles blowing in your ear when each jam ends. There are certain criteria, however. When working on the inside, your hearing should not be impaired in any way as vital information (such as penalties) may be overheard. If you want to dazzle any official with a pair of earplugs, get a pair of noise-cancelling earplugs that will take the sharp edge of that damned Fox 40 Sonik Blast. They will probably cost more than a pretty penny but it will be worth it.

Shoes: When the skates wish for new skates, gear for their skates and yet again new skates, the Non Skating Officials skip the wheels and wish for shoes  or boots instead. Not just any shoes, thank you very much, we have a long list of requirements and the perfect pair of bout footwear is up there amongst our biggest dreams.

They need to be black – preferably all black, to go with the standards for officiating uniforms (and because we like black!). They have to be “closed toed” and rather sturdy to protect our feet from getting killed by a runaway zebra on skates. They have to be comfortable enough for us to stand in them during an entire tournament, non-slippery so we don’t tumble on the inside while chasing penalties and in general aid your performance on bout day. And last but not least – we’d like them to look cool and contributes to making us feel good in our boutfits/uniforms, too.
Just like skaters NSOs can express their personality through their uniform-style, and we’d like the shoes to be a part of that, too.

Flight or train tickets: Most officials love being on the road and travelling for derby. This, however, is not inexpensive. If you want to show your favourite NSO even more support, help them out financially. Many officials are booked for bouts and tournament 2-3 out of 4 weekends in a month and this definitely puts a strain on finances. So if you really want to shower an NSO with love and support, flight or train tickets are a sure-fire way to do just that.

Tour bus: Officials love travelling and they love travelling together. And if you feel like you just can’t show your officials enough love through clipboards and train tickets, we’ve got a perfect solution for you: a tour bus for your officials’ travelling needs! It is both a mode of transport and a place for officials to sleep during tournament weekends. Your officials will hopefully (but probably not, considering the price of petrol these days!) save money on transportation, and they get to bond even more on their way to new roller derby adventures. Yay!

The Joy of a Bootcamp

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Everyone loves a Roller Derby bootcamp. They are great places for not only learning the intricacies of the sport we love so much, but also a great way to network, increase the chances for more places to NSO and of course a fantastic opportunity to meet new and awesome people.

Bootcamps tend to be spread out over the course of the year, but we in the Army of Darkness were fortunate enough to attend two bootcamps over the course of two weekends. The bootcamps were very different from each other and posed a variety of challenges, but knowledge was both given and received and we look forward to more bootcamps in the future.

Charleroi, Belgium and the Army’s NSO bootcamp.

When the Army heard the news that the first ever Junior Roller Derby bout in Europe was going to be played in Charleroi, we immediately signed up to the NSO crew, especially as Copenhagen was starting its own Junior League. Denmark to Belgium is quite a trip for a single bout, so our Dark Army Overlord, Iron Monger, suggested to the host league, Blackland Rockin’ K-Rollers, that we give their NSOs a crash course whilst we were there. This soon spiraled (happily) out of control and turned into a fully fledged NSO bootcamp, with NSOs travelling across Europe from France, the Netherlands, Germany and of course Belgium.

Five members of the seven-strong Army made the trip, and we were able to build a full-day bootcamp than ran from 9am – 9pm. The morning was set aside for an introduction to the precise functions of each position and then a full, closed bout scrimmage. The One Love Roller Dolls from Antwerp came over to bout Blackland and we divided the participants into four groups, spending half a period at each post – penalty box, line-up, scorekeeping and inside. One member of the Army took each group around the posts so everyone got the chance to try paperwork and performance at every single position. Iron Monger took Jam Timer responsibilities and each participant got to be Jam Timer for at least two jams.

It was pretty hectic learning (and teaching) on the fly like that, but being thrown in at the deep end is absolutely the best way to learn and it was a very fulfilling experience. I can’t stress strongly enough how important it was to have two teams playing a full-on bout – I really can’t imagine a better way of doing it!

After some (well-deserved) lunch, we moved to a more classroom-like location to run through the theory side of what happened during the morning. We broke the sessions down as follows:–

  • Line-up tracking for Ninjas; silent, unseen and deadly
  • Advanced Penalty Management
  • Penalty box management for rock stars
  • Jam timing and the art of Zen
  • Scorekeeping like an eagle
  • How to tame and train your zebra herd (understanding refs and their tasks)
  • Head NSOing

 

Each session ran for about 40 minutes with a little extra time for Q&A and some excellent discussions and tip-swapping that grew out of the presentations. We wanted to cover a couple of other topics, such as ‘How to build and train a strong NSO team’ and ‘About certification and WFTDA’, but we felt it was more important to adapt to what the participants were most interested in rather than to stick religiously to our program.

Though it may seem illogical to cover the practical side before the theory, there were some strong reasons for doing this. Firstly, for the most part, we were dealing with NSOs who had some experience, but still had lots to learn. Therefore we could throw them into a bout situation (as I mentioned before, the very best way to learn!), and then go over the theory to put the practicalities of NSOing into perspective.

Secondly, the theory side of NSOing requires taking in huge amounts of information, so it would be quite possible that you could have trouble remembering some elements of the first presentation by the time you have absorbed all the elements of the other positions. Having had the full-on experience of a bout a few hours earlier, the theory will be much easier to take on board.

A lot of the participants were on the NSO crew for the Junior bout, which was held the following day, and it was fantastic to see how much the participants had grown in the space of 24 hours! We have received great feedback on the bootcamp, and even though there were a couple of very experienced Head NSOs who may not have taken away lots of new knowledge with them, they mentioned how the bootcamp gave them lots of tips about how to pass on the elements of NSOing to their own new recruits.

As far as myself and the other members of the Army are concerned, doing all that detailed, necessary research to be able to give a clear and knowledgeable presentation has made us better NSOs as result. Instructing others and swapping tips and tricks is a great learning process for all concerned.

Copenhagen Roller Derby’s skater bootcamp

The following weekend, the bootcamp run by our own league was different in the sense that it was for skaters. However, that did not stop us being heavily involved and exploring other ways of teaching the art of NSOing.

There were two scrimmages set for this bootcamp – one for rookies and one for veterans. At the rookie scrimmage (2x20mins), we were instructing veteran skaters how to NSO. This helped them have a clearer understanding of officiating and will also help them when it comes to bouts as we were instructing them in elements such as how to be as efficient as possible when in the penalty box, or when scorekeeping, the skaters could have a different perspective on when to call off jams – how much time is needed from when the call-off signal is made to when a jammer ref stops counting points, for example.

Instructing skaters, as opposed to instructing NSOs, also forced us to explain the elements of each position in a more skater-friendly way. This doesn’t mean we had to make things simpler to understand, but by putting ourselves into the mindset of a skater, we explained things in way that was beneficial to the skaters. For example, instead of going into the detailed intricacies of the paperwork, we were able to discuss elements like skater positioning in the box when standing in relation to where the pack was on the track, or how to keep more attention on incoming skaters in relation to when you might be standing or leaving the box. I was in the penalty box with three experienced skaters, but instead of just simply helping out the NSOs, they really used the time to look at the fine points of box etiquette in an attempt to improve their game.

On the second day of this bootcamp, the Army ran a presentation for trainers and bench managers on the NSO positions, paperwork and understanding the stats book. The stats book can be a tool for trainers that isn’t perhaps used as effectively as it might be. Cross-referencing the results from the bout summary and the penalty summary with the paperwork from the bout (score, penalties and line-ups) that can focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the team. For example, they can show which skaters function best during power jams both for and against, as well as highlighting which blockers work best with each other and maybe even with a particular jammer. There is a wealth of information waiting to be mined, and although it looks complicated at first, clear presentation of this material can help trainers and coaches in training and bout preparation.

So, in conclusion, we have learnt a great many things during these two bootcamps. Collaboration and having open forum discussions are essential. Yes, we may have been the ones presenting the elements of how to NSO, but everyone is in this together and by talking and discussing the various aspects of NSOing helps us all in the long run. We have also learnt that the right balance of practical and theoretical is a must – you can explain something all you want, but only by putting ideas into practise can you really reap the full benefit. On the flip side, simply NSOing at bouts and scrimmage can lead to bad habits (doing a job the easy way instead of the right way), but by analysing the specifics of what we do, we can make major improvements in the way we do things.

Having experienced these two bootcamps so close to each other, and having gone through the experience of instructing both NSOs and skaters, we in the Army are very excited about the bootcamp process as we are helping NSOs from around Europe share with each other and, at the same time, we are making ourselves better NSOs.

Roller Derby is about sharing and bootcamps can be a huge part of that, both in a learning sense and a social one. The Army certainly can’t wait for the next one, be it as participants or instructors.

So, more bootcamps please!!

Barney Trubble

How to recruit officials – and engage the ones you have: a quick guide

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For a start-up league it can seem like an insurmountable task to recruit officials. On top of having to learn to not fall on your skates, manoeuvre around a track safely and work together as a team, enlisting referees and NSOs is not the focus of most leagues. During the early stages, most leagues will concentrate on recruiting new skaters – later on, when they have passed their minimum skills test and are ready to scrimmage, they realise they do not have any officials to oversee the scrimmages. There are many advantages to having a full, competent officiating crew in your league; for one, it makes scrimmaging according to the WFTDA rule set much easier. When you have an official with knowledge of the rules and know how these are executed in practise, they will call you out if you commit a penalty. Knowledge of the rules, both in theory and practise, will make for better, more tactical skaters.

Step one is about recruitment – you need to have officials. How do you recruit officials and where do you look for them? The first step is to recruit skating officials, and 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. Though it obviously does not hurt having NSOs in your crew before having referees.

–          Create an interest in having officials in your league and recruit actively and continuously.

–          Consider who you want to reach out to – will they be committed to the sport? Suggestion:  for a start, put up flyers around sports clubs and sports halls where there are referees involved or invite them actively to your trainings. Are there inline or skating clubs in your area? Street hockey players? Try reaching out to them. Some leagues have also had luck in drafting boyfriends/girlfriends/other family/friends of skaters. Use your personal network! Facebook and your league’s website can be useful tools as well.

–          If you are lucky enough to have some referees but they cannot skate, fret not! They should simply join your regular basic skills trainings as they should also be able to pass the minimum skills test. Include them as much as possible in everything you do, whether it is league meetings, coffee or beers on a Friday after practice. Let them know they are an important part of training and the development of the league.

–          Stability is of utmost importance – just like it is for skaters. Flaky, unreliable skaters and officials are of little use to the league.

Step two is keeping and motivating your officials.

–          Don’t assume that the only use for your officials – skating or non-skating – is at scrimmages. 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 scrimmage practices: give them the chance to show how brilliant they are through presentations and Q&A sessions.

–          Something simple like thanking your officials for being at practice is a great way to make them feel like they are really appreciated.

–          Support your officials when they want to go abroad for bouts and boot camps. Going abroad is a fantastic way of creating a bigger and better network with other officials in Europe/the rest of the world. This gives your league an opportunity to invite new officials to training and bouts, which will then give the entire league an opportunity to learn something new. Perhaps better tactics, a broader knowledge of the rules or better skating skills?

–          Encourage creating a strong bond between your officials – both within the league but also with officials from other leagues.

–          Do workshops and boot camps – give your officials the opportunity to learn and to pass on their wisdom. Knowledge-sharing is one of the most important elements in derby. D.I.Y., baby!

Step three is having your officials be a semi-independent working group in your league, if they feel that they are ready and capable of handling the following tasks:

–          Having the responsibility of inviting officials from other leagues to your bouts.

–          Doing their own recruitment and training of new officials.

–          Being the epitome of awesomeness and darkness!

It is worth remembering that both officials and skaters are working towards the same goals: developing the sport and having fun. Even though the roles are completely different, officials and skaters are a part of the same sport and the same league and should be working together as a team – that is the most important goal.

This is how we Roll; the NSO workload

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There are many kinds of NSOs.

There are people who know Roller Derby and who assist at scrimmages and a few bouts.

There are skaters who want to learn to NSO, have an injury or just want to help out if they are not chosen for a bout.

And then we have the full time NSOs.

All NSOs deserve praise, but in this blog post I will focus on telling you what it is like to work as a full time NSO and why we do it.

To be a full time NSO is like having a second job. You are dedicated and you do not say; “No I can’t NSO, I want to watch the bout” (And if you do watch a bout, you mostly watch the NSOs and the Refs).

Training and tutoring
As skaters need scrimmages for training, NSOs also need scrimmages to become better and more focused on all the different positions on track. At scrimmage we have the opportunity to learn new positions, without having to worry (too much) about screwing up. Here we can practise a certain position before a bout, learn to work better together and give each other tips and tricks.

Even meeting before a scrimmage to go through paperwork with new NSOs or just to recap by ourselves is beneficial. This is where everyone can get on the track and try to NSO. This is where we take our new NSO prospects and teach them how it is done.

Being a full time NSO also includes studying. Reading the rules, both the officiating and the skater’s rules, learning Ref handsignals, penalty letters, learning about different situations on track and communication between all the officials are some of our tasks. This means homework before, during and after any NSO-related job.

Rock, relations and recruiting
It is important to create a good atmosphere and relationships with your fellow full time NSOs. It is also crucial to recruit new NSOs to your league.

In The Army of Darkness of Copenhagen Roller Derby, we work on our relationships as well as our competencies. We have meetings where we talk about scrimmages, NSO clinics, recap on previous bouts or tournaments and plan NSO trips. We also play Zombie Dice, talk about movies, our jobs, personal relationships and sometimes perverted stuff (actually, all the time!). We work hard and we play hard together.

We always want to recruit new NSOs and also maintain good relationships with other NSOs, both regional and international. To do this we discuss NSO strategy:

–          How do we recruit new NSOs (both full time and part-time)?

–          How do we encourage interest in the NSO trade?

–          How do we get other leagues to invite us to NSO at their bouts/tournaments etc.

Travelling, tactics and ticks
To attain some of the strategy goals, we need to travel.

We travel to help other leagues, both in bouts, tournaments and boot camps, but we also travel to help ourselves. On journeys (don’t stop believin’!), we become better NSOs because we learn new things everywhere we go and build relations with NSOs all over the world. We feed off each other and become better this way.

After a tournament abroad, even though your head is tired, your eyes have new ticks and you keep repeating skater numbers in your mind, you still look back at your days of growing as an NSO – both you as a single NSO, but also you as a part of a team.

Pride, Prejudice and Paperwork
“Paperwork”. The word often gives you boring associations and normally, I’m not exactly a paperwork-kind-of-gal.

But, the paperwork is the cornerstone in the NSO learning process and should not be underestimated.

It is through paperwork that:

–          we catch the small mistakes made during a bout

–          we evolve and shape the game

–          skaters learn by their mistakes (penalties e.g.)

It is the support we lean upon when the numbers do not add up after a scrimmage or bout.

Everyone who has tried to NSO probably knows the panicky feeling of missing some penalties or skaters when you check your paperwork (been there, done that) or the warm feeling you get inside when Iron Monger (Head NSO of CRD) looks at your papers and nods silently.

Overall full time NSOing is a heavy workload and we use our spare time on it. All of us have jobs, studies, families, cats, non- derby friends or other interests that we sometimes neglect a bit because of this.

So why do we do it?

We do it because we choose it, and we choose it because we love to:

–          Learn more about Roller Derby

–          Be nerds together!

–          Be better NSOs together!

–          Make the game flow (without too many official timeouts).

And what I find most important; to give the skaters the best possible game, by being professional, calm and collected… together.

XX Ramblin Raven

Behind the Scenes – Boutday and beyond!

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Every sporting event needs to run like a well-oiled machine so that the good people who forked over their hard earned cash have the best time possible and, importantly, the urge to come back again and again.

The Army of Darkness takes this very seriously, which means that we have to be well-prepared in the extreme!

On the day, we usually arrive at the venue a couple of hours before first whistle, and after greeting our NSO buddies (some of whom will have traveled from other parts of Europe), we have the NSO meeting with the HNSO. This is the time when you get into the right headspace for the event and pick up any last minute information that may affect the job you are about to do.

We then get into uniform, make sure our area of the track is as it should be, check paperwork and make sure we have the pencils, whiteboards and other equipment we need before finally checking-in with the relevant skating official if necessary (although it’s always a good idea – not to mention friendly – to meet and greet the skating officials individually anyway).

10 minutes before the bout we have our huddle, the walk-in music begins and we enter the arena. That is when all the practise and training comes into play – you should have reached a point where anything that happens from here on out should be almost second nature and instinctive.

The key to this is preparation.

The moment the Army walks out onto the track before a bout, a huge portion of our job has already been done.

We are there every week at scrimmage trying to hone our craft – working all positions! Discussing ways that will make us more proficient in the positions we know well and make improvements in the positions where we are less experienced. Learning to be as efficient as possible in every single position means that the HNSO has the flexibility to put you wherever they need to as they fill out their roster, but you also never know if injury, illness or another problem will force you into another position at a moment’s notice.

We talk to other NSOs, either face-to-face or online, discovering new tactics, tricks and working methods to see which ones work best for us, but could also be invaluable when something weird happens during a bout, which as we all know happens more often than we would perhaps like!

Roller Derby is also in a constant state of change. As it is still a relatively new sport, the rules are being re-evaluated on a yearly basis, and there are even minor changes throughout the year. Keeping on top of these is vital so that there are no problems during bouts between skaters, refs and NSOs. Checking the WFTDA website and whichever forum you like to visit for the latest on rule updates is also something we do regularly.

On top of this, The Army meets up on average once every two weeks to discuss the sport, our place in it and how we can improve, but also to build the friendship and camaraderie in our group – and let me tell you that I have never experienced such a fun, dedicated and confidence-inspiring group of people in my life, and knowing that we are there for each other no matter what creates a stability that serves us well.

Before I finish, a short personal sideline. The first part of my non-Derby career involved working in theatre backstage – lighting, set building, moving scenery, etc – and something I was taught very early on was that the work of backstage technicians only gets noticed when you make a mistake! The audience must never know that you exist as the show goes on!

There’s an element of that to NSOing too. If you make a mistake (and we all do from time to time – we’re human after all!), then even if the audience don’t know exactly what is going on, the bout will probably stop for discussion. When the audience comes to a bout, they come to watch the skaters skate, which is why as officials it is so important to sort out any problems and issues as quickly as possible to keep the game moving. It is a fine balance between making sure that penalties and scores are being recorded precisely, but also not interrupting the flow of the bout. Seeing officials (skates or no skates) communicating with each other between jams, quickly and concisely, with or without words, in order to avoid an official time out is truly a thing of beauty.

So with the right preparation and the love and trust of your fellow NSOs you will be able to do your part in making boutday run smoothly and help the audience have the time of their lives and be hungry for more!

Happy NSOing

Barney Trubble

A skater’s POV on being an NSO

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I am a skater. I am not injured. I am not tired of skating. I enjoy skating as a derby girl.

I am also an NSO – with all my heart, mind and soul.

Some people, even those inside the derby world, often think that NSOs are only for; injured skaters, girl-/ boyfriends of skaters or skaters that do not want to be derby girls.

WRONG!

I started skating with my league in March 2012. We were around five girls on a crooked parking lot, dreaming of a training space, a bout and somebody’s asses to kick (other than each other’s and the parking lot’s).

The first bout I ever saw was in Copenhagen and, as with many of my fellow skaters, we only focused on… well, yes… the skaters, tactics and maybe the refs. This was Roller Derby to me… then.

I often trained with Copenhagen and their rookies to get inspiration and experience for our own training. After one training session, I hung around to see the veterans scrimmage.

I had noticed a group of people in black t-shirts running around and preparing for the scrimmage and I asked if I could do anything to help.

A man with a great red beard took me by the arm and put me in what they called “The Penalty Box”. He put a clipboard in my hand, gave me three stopwatches and instructed me quickly. For the first time, I was a penalty blocker timer.

I did ok and the next time I NSOed was at a double header in Copenhagen. First as blocker timer and then as a box manager…I have to admit, completely ‘not-hardcore-derby-gal-like’, that I was almost peeing my pants. I was so nervous and was really afraid screwing up. It worked out fine though, and at that double header I realised exactly how important the work of an NSO is.

The venue was dark, dusty and with poor visibility. There were a lot of problems and the head referee almost cancelled the second bout.

But, even though there were many problems, all the officials (referees and NSOs) worked together, really fast and efficient. And both bouts took place.

That was when I saw what teamwork looks like in real life and then… I fell in love with the Officials.

That was my first bout experience as an NSO, and it has gotten better ever since. But I do not only enjoy working with my fellow NSO’s. I get many special and important benefits as a skater, from being an NSO.

As a skater:

I now know how to observe the track from the outside, from a variety of angles. I believe this has made me more aware of the track and the players.

I respect the Officials in a whole other way, and would never (well, almost never – I am still a human being) tell a ref or an NSO off.

I have learned the rules in a completely new way:

–          I now really understand the calls and signs from the referees

–          I know how to act, listen and respond in the penalty box

–          I understand communication (both as a skater and as an official) on a whole other level

I have used my NSO experience in my skating, as a trainer for my team, at bouts in other countries, in discussions at seminars and at the training sessions of other teams in Denmark.

But most importantly of all, I really understand teamwork now – and how it should work.

Because whether we are talking about skaters, NSOs or referees – Teamwork is that cornerstone that we are all trying to lift… together.

I hope other skaters will consider being an NSO. It is a really important part of withholding the greatness of our game and communication.

XX Ramblin’ Raven/ Army Of Darkness

Stripes on, stripes off

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– or how the ref became an NSO.

My story is a story that I share with many female refs – I was a skater, I got injured, I became a ref. That is the short version. But giving the skates and your body a break doesn’t necessarily mean that roller derby won’t turn your world upside down.

My career as a referee started in a tiny league called Aarhus Derby Danes. We were only two refs with two stopwatches, cheap whistles and no officials whatsoever. In fact, it wasn’t until my first bout in Gothenburg that I realized what officials are there for. This was back in the “good” old days with minor penalties. Back when I didn’t have a clue about reffing. But that was about to change completely.

As many of you know, change in real life can also bring massive change to one’s derby life. This happened to me a little over a year ago, when I decided to move from my small town in Jutland to Copenhagen. I was very nervous and knew no one in the city, so I did what I think any other derby girl in my place would have done: I contacted the local derby league. I got in touch with one of the refs and managed to get invited to my first training. And boy, was that mind blowing – they had so many refs! And real ref practice and stuff! But the most important thing was that I felt welcome instantly.

So far I have reffed nine bouts as a member of Copenhagen Roller Derby, so I guess I can’t really call myself a rookie ref anymore. Being a referee has given me so many wonderful experiences and the opportunity to work with a bunch of amazing people. It has made me grow as a person. I was very lucky, too; No one ever yelled at me or accused me of being unfair. But I recently realized that being the authority figure is not really my thing, and the skating part of the sport was not what I loved the most.

Since my first bout in Copenhagen, I have envied that special bond in the NSO group, which I have never seen among the zebras. And this bond is even stronger now than back then.

But although I could write an entire blog praising the Army of Darkness itself, it is not only because of the awesome people that I do this. I admit it makes things a lot more fun, but I just love being the little geek who makes sure that everything is documented and running smoothly. I am not a very outgoing person; some might even call me introvert, so I don’t exactly have the social skills that are being praised in modern day society. But I love to do the paperwork, and I think I’m pretty good at it. Unlike skating, officiating comes quite easily to me. The things I don’t know how to do yet are things that I would be able to learn in a very short amount of time, simply because I love to do it. It’s hard to explain exactly why I love it; I guess I’m just one of those people who thrive on being organised.

If you are an NSO and mess up your paperwork, it can be pretty bad. But I don’t feel the same kind of performance pressure now as I did as a ref. Most of the time, I know exactly what to do and who to ask if something goes wrong. I am not the authority, but the authority works because of people like me and what we are doing. I find great pleasure in knowing that.

At my last bout in Trondheim, Norway, which was my first bout as a full-time Army member, I was placed in the penalty box as jammer timer/part-time box manager, meaning that we had a box manager who had never tried anything NSO related before. So he took care of the paperwork and I handled the whiteboard, which was kind of tricky at first. But when all of us had got the hang of it, we started to do really well. And suddenly I had an amazing feeling. I realized that this is exactly where I belong.

I am only 22 years old and far from knowing where I belong in my non-derby life, but now I finally know one place that is right for me. These nerdy, black-hearted and twisted people are not just my friends. They are the one thing that keeps me in this city.

//Minnie Mayday