Raising the refereeing bar – by Pat McNally

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on December 1st, 2009

By Pat McNally

It is generally accepted that the best way to improve a rugby player’s performance is by creating systems that include qualified coaching, effective training and conditioning methods, and first-class facilities.

Following these factors up with regular, high-level competition where the player’s skills and abilities can be tested and honed should lead to higher performance.

There are several initiatives currently underway to improve the game of rugby in the USA, the United States Collegiate Rugby Association (USCRA) and the Women’s Premier League (WPL) being the latest instances.

The WPL is an example of a sector of American rugby taking direct action, creating a league of elite teams, to elevate their abilities and skills in order to compete at a higher level.

There have been several recent articles written about the USCRA and their admirable intentions to achieve these goals, however, nowhere in any of their interviews or statements will you come across a single mention of referees.

Why is it that when people put a great deal of planning and effort into improving our sport, no one addresses the issue of how we improve the standard of refereeing rugby in America?

There is a direct correlation between the level of play and the quality of refereeing. It’s not really possible to separate the two or judge one independent of the other; they both exist in the same environment.

Hopefully, like players, referees rise to meet the level of competition they face, because referees don’t exist or develop in a vacuum.

While we can all agree that we would like to see the standard of refereeing improve and the pool of refereeing talent to be wider and deeper, how many organizations are committed to that goal?

Wanting improvement is very different from making improvement happen. Whatever your feelings are about USA Rugby, they are the only organization that commits any time and financial resources to the improvement and development of rugby referees.

What then is the best way forward to improve the standards of refereeing that both teams and referees seek?

The inaugural Championship Cup Series (CCS) is a case in point, a partnership between rugby
administrators and referees that can benefit all parties concerned.

CCS was created as a mechanism for establishing a viable, elite-level National Sevens rugby competition and referees have been invited to participate in the development of the CCS from the beginning.

Attendance at organizational meetings and participation in conference calls with the five tournament directors has led to clear and open communication that has given all parties the chance to understand the issues before it, ask any and all questions, and importantly, avoid any unrealistic expectations.

After mutually agreeing that there would be no funding from CCS in the first year, we have been able to match the appreciable increase in the level of competition with our best and most promising Sevens referees.

As the CCS looks to expand the number of tournaments next year, in addition to the possibility of a women’s division and an international division, referees will progress with the competition including vying for sponsorships to help alleviate financial pressure on tournaments, referee societies and referees themselves.

A successful formula for player improvement requires dedicated, qualified support and part of that equation is good refereeing.

Administrators, coaches and referees must form partnerships to break down the walls between them to make real progress together.

Rugby organizations should become involved in the development of referees to ensure that referees understand what the teams are trying to accomplish.

Referees must open themselves up to teams and help the administrators of our sport understand what is required to build and bolster the number and quality of match officials.

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