I was basically a terrible player. I think I’ve mentioned this before. OK, so maybe not terrible, but certainly not elite. I never played on a winning team. When I was an A side player I was usually somewhere between the 13th and 15th best player on the team. Some of the reasons for this were pretty obvious. For one, I just simply wasn’t all that athletically gifted. For another the coaching I received was pretty spotty at times. Some coaches assumed I knew things I didn’t know and then didn’t bother to correct me when I did things wrong, possibly figuring I was just being difficult. Some coaches also didn’t know the things I didn’t know and so had nothing to teach me. But I’m not here to blame my coaches or myself.
As I recently pondered the successes and failures of my playing career I hit one group to whom I could assign blame for my career. I’m here to blame the refs. That’s right. I think the men and women with the whistles could do more for young players and players at the lower levels of the game. I know coaches are cringing as they read that but rest assured I don’t mean refs should usurp your roles (of course, if you were really doing your jobs to the fullest oh my coaches, I wouldn’t need to write this.) I know coaches hate the idea of refs “coaching” players. I wouldn’t dream of trying to talk strategy or technique with players outside of what I need to do to manage safety (i.e. “You must bind here, not here” etc). What I mean is being able to take advantage of small moments to help players understand why they’ve been penalized and how to avoid it in the future. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had have come when captains and coaches have requested that I take a little extra time to explain the laws. I’ve found that all parties come away with a better feeling and a greater understanding of both the laws and the referee’s role.
Our role is to keep the game moving and keep you lunk heads out of trouble. But too often refs get all overly stern and for whatever reason, lack of their own understanding, exhaustion, negative past experience with players and coaches, do not give enough explanation of how players can avoid future penalties. If the refs I played under over my many many ignorant years as a player had taken even a little time to add a little more information I may have been a much better or at least less frustrated and fight prone player. Looking back now at some of the fights and near fights I had on the field, well shucks, the other guy was right, I shouldn’t have been doing whatever it was I was doing. Why didn’t the ref see it and tell me? Or at least see it and penalize me so I knew it wasn’t just some a-hole player on the other side getting lippy? Where was the game management twenty years ago?
Of course for this to work the players have to do their part. Namely, go through their captains, make sure questions come at the appropriate time and with proper deference, and remember as I said before, this isn’t a conversation. If you’re still confused after the ref’s answer file it away for later. Also, remember that you don’t know anything. Even if you’ve been playing for 20 years chances are what you think you know and what you actually know are two vastly different things. Again, if you’re not a ref and actually out reffing then remember that you know nothing. And even if you really do know, remember law 6.A.4(a). If you don’t know 6.A.4.(a) go look it up, print it out, keep it in your shorts pocket and look at it when you think you know something.
But really, most of all, listen. If you have a half way decent ref (and it’s no sure thing that you do) the ref will be saying things to help keep you out of trouble. Things like, “Red 4, last foot.” And, “Blue 6, leave it alone.” And, “Don’t you dare punch him I see you.” So please make sure you also know what number you’re wearing. Seriously, it’s the most basic thing you can do. If you can’t bother to know your number then you may be beyond help. In which case you have no one to blame but yourself.