Urban Velo

Crush Polo — The Rise of the Ref

ref featuredFor those of us who do not actively engage in reviewing the boards on League of Bike Polo (ALL HAIL!), there was recently a topic and interesting conversation about creating more legitimacy around refs (if you like, you can read through it right here).

Forum posts and conversations about getting refs into a better position for bike polo officiating isn’t uncommon. In fact, I’m willing to say that this conversation is one that comes up right alongside the best mounting system for mallet heads, mocking people who are still playing on fixed gear bikes, and whether scoop shots should be legal. But unlike all of those other conversations, I think this one is actually, well, important.

Ok, ok. I really enjoy people who get worked up about the legality of scoop shots. People act like a dog with rabies on that one, and it’s high-larious.

At the core of the conversation on LoBP (ALL HAIL!) is the recognition that refs don’t have enough clout to demand respect, are under-appreciated by the NAH, and need to be given special privilege in order to really help officiate the sport and move it in a way that is less focused on group consensus and much more so on cut and dry, good officiating. There are a few ways to go about determining how much of that argument is true, and how to go about making those things happen if they are indeed the path forward.

First, let’s talk about clout. I think it’s a fair thing to say that nobody wants to listen to someone who has no idea what they are doing (look at congress (har har har topical humor)). The problem with how refs are chosen currently at a bike polo tournament is that they aren’t necessarily qualified in any way. The conversation goes like this:


Panicked organizer: Hey you there – you ever read the NAH ruleset?

Drunk, only-playing-for-2-weeks-guy: The one that says something about clubs?

Panicked organizer: Perfect! Go to court three – here’s a whistle!


This works just fine if you see the ref as someone who just kinda keeps time and initiates the game, but it’s not good for much else. The problem we’re bumping into today is that players are used to that mode of recruiting refs, and because of it they aren’t willing to listen to the ref no matter how well they blow their whistle.

 NOTE: not always, and I want to stop here to note that there are some awesome, dedicated people who are willing to and have been refs for tourneys. But this isn’t the standard. There. Now I feel like I’ll cut down on some haterade you’ve been brewing up for me. At least a little.

So the first step, as I see it, is making sure that the refs who are overseeing games are qualified to do so. This qualification can be anything from a little ol’ test given them before they are permitted to ref to a full blown certification. Either way, there has to be a level of expectation that the ref knows a standard amount of rules, and that no-matter who the ref is, they will be able to recall and implement that standard set of rules.

Next, let’s talk about the NAH/ref relationship. Speaking in generalities—as I am known to red-carddo—the ref and the NAH should be thick as thieves. However, the NAH has been kinda quiet on the front of getting refs the stuff they need to be true refs of the sport. It would be great to see a training program, some monetary support (so we could have refs that travel to event to ref, not to play and also ref), or even just some sort of recognition for being a ref. This is probably the most ambiguous requirement I have, but I think it’s a big one: the NAH is recognized as a governing body of the sport, and transferring some of that recognition to the refs (who are the governing body within a tourney itself) is pretty damned important, in my book.

Finally, special privilege. Refs really don’t get anything for being a ref right now, and that makes it hard to recruit people into being a ref over, let’s say, just playing in the tourneys they go to. I don’t have a super clear answer on how to address this, but I have a few ideas. For one thing—and I’ve mentioned it before—refs should be paid. Either with cash money or with travel compensation/free stay/free meals. It’s not easy to ref.

It’s not easy to ref.

It’s not easy to ref.

You play grab ass, you get a night in the box.

You play grab ass, you get a night in the box.

Got it? It’s hard. It takes a lot of energy. Thankless energy, I should add. So compensation should be addressed if you want to get refs who are both up for and excited to be the single point of enforced rules in a tourney. Furthermore, refs must be given full control over the game they are overseeing, and that control should be paramount to the control of the hosting group. What I mean is this: if a player blatantly commits a foul, argues with the ref, and then becomes vengeful (basically a danger on the court), the ref should have the right, with the blessing of the organizers, to throw that player out of the tourney. This helps assure that the ref has some legitimate power in the games they are reffing, they are recognized as an official, and players don’t try to argue or ignore what they have to say. This will only work, however, if the ref is as professional as we can make them. It takes something respectable to give respect.

If I use my imagination, I can see a time not so far from now where refs are brought in to officiate tourneys solely. They aren’t players who don’t have a game to play and they aren’t newbs from the hosting club who don’t have a team to play on. They are people who are vetted and certified from an organizing body, who know the rules and the grey areas that they need to make judgment calls in – they are able to deal with angry players and confusing calls, and able to handle that responsibility all day alongside other “professional” refs who are capable of conferring with them on calls and plays.

So why shouldn’t we aim for that?

About mlkabik

Matthew Kabik is the editor of www.lancasterpolo.com and a bike polo player. He is also an editor of an actual paying gig, but it's boring to hear about. Matthew lives in Lancaster, PA and his first bike was a restored 1968 Schwinn Typhoon. If that doesn't give you an idea of what kind of guy he is, nothing will.

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  1. SamFebruary 27, 2013 at 11:05 am

    You might want to look at how women’s flat track roller derby has built up their officiating crews. They have officiating clinics and certifications to help make the level of officiating on par with other sports.


    Anyway, something to think about as bike polo grows.

  2. CrusherFebruary 27, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Thanks, Sam. I’m going to check that out.

  3. JoeMarch 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    I’m sure you were writing this before I commented on that thread but here are the facts:

    2013 was the advent of a referee committee.

    This committee is working on online certification, which will be mandatory for 2014 nah events (and 2013 NA’s and Worlds), as well as a template in-person training/certification program that will need to be replicated regionally.

    2013 will also feature an overhaul of the ruleset. Mostly for language, but rest assured there are some experienced and talented folks whose task it is going to be to overhaul these rules to make them more enforceable.

    This is a multi-faceted issue and if we build the infrastructure, the rest will follow.

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