Club rugby is upon us and you may or may not be involved in this yet as a new referee. However, your time is coming in the not too distant future as junior and secondary school rugby is approaching. Before it’s your turn to be number one however, being number 2 or 3 in the referee team can provide you with lots of insight as to where a referee may be positioning themselves or managing their players. It may even show you aspects of the law that you haven’t quite uncovered yet. So, keep an open mind in the lead up to your first game and if you can, take up the flag in the meantime because all rugby is good rugby. Pictured above is my team from the weekend, the 2 guys, and my coach (along with family), that were there on game day to ensure I did the best in the moment. My AR was an example of a lifesaver this weekend, giving me the thumbs up call when I couldn’t see because I had been stood on by someone at least twice the size of myself. That support, teamwork and passion to get the best game of rugby we can on the day is, in the end, what rugby is all about.
So, it’s your turn and first off, welcome to the dark side my friends. It is the road less travelled, and a road that is seriously opinionated and a little bit weird at times, but all the more fun to be a part of right? You’ve potentially been to a meeting or two and sat there with googly eyes, wondering how the hell you are going to remember all of the valid (and sometimes not so valid) discussions that went on around you, for when it’s your turn in the middle. Have no fear, I’m about to break down the first time you hit the paddock without that gross mouth guard in or those biased spectator sunnies on.
You have your bag packed, whistle in hand and gear on, ready to hit the road to the field, but where are you even going?! That’s a great question to ask yourself, and one I find (as a chronic google mapper) that I ask myself every week. Knowing what field you’re on and how to figure out if that has changed is crucial for your prep, however for your first game that could be the assessor or coach that is watching you’s problem (just make sure you have their number!). This person is your go to for any concerns pre, half time and post-match, they’re the ones who are there to protect you and support you through this experience so don’t hold back any questions or concerns.
They leave you alone. Gapping it to the side-line and leaving you to fend for yourself. This is probably when the panic sets in and you wonder why you are even here and why you aren’t at home watching Netflix like last week. Well, this isn’t last week anymore grasshopper, so hop to it. These crazy thoughts you’re thinking are super normal to experience and go away the instant your own whistle rings in your ears and your legs run off without you. My first game was a total blur, all I remember was looking at the side-line and seeing all the people watching me, judging me and seeing me be the biggest amateur in refereeing. What I didn’t realise until later, was that only my family and coaches were watching my every move, all of the others were every man for themselves and their own kids, which is a total relief. After that whistle blows though, the side-line is non-existent (unless they’re not exactly nice) and you can’t hear a thing or notice who was even there.
So, the main thing (and I’m going to sound corny as hell right now), is that you enjoy the experience and the vibes it gives you as you give back to one of the biggest sports in New Zealand. That first game, yeah that’s all about you, it’s kind of a selfish experience really, so live it up. These first games are often in the younger grades so nobody really cares if you make a mistake, they are just grateful to have a ref that isn’t their coaches that swap out at half time this week. Constructive feedback from your coaches is always a given in these experiences, but they are largely of the positive kind which is great for morale. So, even if you feel like you stuff up, it isn’t as important as the experience and the attitude to grow from the game.
My final reminder is that this game isn’t a world cup, you aren’t as cool or as switched on as Nigel Owen’s so don’t put that pressure on yourself before-hand. Nigel still had to learn somewhere, and one day you may (but probably won’t because he’s the man) end up as awesome and as great a referee as him.