Junior Derby Deserves Great Officials


Far too often, many leagues have difficulty finding referees to officiate their games. Some leagues get around this problem by having skaters wear stripes or just dealing with a short crew. Some leagues in my area would stand on their head to get qualified refs and look for help months and months in advance.

This is especially true of junior roller derby.

Many times, junior games get staffed by “whomever is around.” You can fight me on this but I think junior roller derby should have the BEST referees in the area. Certainly, everyone needs a start but staffing a juniors game with all brand-new refs won’t likely end well.

Junior games need referees who are good at crowd control. Calling a young skater a “fat pig” SHOULD get you ejected from the building. Further, no referee should ever have to deal with verbal abuse poised to themselves either.

Junior games need referees who are good with youths. Yelling at a skater because she’s so new she forgot to exit the track to get to the penalty box is not cool. Apologizing or at least explaining in a calm manner when you saw you made her cry would also be a classy and mature move. Just saying.

Junior games need referees who know the rules of the sport well. They are there to keep the skaters safe and the sport fair. Many parents would say they get nervous when they see their child play for fear of injury. This makes a good head ref worth their weight in gold; a good ref crew as precious as rare gems.

What is your league doing to promote and honour officials (both skating and non-skating)? Are they getting sufficient practice time? Are you helping to recruit? Do you feed them – it sounds trite but I’ve seen officials brighten right up when they’ve travelled so far and are met with a plate of sandwiches and a crock pot of chili.

We’re fortunate to have many amazing officials nearby. They’ve come to our practices to help the skaters learn the rules a little better. We’ve had full crews both on and off skates to help officiate even the most informal intraleague scrimmages. They meet often and support each other.

One of our parent leagues has a bursary called the Jules and Regulations Award (http://tricityrd.com/jules-reg/) which honours a female-identifying official who has demonstrated excellence in officiating women’s flat track roller derby and in empowering other female-identifying officials. Jules herself has made countless contributions to officiating, mentoring, and increasing gender diversification within roller derby officiating.

One of those she has mentored? The boy in the photo above. Starting out at 9-years-old, he never wanted to play the game but, instead, something about officiating entranced him.

He was – and still is – lucky to have many show him the ropes. Starting with junior derby coaches who had developed his skating and taking the time to discuss the rules of the sport with him, it was other referees who got him game-worthy. He would shadow refs who would take the time between jams to explain what was going on. Refs would guide him to useful online resources and made themselves available for any of his questions with patience and respect. He’s also been trusted to officiate in non-sanctioned adult games, handled all referee positions including HR, and is confident enough to approach junior skaters to ask if they had any questions or concerns about his calls or the game in general (just as his mentors do). His next goal is to be a certified WFTDA referee as soon as he is eligible. When he turns 18 in 2021, he’ll have been in stripes for nine years.

The road wasn’t without hiccups. I’ve heard many stories of youth refs being discounted in one way or another, which does nothing to elevate not only junior derby but roller derby entirely. Put down a junior ref and that person might give up. Where’s the future now?

We need to make things easier for junior roller derby officials. It’s an issue in many children’s sports but there needs to be a greater culture of respect and appreciation for officials from players, parents and spectators. I’ve heard far too many refs say they will never work a juniors game because they don’t want to hear disparaging remarks from parents.

Other ways to be more encouraging? Our league doesn’t charge a registration fee for those youths who just want to ref. Other leagues actively recruit for youth officials, sometimes even within – looking to family and friends. We recently participated at the ECDX tournament in Philadelphia and every participating junior league had to have skaters or referees commit to a total of several officiating hours (per league, not per skater). It was a brilliant way to get skaters NSOing and refereeing, highlighting their capabilities and surely improved their knowledge of their sport.

We talk a lot about being inclusive in roller derby. Let’s not forget the junior (and adult) who wants to officiate.

Photo appears courtesy of junior derby dad, all-around great guy, and amazing photographer Jeff Ostrander (jeffostrander.smugmug.com).


Bracing for the Win

Here’s a link to a quick game we play that might help reinforce a myriad of blocking skills like bracing, walling, and even communication.

Triangle Tag is quick and simple to set up. You need no equipment.

Three skaters form a triangle. You can have a wall of two with a bracer at the apex or have all three bracing (for some skaters, I find this brings them more success because many kids like to touch things with their hands).

You’ll then have a tagger outside of this triangle and this skater will try to tag the bracer either by getting around the base of the triangle or busting through their wall.

For sure, you can turn this triangle into a box and delineate whom should be tagged. But, perhaps you’ll have my experience that younger or beginner skaters find it clearer to be able to spot the top of a triangle to either tag or protect.

Getting to Know You


Our little ones love to just skate. Some of them would be happy to just go around and around the track for hours if we allowed it. But how much would they learn from that?

Another things our little skaters love? To talk about themselves! They love to share with us stories about their day, their lives at home and school, their likes and dislikes.

So here’s a drill you could use as a warm-up or to reinforce good skating stride skills, speed and being able to stop well. You need to coaches and that’s it.

Coach A will be on one side of the room and Coach B will be on the other. The skaters will be along the wall on the end where Coach A is. She’ll say a statement (like, “I have red hair,” “I’ve been on an airplane” or “I can have a conversation in a language other than English”). If the statement is true about the skater, the kid will skate to the end of the room where Coach B is, stopping without ramming into the wall. Not all will be release and that’s okay. Coach B will have her own statements to say. So what you’ll get is a constant back-and-forth motion of skaters.

Shootin’ Dice Warm-Up Drill


Is it possible to get youths excited about strength-training? It is when you can approach it as if it was a game, I think!

Our skaters typically can’t wait to put their skates on. After all, weekly, they only have the time during practice to be able to wear them. So we came up with this warm-up to incorporate a little bit of off-skates training in with their warm-up.

You need a set of dice (or more if you have a big group). We got our foamy sets from the dollar store. It’s a good size and of a good material. The skaters can easily toss it. It’s soft so if it rolls on someone, it won’t hurt. And it’s sturdy because, well, they’re kids.

On a separate piece of paper or bristol board, write out what exercise each roll will be. So, for example, if the skater rolls a one, she looks to the paper and reads she has to do squats. A two is push-ups. Three is a fast feet run on the spot. You get the idea. I recommend rolling just one die out of the two or more that you have. This way, others aren’t waiting too long for their turn to roll.

So while the skater who rolled is doing her exercise, her partner is skating a predetermined amount of laps (we ask for three laps). When the laps are done, they skate in the middle of the track where her partner is doing exercises and they trade positions.

We usually run this drill for 10 minutes.


Dress Codes and the Junior Skater

This autumn, one 9-year-old skater came to practice wearing a shirt with pretty cabbagey roses bordering lettering that read, “I love you but fuck the government.”

No word of a lie, I didn’t notice what it read until we were a good 30 minutes into the practice when we were on knees in a circle to discuss the next drill. Some of the skaters were whispering to each other but one actually pointed to the skater in question.

My back was up. My first thought was the 9-year-old, who is a beginner skater, was being mocked or something.

Then I saw it.

I finished what I wanted to say, had the secondary coach take over while, and then discretely took the child aside and explained that her shirt has a word on it that some people would find offensive and we’d have to get some duct tape to it.

“Oh, yeah. My mum laid this shirt out for me to wear.”

“Er, really? Okay, then do me a favour and leave this tape on the shirt until your mum sees it. If she wants, tell her to contact me please.”

Dress codes are something juniors live with at school.  We don’t really have a hard and fast rule on what not to wear because the girls figure out quickly what kind of clothes works for them in practices. Spaghetti straps? We see them a lot. Bra straps showing? Support garments are great. Short skirts, tight pants and shorts? That’s athletic wear and, hey, being itchy with sweat-laden clothes sucks.  Heck, we still have a couple of old school juniors who wear patterned opaque nylons. And they love the face paint during bouts.

About four years ago, we were in a Canada Day parade and a 10-year-old came to the start wearing full-out makeup (blush, eyeliner, lipstick – the works). She also wore a bikini top, and fishnets with the underwear on top. On the bum, the underwear read, “Dirty.”

The junior had seen adults wear something like this. I never batted an eye when I saw a teammate dress this way back then. Live and let live. But seeing it on a child, then and there, my opinion changed. Anyone can be watching. Everyone is watching. Is dressing provocatively a good thing overall for this sport?

I’m not sure what went on at home (the child arrived without her guardian) but we just weren’t comfortable with that. So we happened to have a large t-shirt which we insisted she put on (she did).

Tricky situation, sometimes, how to juggle what is acceptable at home versus what you may want for your junior organization. I’m curious about how other junior leagues handle this.

Tried and True Wall Defence

img_0967The easiest defensive move you can teach children, in my opinion, is the wall – blockers lined up across the track with the sides of their bodies touching. Since we teach the skaters to play positional blocking only to start, this is typically the introduction – and cornerstone – to effective blocking.

We do lots to reinforce this. One that I do to start feeling what it’s like to have someone skate with you is to pair them up and place a track marker (we use cut-up strips of yoga mats) or a piece of paper between wherever you want them touching (shoulders, hips, thighs, etc). Don’t let it drop!

The skaters will get the feeling of having a teammate push on you to make that wall, as well as reinforce the skill of adapting their speed to what’s going on during play. You can always add skaters to this drill and have them appreciate what a 3-wall and ultimately a 4-wall can do. Throw in a jammer and let the fun begin!

You don’t want them forgetting this during a game, so sometimes during a warm-up, we have them skate around. Coach will blow the whistle and tell them to get into a wall of two, three or four. The skaters will use a number of skills to form a wall like skate faster and stop, skate backwards, jump sideways, etc. A coach or a designated skater can then try to jam around them. Call these things out quickly and get their brains working too! How important is getting to the lines, skaters?

Or have them in groups skating around. Fast, slow, whatever. Blow a whistle and they’re together. A simple drill, I know, but throw in kids that aren’t as skilled with ones that are and you have some teamwork skills being worked on.

Of course, in time, they’ll be ready for more defensive plays. We have them in groups of four all the time, calling out three or four all-level moves blockers can make. We do this over and over and over again, and have this drill pretty much in every practice with the skaters who know them. This teaches them to be quick and to reinforce their knowledge of these moves. Put them in groups of five with one jamming and I feel you add some urgency. Whatever it takes to get their hearts pumping, right?