This is the transcript for RDIT’s interview with Sarah Hipel, WFTDA Referee Certification and Training Coordinator. Please share freely and comment on the main article.

RDIT: Hey Derby World, deadeye here talking today with Sarah “Killbox” Hipel, feared on and off the track, about the serious issue of Referee Education. This has been a big issue that Sarah has been involved with for quite some time. To further this cause the WFTDA has started hosting official Ref Clinics. This year’s clinics advance the formula and Sarah is here to answer some of RDIT’s burning questions about them. How you doing today?

I’m fine. Thank you for having me.

RDIT: So, what are the origins of the Ref Clinic?

The origins of the Ref Clinic…This whole movement started growing, right. First there was the Ref Comm and the Ref Committee has subcommittees in it and they were committed and dealing with education and bringing the concept of education to us. That’s been since the Bella GoGoSee days of trying to get this as part of our organization’s vision and mission. But the actual execution of the clinics comes from about two years ago, I wrote the original proposal to the Board of Directors of the WFTDA to begin some type of training cycle. And it’s had its’ origins inside of Ref Comm and outside of Ref Comm, but within the WFTDA and members belonging to it since the inception.

And I would almost kind of argue that this is the origin right now. This is our first major year. Last year we did several clinics and they were great. We were using a lot of the materials and we learned a lot from them and built a lot on them. This is the first year we’ve gone international. This is the first year that they’ve been marketed a lot, that there’s been supplemental materials completed like the manuals. So while this isn’t the beginning, it’s still certainly part of the origin in my mind.

RDIT: So who else is involve and what are their backgrounds?

Well there are several people involved. There’s actually too many people to name involved. And the way WFTDA works and the way a lot of just member roller derby leagues work, there’s people from all across the spectrum who drop in to help out on different areas.

The folks directly involved, I would say are the chairs of the Referee Committee and the instructors. The instructors have a huge involvement. They have written almost all of the materials. They collaborate together and write the majority of the lesson plans. Sometimes somebody will write one and then the other person will jump in and they just work collaboratively entirely on them.

So there are people in a couple of different subsets of the organization helping in groups. There’s leadership from the Games. There’s leadership from the Officiating side. There’s myself as the paid coordinator of the program. And then there’s the partners that we have and the hosts, member leagues and Skate Australia (in the instance of [the] Australia [clinics]). A lot of people have really put in a lot of time to make this happen.

RDIT: Yeah. It is really super cool that the WFTDA has been able to bring this international this year.

Yeah, it’s really great that we were able to find a partner. Well, in the case of going to Belgium we partnered with a member [Apprentice] league there. And then to expand ourselves into being able to serve larger geographic areas, as well as just larger areas of roller derby in general be it WFTDA or not. We were able to partner with Skate Australia, to bring [the Ref Clinics] to just a huge swath of another continent. So we are lucky in building those partnerships to go international. Grateful.

RDIT: So with all the people that are involved in the background, what kind of rules knowledge goes on. Do you guys have lots of back and forth about one rule over a different rule?

No, we don’t really. The premise of the officiating clinics are to teach officiating. And the rules are a huge part of that—they’re not all of it—but what’s taught at the Officiating Clinics is what is well vetted information. That information doesn’t start with any of the instructors or lesson plan writers (unless it’s like the obvious,you know, how there’s like the Grey Area and then there’s stuff that’s really set in stone). So, they’ll take off with stuff that’s really set in stone and build lesson plans. And then we have them vetted across the Rules Committee or the Certification Committee or various other areas in the organization. Sometimes it might be…we had a lesson plan vetted across Grievance. Just to make sure that when we share processes of how things work that they’re correct and appropriate for the organization.

So it’s the same thing with the Rules Committee. If you look at the lesson plans as concepts…and sometimes a plan is several concepts put together or standalone… Last year we were able to vet a huge amount of concepts by the Rules Committee and it took weeks if not months to go through them all. Now (until we have another rules change at least) we just build on one or two, three, four maybe new concepts and those are a lot quicker and easier to vet. But, yeah they’re vetted outside of the people who make the lesson plans.

RDIT: So the clinic is really about building up officials and refs and NSOs and not necessarily making them better arguers of individual rules.

That’s exactly what it’s about. And there are some areas as roller derby itself progresses there’s nuances that come out, there’s strategy of gameplay that—strategy of gameplay that requires being able to officiate…You know we had to learn all of this clockwise blocking and what is a clockwise positional block and all this stuff. There will be a new thing just like that in six months, or another year or next week. Who knows?

And we run into that at the clinics and if it hasn’t been vetted outside of us, like if there isn’t a sure answer, we’re really quick and just easy to say “We don’t know the answer to that. You should ask the membership/organization.” We’re here to help you put your knowledge, this pool of knowledge to best use. We’re not necessarily trying to cram all this knowledge down your throat. Because, when you look at the levels of the clinic, you are already supposed to have a good chunk of this knowledge and skating ability when coming into the clinics.

So it’s about giving the officials the tools and resources so they can put their knowledge to the best use. And be able to say, “I don’t know that.” Or maybe this guy knows or however it is that we come to that answer.

RDIT: Okay. How would you say the instructors and educators are chosen? Are people from all levels participating or do they have backgrounds in training derby?

Yeah. They’re all chosen by a panel. There’s a panel comprised of members of Games leadership from across the Pillar. When they apply, they apply with a resume. Previous experience…or any outside of roller derby experience ([The Pantichrist] is a teacher). Some people have experience they bring to the program outside of roller derby.

And then they are all looked at, all reviewed by the panel and they’re selected based on their previous experience with our program as well as success in that experience. And their outside experience, as well as their…own success as an official. You know, their certification. We don’t just select on highest level of certification. We have people certified Level 1 through 5 and we have two skaters affiliated with the program.

So we are looking for good quality instructors who know the game well, who know officiating well, have experience with the game, with the WFTDA. And then pulling in and culling in outside experiences is extremely helpful as well.

RDIT: How is a clinic run? What makes up a clinic?

A clinic is two days. We partner with a member league, whoever that may be. We show up, we as the instructors of the program, we show up with all of our materials, all of our lesson plans. We have maybe some worksheets printed out by the hosting member league, but they all come from us, from a centralized location. So we basically descend, we come in and help you do all your registration, make sure everyone is insured and everyone is safe and happy.

Then Day One of the clinic is group based activities and lecture-based activities, but it’s all in the classroom. Different types of interactive, getting up and walking around, as well as writing notes, breaking into groups. We cover several different areas, concepts such as psychology of officiating, or actual rules based information, or the nuances of sussing out the “who initiator is”, looking at the impact spectrum.

And then Day Two, we move into on-skates and depending on if you’re in Beginner or the Advanced program there’s different levels of skating competancy and challenges you’ll be presented with. Those are for the skating official track, there’s also a non-skating official track and in the Beginner clinic that’s two full days of a small group with an NSO instructor. And usually 6, 7, 8 probably less than 10 NSOs. And they go over everything. Every position. How everything works together. Everything about NSOing, from start to finish.

RDIT: Is that NSO portion new?

It is new this year, yeah. That’s a direct result of feedback that we got from last year.

RDIT: Any other feedback from last year affect this year’s clinic?

Well, I think there’s that and there’s also the NSOing in the Advanced clinic, which is more about NSOing at a tournament level. Being maybe a TNSO [Tournament Head NSO]. Being able to recreate bouts [from the Stats Book sheets], or pull them together and enter in information. That was huge. We expanded the skating section and from feedback from last year.

And we really learned to be experts at being able to determine what type…of succinctness we could answer Rules questions.

So, tightening our program up as far as us as instructors, but then expanding what we offer substantially in the field of skating and non-skating officials.

RDIT: I think that the new NSO portion is great. But I might be a little biased there. So, I’ll ask can you talk a little bit more about the Advanced on-skating training part?

The Advanced on-skating training part is expanded into now being three hours at least, sometimes it’s a little more. And it is about…Day One we talk about things like impact, initiation, gameplay (which is where all the stop/go/360 degree derby is taking place and we really break that down as far as officiating goes). And then Day Two, it’s all put on there.

So it starts with skating skills…working on acceleration and working on being able to stop and control your speed and get into position. All the things that often times when people get back their aggregated feedback from Ref Cert is: “You’re a little out of position.” Well what does that mean? That means that if you can nail acceleration better, if you can stop quicker while facing the track…all those kind of building blocks are brought in at the beginning.

But then the end for the advanced section is a lot about: Working the angles. How should you track your jammer as they come into and out of the backs of the pack? How can you purport yourself to be in the right position to see impact in a fast game? How about if everyone’s at a scrum of the dead standstill. How do we align ourselves? How do we communicate with one another inside/in the infield? How are we able to make sure that we’re in position if somebody’s in the front of it, somebody’s in the back of it?

This is also not prescriptive…”Oh this person calls out of play” and “…that person does that.” It’s not that, but it’s about to have that dialogue in your officiating crew be it right before a game or your home crew to figure out how we can be best in position to nail these things while skating. And skaters are brought in, and [the participants] track a pack and they go over just a whole bunch of different scenarios of being in the right—it’s called “Working the Angles”—being in the right position and getting yourself where you need to be.

And then there’s a full scale scrimmage. And the scrimmage is dependent on, a little bit on the member league has, like if the member league can fire up their scoreboard—that’s what we did when we were in New Orleans [where Big Easy Rollergirls hosted]. There was a full scoreboard and a whole complement of NSOs and we had a two and a half hour, almost three hour scrimmage.

So the officials will shadow depending on the…ratio of instructors to skating officials in it. They’ll either shadow the participants or the instructors will be shadowed by the participants and we switch groups out.

And every five jams or so—depending on what we decide in that area, so far it’s been that—and talk about it:  How does this go? What do we want to change? How can communication to the inside whiteboard change? Or what might be a better way to go about reporting from the outside? Are your hand signals clear enough? So we really break down the executables of the scrimmage.

RDIT: The mechanics.

Yeah, the mechanics. And we do full NSO paperwork and talk about it at the end.

Another thing, just to tag onto the previous question that’s different this year, is that we’re administering full written and Skating Skills tests, the Referee Certification tests. And so after the scrimmage we have time to go over the scrimmage with people or go over their tests with them or test on-skates officials. So there’s kind of this debrief time now at the end that’s different as well where we can talk about those three major categories.

RDIT: Sounds like a full weekend.

It is indeed. (laughs)

RDIT: So for my fellow pink shirts…What kind of things are in there for your dedicated NSO?

If you’re in the Advanced one, the dedicated NSO thing kind of blew my mind. I’m not gonna lie.

So, they do a bout recreation—I can’t tell you where it’s from—but there’s a couple of ‘em and they’re just fascinating events that have happened. So they sit for hours and they go over each sheet. And Miss Nomer and Pantichrist and Umpire Strikes Back are our three NSO instructors, depending on where you land. And so one of them will go through with you, sheet by sheet, how to cull together that information to figure out if this wasn’t score here is it because of five other sheets away…and it’s amazing and it works really good. And you will get a whole lot of information about how lineups are so important for your bout. How they are really one of the key features that helped to put together the bout at the end.

So that’s in the Advanced. And if you’re a beginner pink shirt and you’ve been around, you’ve NSO’d some games, you know the rules, you have a good concept of what’s going on… The Beginner [clinic] is just two full days of every single thing about every position. It’s just amazing the amount of information and interactivity.

They get up and they have some different games they play, and different ways that information is broken [out]. [They’ll break] into groups and discuss and bring back. But it just goes through, literally every position and talks about: what it would look like in a tournament? How there’s different ways you can setup your whiteboard? How to do everything as long as it falls within the parameters of the Standard Practice options we cover it.

So the information for the NSO is—it’s just so thorough. Our NSO instructors, previously and especially this year, are just are absolutely brilliant folks in our organization and the information is just mind-blowing.

RDIT: It sounds like a lot to me, but for someone who is just sitting on their $100 or leagues that are thinking about sending their officials for $100 a pop—Can you make the case for sending someone to Derby Camp for a weekend?

For skating or non-skating?

RDIT: Either

Either. Yeah, I mean it’s amazing. It really…the information is so well vetted and put together that I see people in the audience, every single one and some I’ve seen at multiples, and you’ll explain…we’ll have our robust discussion about the Impact Spectrum and I swear to God in an Advanced clinic…the looks of just “Oh! That’s totally what that means.” Everyone—just watch ‘em—like *ching* *ching* *ching*, like the cogs in a spring lock all just falling right into the same lockstep of a consistent understanding across the board. It’s amazing how well the information is starting to be able to get that home for people.

So then people take that back to their home leagues. And it’s not just the information they take back, but they take back: this new way to get information. To think about using their Officiating Manual. To think about using some of these key concepts.

One of them for instance is being able to track 20 feet on a curve. Once you learn the little trick of how to do that, it’s amazing it works so good. So you take this back to your home leagues. You are a better teacher and a better instructor to your skating/non-skating officials. You have more productive and sensible scrimmages. Your skaters get an enormous benefit from being able to replicate bout-like situations or conditions at your scrimmage.

Being able to ask difficult and poignant questions. What happens if everyone lines up behind the Jammer Line? Well, now there’s a new [Publication] and we know… But to be able to get people some of these same answers, really helps a skater because then you go travel…you’re from the East Coast say or you’re from Ohio where you’re from and you go travel to the West Coast. You go to Rose City or who knows. And you can expect the same the same thing, because the folks have been given the same information, and delivered the same way in this thoroughly vetted but free flowing, sharing of information way. It’s not lectured at. It’s this new environment to be able to interactively learn.

So your skaters have a consistent experience no matter where they go. Your officials, so I’m a little biased towards officials, but your officials have the tools and the resources to succeed and to find success in their image. Nobody—you will not go to a Ref Clinic and somebody says, “Success looks like being a jam ref at a Big 5 tournament” because that’s not what success looks like. Success looks like the scoreboard guy at Houston’s next game nailing [it]…being in good talks with the scorekeeper and you know… Success looks like everyone getting to be a part of this sport that they love and doing it the way that really works for them and that’s great for them.

And to be given, as an official, Official Answers on everything that you can think of (except for very tricky unanswered rules questions) and to be given an opportunity for supplemental materials and to be able to talk this through in an interactive learning environment…it just takes so much of the mystery out of it. It takes so much of the old days where you had to find somebody who really knew…to teach you and hope you could get your opportunity.

None of that is needed anymore. Now if you’re WFTDA, if you’re not WFTDA, if you play men’s/kid’s/banked/whatever—anything that we know we’re going to tell you. Because it’s not like…it’s not like… I don’t know, it’s just not like it was you know? It’s everyone working together to get this information out and it goes to everyone. And it just helps tournaments so much. And it helps your officiating career.

Skaters in a league, send your officials because it helps your scrimmage, it helps *your* officials, it helps—so far there hasn’t been a downside that I can see of why you wouldn’t want to send [your officials].

And I know you are sitting on $100, and I’m going to do my best to not only make that $100 work for you but hopefully turn it into something for you one day too.

RDIT: Oh, are there future plans on how to fund clinics next year and years beyond?

I think the question is not how to fund them, but it’s what to do with any spillover profits. And that is a WFTDA issue right now, but it has been tied to the clinic from the beginning that the funds, if there are—if we ever do see any kind of profit—that they go back into the officiating community in some way or another.

RDIT: WFTDA Ref Clinics not profiting off of officials. So to sort of tie things up… Do you think anybody can become a quality WFTDA official and this will help them get there?

Yeah, I believe that with all my heart. I mean anybody who loves roller derby and they don’t even have to be a WFTDA official—you love roller derby, we love roller derby. Anyone can be great at officiating, it is hard work and it is thankless work and you’re going to pay a bunch of money to travel all over the country. There are a lot of downsides to officiating, right. But if you’re in it to win it and you know…you don’t need to come into this with anything.

When you hit our clinics, you need to know the rules fairly well and if you’re going to skate, you need to be able to skate and that’s it. But coming into that, anyone can learn that. Anyone can go to games, talk to people, learn rules, build themselves, build, build, build…join a member league, eventually go to an Officiating Clinic, start reffing interleague.

There’s a proper path that will really support anyone out there…former skater, your dad, your little brother, the kids, the boys and girls who officiate in the junior leagues right now…all those folks can come to be amazing officials in whatever form of derby it is that they love.

RDIT: Final question. “Zebra Lover” bumper sticker or derby slam?

(laughs) Well…I think if you refer to it as the “dazzle”, which is the group of zebras, it’s a little more subversive. (laughs)

I don’t think it’s a slam. No, I think most officials…I don’t know it’s where you…I forgot what it’s called when you learn to put down your own kind. But, I think most officials are okay with “Zebra Lover”.


It won’t be on my car though. Not yet

RDIT: (laughs) Thanks so much for joining me. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to ask them in the comment form below. Hopefully we can get some feedback—continue the conversation. Anyway, it’s been Sarah Hipel, WFTDA Ref Certification and Training Coordinator. And you’re listening to Roller Derby Inside Track.

Image courtesy of deadeye