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The "third" team
By Ken Brody

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We’ve all heard players yell at an official, “Hey ref, there are two teams out here!”

Well, guess what? They’re wrong,

There are actually three teams out there: two teams playing, and the third team officiating the action.

Yes, the referees, especially in the two-referee system of roller hockey, need a great deal of teamwork in order to provide the players with the highest degree of safety and fairness during the competition. Not only are the players always scrutinizing and judging referees, but the referees are also constantly critiquing each other.

One aspect referees judge each other on is compatibility; the ability to work together. It is a very unsatisfactory feeling to be disjointed from your partner official—to feel as though you are on an island by yourself. In that case, you usually will be giving the players two sets of game conditions to play under, one in your zone and one in your partner’s. Talk about mixed messages.


Promoting teamwork

Let’s look at some of the ways to promote teamwork among referees.

It starts before the game. Both referees need to discuss with each other game-day issues, such as the importance of the game; the history of the two teams against each other; the history of certain players against each other; the emphasis that the league may place on certain types of fouls, and how they want to handle fouls that are committed in front of the other referee. The last is of utmost importance. Some referees don’t mind what their partner calls no matter where the infraction is on the floor. Other referees are extremely sensitive about their partner making a call in front of them.

Whether you can agree on this issue or not, you have to at least let your partner know what to expect. What I tell my partner is if I see a foul in his area that I feel I absolutely positively have to call to ensure the safety and integrity of the game (for example, a blatant violent stick foul), I’ll give him first shot at calling it, and then if he doesn’t call it, I will. And I expect him to do the same.

Here are some sets of conditions that occur during games.

Inexperienced official with inexperienced official. Hopefully, this situation will occur only with the youngest players in competition, but it will happen due to the lack of experienced referees available. There are two keys to help create a positive atmosphere. First, each referee must concentrate on doing his or her own job, and not worry at all about what the other ref is doing. Second, you need an experienced off-ice official (such as tournament director) who can deflect any criticisms of the referees away from ruining the game, and who can help the referees with rule interpretations. The teamwork will eventually stem from each ref’s better knowledge of his own abilities.

Experienced official with inexperienced official. In this situation you have the greatest potential for learning—the inexperienced referee learning from the other what it takes to be a good referee, and the experienced official learning what it takes to be a good leader. This situation calls for the highest degree of visual communication between two referees. The experienced official must constantly be ready to help his partner by letting him know the best positions to be in; by being ready to cover for him; by making penalty calls not obvious to his partner, and by protecting him from unreasonable criticism.

Teamwork means allowing the inexperienced official to make mistakes of effort, and discussing them after the game. It also means the experienced official must “take over” the game when his partner proves incapable of handling the situations confronting him. Teamwork here means each referee knows he can use his authority equally during the game, while deferring to the experienced official’s knowledge for those situations during play stoppages that call for rules interpretations.

Two experienced officials. This situation poses the greatest opportunity for top-notch hockey to be played. The players know they can play their style to the limit, without cheap penalties being called on them. The “borderline”—that fine line between penalty or not—is well understood by both referees, so championship-level hockey can be played to the fullest: the flow of the game will not be interrupted by unnecessary whistles.

Basics of communication

By “getting the calls right” I don’t mean yelling to your partner “He’s hooking! He’s holding!” Verbally, you can say either, “I’ve got the front of the net”, or “I’ve got the puck.” Visually, you can look into your partner’s eyes and see what he is watching, and then you can view another area. Two experienced officials also know how to break up a fight together; know what to watch and what to do during any stoppage of play. And usually they will confer before assessing any penalties during a multi-penalty situation.

If two experienced referees show little or no teamwork, then you have a formula for disaster. Every time one official calls a penalty, the other one will think his partner is trying to show him up. The players will sense this disharmony, not know what style of hockey is being allowed, and get angry. Angry hockey players take their frustrations out on the opposition, so the referees have created a potentially violent atmosphere.


Ken Brody has been a referee for ice, floor and roller hockey for 20 years. Currently he is the head referee for the California Cup and NARCh.



This first appeared in the 09/1996 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Feb 6, 2007, 07:42
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