Friday, February 5, 2010

Introducing "the Angry Ref"

As part of a new feature, I am pleased to welcome to a rugby life, the Angry Ref.  The Angry Ref is an active rugby referee in the US and will be blogging weekly about life on the pitch.
So without further adue, I give you... 

“Glass Houses” or “How I became The Angry Ref”

I was listening to an interview during the 2009 baseball post season that stuck in my mind.  If you remember during the 2009 MLB playoffs the umpiring was as much a topic as anything else due to several blown calls particularly in the Red Sox-Angels series.  The hosts of this show were interviewing some baseball analyst who told the following story.

During a game a while back an umpire called a batter out on a called third strike.  The batter tilted his head in a silent expression of frustration with the call but didn’t say anything.  After taking a few steps towards the dugout the batter turned back towards the umpire but before he could say anything the umpire took off his masked and said, “Don’t tell me blew that call.  Don’t you dare tell I blew that call.”  “Why not?” asked the batter.  “Because I don’t point out every time you screw up.  When you watch one go right down the pipe I don’t call you an idiot for not swinging.  When you drop a fly ball I don’t ask how you could blow such a easy play.  So don’t you dare tell me I just blew that call.”  With that the batter shrugged and went back to the dug out.   I’ve tried using this line of reasoning with players in the past.   It’s never really worked the way I hoped it would.

The story also got me thinking. What if a ref did lose it and start telling players how they screwed up?  Well in a recent match I found out.  The players were being particularly ignorant in this particular match, complaining about missed calls with reference to laws that haven’t been in effect for ten years, complaining about things that never were laws to begin with, and just generally acting like morons.  On top of that the game had been horrendously sloppy with more than the usual normal number of knock-ons and forward passes.  At around the 60th minute I’d had enough.  So I asked them how they would feel if I had been pointing out their mistakes all game long.  After a sarcastic response from a few players I decided to go for it.  In other words I completely lost my shit.

For the next five minutes I belittled, criticized, and pointed out the stupidity of basically every perceived mistake I could see. 
  • What the hell 12 didn’t you see you had a four man overlap? Why did you run right you moron?  Are you blind?
  • How could let that kick get over your head?  Get in better position.
  • Way to knock on dummy. There was nothing but grass in front of you.  If you lose this game it’s all your fault.
  • What, you can’t even get a ball out of a scrum without knocking-on?  You suck.
  • Didn’t you see they’d read that switch?  What are you blind?  You just got your guy killed.
  • Can’t even make a simple tackle huh?  Wuss.
Along with that I asked the players how much of each play I should take credit for.
  • Hey 10 did I miss that tackle or was that you?
  • That break away try right there, that was all me right?
  • (While running with a play where a guy broke several tackles before being taken down) I did that.  I did that.  I did that.  I did that.
The reaction from the players was mixed.  Some got it.  Some thought it was funny.  Some were stunned into silence.  Some were mad.  I’m not proud of my melt down in that match.  It was unprofessional.  But some times you can push a man too far.  As one coach said after the game, “Well, you certainly gave our boys something they’ll never forget".

The point of the story is that officials make mistakes. There’s simply too many things to see over the course of a game to see all of them every time.  As a ref you try to make sure that the things you miss aren’t game changing.  Players need to understand that they wouldn’t want someone constantly pointing out their mistakes so why do that to the ref.  There’s productive ways to approach referees when you have a concern.  Constantly bitching isn’t one of them.  Try having the captain approach the ref with a question.  

For example: “Sir, are the put ins going in straight?”  “Sir, can you explain the high tackle there?  It seemed like the ball carrier dove into him.”  Then when you get your answer thank the ref and get back to playing.  Besides, the more you argue the less likely it is you’re going to change the ref’s mind.  

Remember, it’s not a debate.  You get your answer and you move on.  The best way to keep from feeling like the ref was too involved with the outcome of the match is to play well and not make mistakes.

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