Better ref'ing

Comments about this discussion:


Seeing as we come from a lot of different countries with different traditions, skill levels and the like, I thought it might make sense to open a general discussion about how we can get better refs. We all agree that ref quality is a big factor in the overall quality of the game and that it was pretty poor at the last unicon. I thought we could share our ideas in one single discussion rather than this coming up in all the various discussions.


I think the biggest problem we have is that we expect teams to volunteer refs. This makes it super hard to police who actually gets to ref and internal team politics often means that the ref may not even be the best ref they could place. Also, there's a big difference in the pace of the game and what to look out for depending on who plays, so even if you're used to ref'ing you may still be overwhelmed in a new tournament. Beyond this each individual national league have their own system further complicating things.

I don't think anyone alone have all the answers, but I do think this is something we should have a discussion about. I think a great thing would be to have a semi-permanent forum of hockey leaders from different countries where issues can be discussed as they happen – there's probably a thing or two we could learn from each other.


Thanks Magnus for opening this discussion. Indeed it is very challenging to have better referees, but it seems to be very important for the future in order to have less discussions.

1) I think it would be interesting to see what other countries invest in Referee training. We cannot have better referees at the UNICON than the referees from our country leagues.

2) As you mentioned, not always the best referees from the countries / teams will be send as referees to the UNICON. What are reasons therefor?

3) In my eyes it would also make sense to have a referee meeting at all UNICONs before the tournament starts. 


I can talk about Denmark here. We typically play in our clubs and so for most games there's no need to be a ref since no really tense situation arises. We don't have a league and as such we just meet once yearly for a tournament. In 2017 I was annoyed that there were only 4 refs and so in 2018 I just made a decision that each team must place a ref in each game. Obviously when people just play for fun and often with house rules it's hard to have trained refs.

As for the refs placed in tournaments it's typically super stressful to have switch between ref'ing and playing. When tournaments are the only places where people actually get to ref it makes sense few people are trained, especially when they end up weaseling out of it. There's also no penalty for a team to enter a ref who doesn't know the game.


For the Danish nationals next year I'm going to have a smaller group of refs who're just refs (would be cool with someone international too) since I don't think it fundamentally works when people switch between ref'ing and playing. This will also make it easier for us to set a consistent line between refs since you don't need to find them for each game. We will have some ref training beforehand, something I'm still figuring out.


I think for Unicon the same thing should be done for hockey as with freestyle: each country can place a certain number of teams based on how many refs they volunteer. I would happily volunteer to ref on a different day than when I'm playing if that means there'll be proper refs for my games. It'll obviously need to be announced sooner rather than later so people can start training refs. This could also go some way to solving the issue of teams not knowing the rules.


For 3) I totally agree – there needs to be a meeting between all refs where issues are discussed and we make sure we ref consistently.


14C.1 Hockey Director
The Hockey Director is the head organizer and administrator of hockey events. The
Hockey Director is responsible for the logistics and equipment for the hockey competition.
The Hockey Director is in charge of keeping events running on schedule.

Should write some more basics for world and continental tournaments (IUF response) what we expect the hockey director should be responsible for or should we use the chapter "14D Event Organizer Rules" and add here something? e.g.

- nomination to a referee pool

- referee meeting ending with referee guidlines

- captains meeting ending with additional guidelines



At the most experienced hockey club in Australia someone refs every game. Whichever team is not playing gives a ref and usually we rotate through as no one wants to ref every single game. That way at the end of the session, 18 games later, almost every person who shows up refs one game, It is quite minimal time-wise as you only ref one game in 3 hours but you still get practice.


For our tournaments we originally had the rules as you ref the game BEFORE your game, we changed it because it meant team captains (who often reffed) were not able to discuss things with their team prior to getting on. Now you ref the game AFTER your game, you don't have to search for refs as they were right there on the field.


Reffing is always a difficult one, but it's good we're discussing this.

I should also note my reffing experience for those who do not know: even though I am currently living in Belgium, I have only lived here for the past 9-months. I'm from the UK, and I played in the UK for ~5 years', and also lived in Australia for ~1 year - where I played hockey with and against Steven, so I can share his same thoughts with reffing on this one. In the UK, we never really had rules for who needed to ref... If anyone was experienced enough to ref during a tournament, they could volunteer to ref during a game, and sometimes a less experienced ref could be the second referee. Without having a structure of who reffed a game, this could sometimes slow the transitions between games while finding someone to ref the next game. From this experience, having a structure like how Australia do is better.

"3) In my eyes it would also make sense to have a referee meeting at all UNICONs before the tournament starts." - I agree, and also agree with Herbert that the Hockey Director should be responsible for organizing this.

"For the Danish nationals next year I'm going to have a smaller group of refs who're just refs (would be cool with someone international too) since I don't think it fundamentally works when people switch between ref'ing and playing. " - Finding people who want to travel to a hockey tournament JUST to referee is very difficult. In other sports, referees are paid to be there. Finding someone to do this for free, however, won't be easy. Especially if you want multiple people to do this. At a Unicon however, it would be easier if someone with lots of hockey knowledge to do this when they are not competing etc. 

In my opinion, the best way to get better referees is for people to practice being a referee during a more local/smaller tournament. I agree that each team should have one or more players who are experienced enough to referee at a Unicon, and it should be down to those people to train themselves by practicing refereeing in their own country prior to a Unicon, so they can be ready.

I've also been thinking about the best way to enforce this... A rule? A note to captains when registering for a Unicon? Maybe it is best for a note to captains when registering for a Unicon to say something like "registering as a captain, you agree to volunteer one experienced referee from your team to referee other games when needed during the competition."... This is just an idea. Of course, the Hockey Director will need to sort who referees which games beforehand, which could mean that more referees are needed.

Australia rotates referees well. As Steven said, reffing AFTER your game means that the players are already there, and you do not need to search for that particular referee.


So I agree it would be hard to get people to travel to be refs and but we would likely cover some travel costs. It is something that has been done in a number of freestyle events though. Still figuring things out.

As for Unicon I think a lot of the issues we had this year was exactly that teams didn't have refs ready. Now I do believe it's fair to expect teams to help make sure the tournament runs but asking for refs caused a bunch of problems. Regardless how well I ref, I may still get a shitty ref in the next game, something that either sours the experience or directly changes the outcome of the game (by missing a close call say). This ultimately undermines the competition as a whole. Otherwise we need to disqualify teams who don't send a ref or send a bad ref, but I that goes against the spirit of Unicon.


Personally I would be happy to volunteer to ref at the next Unicon, provided it doesn't overlap with my game days. I believe it's up to the director and chief ref to find enough refs for the games, but I also don't see any reason why it can't be done. We are relying on volunteers and not teams for a number of other roles (director, time keeper, etc), so I don't see why refs couldn't sign up this way too.


I partially agree, it is up to the director to ORGANISE refs, but not to FIND refs.

What I mean is that the director could make a decent effort to talk to each team before hand and be like "we need this many refs I know you guys have a decent number who can, how many do you think are at a good enough level for unicon, can you talk to them and see if they are willing etc etc etc". 

But I don't believe the director should have to FIND referees if we as players don't help them out. If all teams refuse to ref then its not up to the director to go find referees, We have to actually volunteer for our own sport to make sure it is represented well. Possibly we could run a refereeing workshop on day 1 or 2 and make it a requirement that each team must send a representative to take part. 

One very large problem is that we will always have bad referees from certain teams due to lack of practice. A refereeing workshop would go a small way to giving them experience into how we think and encouraging them to referee in their own teams at home.

I would rather two Swiss B players referee Australia vs Swiss A than have a referee from a team/country that doesn't regularly practice refereeing. I have more confidence in their ability to be impartial than I do in a non practising referee doing a good job. I will possibly request this option at future unicons if I think that we aren't going to get a decent display of refereeing.


You're making a good point about the impartiality of refs, however I don't think that's as important as the quality of the refs. Also, the current system of expecting the teams to ref will naturally be biased towards whoever has more teams, since they'll have to ref more games.

In Korea we placed two Danish teams in the B-tournament, meaning the ref roster had to be adjusted anyways. My feeling is it would be easier to resolve these issues with a known roster of volunteer refs, since it would be known in advance which games will cause conflicts and more non-conflicting refs could be called in then :)


For this to work we would be assuming that we have enough refs who  would "volunteer" to referee games and are good. I referee most games across all divisions at unicon but I don't do it because I want to spend 6 days reffing I do it because sometimes the referees are crap. Many good referees would choose not to referee as much if they got the choice to "volunteer". They would rather relax and watch the games I think.

We could try and create a volunteer list but I think we will end up with less referees, which will mean they each have to ref more games which will result in fewer volunteering for the next unicon as they end up reffing the entire day. A more safe option is force each team to provide a number of referees, have a referee meeting/workshop and talk to them all about refereeing and then use the better referees with more experience for games that require it/are more hotly contested.


You're probably right that fewer people might volunteer, but that's a problem for other events at Unicon too. For instance freestyle always get the judges they need. I think they use a combination of direct outreach to potential judges, a list of people who have been judges before and then there are some super judges who will judge performances a whole day. I imagine street and flatland go by similar systems. I don't see why hockey shouldn't also go by a system with proper refs.

That said we might not have all the answers right now. As far as I can see we should expect each league/country to be able to place a certain number of refs – I don't have doubts that the Germans, Australians or Swiss leagues can place good refs but there are other countries (including Denmark, my own) that should do a better job.

I also think this is something that can be handled at a team captain meeting before the first game (which should be mandatory). If there's 5 days of play something like 30 refs should be found (2 teams of 3 refs per day) and each ref would only have to ref half a day – not impossible. If the director has something like 10 or 15 refs before the meeting the rest can be volunteered at the meeting – simply refuse to let anyone play any games before enough refs have volunteered. Some of the muni and road unicycling events at Unicon in Korea almost got cancelled because of a lack of volunteers, but lo and behold at the last minute enough volunteers signed up so the events could proceed.


"A more safe option is force each team to provide a number of referees, have a referee meeting/workshop and talk to them all about refereeing and then use the better referees with more experience for games that require it/are more hotly contested." – this is how it worked at Unicon in Korea and it's not a good system. It's hard to know which games will be more hotly contested and there can be games which are at once lopsided and on the other hand have a lot of fouls in them. Further, it was not communicated that this was the system and so it's suddenly left up to the players to request a new ref. This system also requires a lot of refs on standby and ultimately lets the refs the team place off the hook since they'll just be replaced.

Again, I'll personally happily volunteer on times other than my own games, but I'm not going to hang around in the gym as a standby ref in case something gets out of hand. A better system is just making an effort to have the refs we need and that's something that's totally doable with a bit of foresight and planning.


I do not believe that refusing teams the right to play because they can't produce a 'good enough ref' is the right way to go about this.


"I do not believe that refusing teams the right to play because they can't produce a 'good enough ref' is the right way to go about this." – 100% agree.

However, if you make it a rule that a team needs to be able to place a ref in a certain number of games, it logically follows that teams who cannot produce a ref would face some sanction. Otherwise the rule has no teeth.


Anyways, just to clarify, my thinking was that the entire tournament wouldn't start before enough people had volunteered as refs. Regardless if you volunteer for few shifts or many shifts, you depend on other people to volunteer as well. In muni and road racing being very clear that the competition could not take place unless more people volunteered produced the volunteers needed for the events to take place. Hockey is the same.


Requiring volunteer of a certain number of refs before competition begins does not help us. This only guarantees we have enough refs, not that we have enough good refs.. We had no shortage of refs in Korea, we had a shortage of good refs.

To improve what we had in Korea you would need to make a referee register of some type and only allow those "good" referees to volunteer.  Being pressured by people who cant refs to ref their games because otherwise "they cant start" would not be popular.


This problem needs to be fixed by countries/teams realising it is a requirement to practice reffing and read the rulebook when they play together, instead of thinking it is acceptable to be poor and therefore not be required to ref and making people who have put in effort to learn the skill to ref their games. How many players haven't even read the rulebook themselves meaning they don't know the intricacies of specific rules? It is quite high even though its 12 pages long.


There was a referee from a french team and a referee from Taiwan who both impressed me at Korea, neither were the best, but both asked about rulings I had made to improve their reffing. We need to get other people to go through this effort, not force the 10 referees who have made an effort to ref every game for those who refuse to put in any effort.


And in terms of Street/Flatland/Freestyle judges.

Street and Flatland usually needs 5 referees and you get to sit in the best position at the venue on a comfortable chair and rate everyone as they ride what you planned to watch anyway. And you get fed. I judged street and flatland at European Championships in 2017, its quite enjoyable.

Freestyle needs more judges but also get a good comfortable seat to watch what they already planned to. One of the Australians who has never done freestyle in his life was judging the dismounts for them at Korea so they must still struggle to get the number required who are actually "good"

Hockey (if you want to be a good referee) you need to move up and down the court making sure you have a good vantage point at all times, you have to run over and place the ball for goal balls and corners, do face offs and jump out of the way of tennis balls so they don't contact you. The view is probably worse than being up in the grandstand. If you are an A player reffing B/C games you spend most of your time penalising a team and then the opposing team does the exact same infringement because neither teams have read the rulebook so you are forced to ignore (non safety) rules or the game doesn't go anywhere. It is less attractive reffing lower grades as it is reffing the A grades but most (not all) of the good refs are A or high B players. A comp rarely has an issue with enough good ref, B/C is where it is an issue. 


There are lots of reasons teams may not have read the rulebook or tried reffing, including that they don't play much at home or that they normally play with different rules. It can also be that it's just a team of young players who would be so intimidated by the game that they end up being ineffective refs even if they correctly call the fouls they see.

If the principle ends up being that the teams should provide the refs it naturally follows that teams that can't provide a ref or where the ref is not good enough should not be allowed to participate. I think if that's the consensus, someone should go ahead and make that rule proposal.

Another thing that could improve the situation would be that there isn't a ref 1 and a ref 2, but rather that if one stops the game that overrules even if the other has ruled an advantage. We had a situation where the 'good' ref didn't call a lot of stuff because the other ref didn't rule on it.

Alternatively, making a schedule so that at least one good ref will be at each game would be a huge improvement.


As for street/flat/freestyle it may be true that some people get something to eat and were going to watch the events anyways. I don't see why hockey couldn't also provide sandwiches for its (volunteer) refs, so that's not really an argument. And while some people who have rarely judged before do get to count dismounts it seems like a feature of the rules that people can take part without being experts. It would be great to think about similar systems for hockey.

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