Colleges Part of the Solution – by Pat McNally

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on January 26th, 2010

By Pat McNally

I am frequently asked to address all kinds of questions about referees and law issues, and recently the shortage of top-level referees available for collegiate matches was raised on ARN’s Collegetalk #15.

The number of referees is a finite resource that has had difficulty keeping pace with the growth of collegiate rugby (and youth rugby, etc).

This is an important issue for our game and it is accurate to point out the dearth of referees to go around.

This is hardly a new issue for almost all sports, everywhere around the world, suffers from a lack of qualified officials. However, it is about time that collegiate teams and organizations get serious about solving the problem and become part of the solution.

College rugby needs to contribute to help recruit, train and retain referees, which can be done by taking a few concrete steps.

RECRUITMENT – How many college coaches do you know that recommend refereeing as an alternative to playing rugby, post-graduation?

Collegiate rugby in the United States has greatly improved in its development – good coaching, top-notch facilities, proven physical training methods and nutrition. Unfortunately, after graduation, many players choose not to continue playing rugby because club rugby in the US fails to come anywhere close to meeting collegiate standards.

Why are these talented, highly educated, and energetic young men and women not being directed to refereeing rugby as a viable alternative? They have the rugby background, the proven self-discipline, and the love of the game to succeed at officiating, and the opportunities for advancement have never been greater.

Not every player is Eagle-material or is interested in playing rugby at the elite level. Yet they could still enjoy the benefits of excelling in one’s chosen field; travel all over the country and the world if they chose to apply themselves diligently to refereeing. Refereeing offers a chance to work on management skills that can be applied directly to off-the-field career plans, and collegiate programs could help point this out.

PROVIDE GAME FILM – What better way to show referees what a team is trying to accomplish during a game, to build consensus on what should and what should not be allowed during a match, than to provide direct evidence with video films of games?

This can be a sore subject with some teams because they are reluctant to share their game films and performance with competitors. This is a reasonable concern, but I think that most, if not all, referee societies possess the integrity to not allow unauthorized distribution of a team’s game film.

Additionally, coaches can design safeguards to ensure that it doesn’t happen. Build consensus with referees BEFORE matches, by entering in an on-going exchange of ideas and film to clearly illustrate what is within the laws and the spirit of the game.

And what serious collegiate program doesn’t utilize video review and analysis these days?

INVITE REFEREES TO PRACTICE – Establish working relationships with referee societies and
individual referees by inviting them to attend and participate in team practices.

This is a great opportunity to calmly and rationally discuss the finer points of the game on a regular basis, rather than shouting epithets from the touchline on Saturdays.

A mutual respect can then develop between coaches and referees because they get to know each other personally and communicate on a regular basis. They can take the time to understand the others point of view, rather than butting heads with a stranger.

It could also have the consequence of keeping referees in the game longer because they might be reluctant to give up relationships they have built up over the years.

If collegiate teams and programs are serious about improving the numbers and the standards of rugby referees, they must become involved in finding solutions and working with referee organizations in developing referees.

They cannot divorce themselves from the responsibility and realistically expect somebody else to solve it for them. Believe it or not, in the big scheme of things, referees are on the same side and hopefully we will eventually be invited to join in the conversation.

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Referee Advice

Treat coaches and players in a courteous way. If they ask you a reasonable question, answer in a polite way. If they “get your ear” by yelling at you, interrupt and remind them of the reason for the discussion. Be firm but relaxed.

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