Friday, November 7, 2014

Reflections of a Referee

A referee should primarily be in the background. It’s an idea that goes well beyond my time in the middle of the pitch. It makes me be careful in how I interact with other members of the quidditch community, it prevents me from appreciating the sport from the role of a spectator, and it almost kept me from writing this article. I instead opted for a token veil of anonymity that some of you will see straight through, given the very small set of people I could possibly be.

This past weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship (MARC), I was one of the three non-player referees attending. And for those of you who were there, you probably know that means I was a member of the crew for the finals. There are so many topics from this event that I could bring up, from the varying quality of assistant referees (most of them needed more self-confidence) to the widely different ways players treated myself and my crews (calmly explaining concerns in a game goes 10 times further than yelling at us or insulting our abilities). And maybe I will write on these topics in the near future.

But for now, I would like to convey my experience, as a non-player referee, in tournaments such as this one and in the community as a whole

On the Pitch 

People generally assume that we remember the games we ref similarly to how a spectator does. Often people come up to me and ask how a game I was on went. All I can tell them is how clean or dirty it was, and how I felt I did as a ref. I could not tell you how good the game was from a gameplay perspective. People have said the MARC finals was one of the best games of quidditch ever. And while the ending was certainly exciting, I simply don’t remember enough of the game to judge that statement. That’s not something I see in a game when I am on the pitch.

From the moment brooms up is called, I push everything to the background. Literally my only concern is the play I am watching. I am often not even aware of who is making the plays in front of me but only what team they are on. Names and faces disappear. People I interact with several times a day often go unrecognized. Even legal great plays that happened earlier in the game are quickly forgotten.

Of all the awesome clearly legal plays that probably happened around me this weekend at MARC, whether I was a head referee or another member of the crew, I only remember a grand total of one: Erin Mallory’s goal at the end of the finals. And even then it was a close (though clear) call with the clock. The only other plays that have stuck with me are ones where I had to make a call. Either I was making a call for a particularly bad foul, or it was a very close call (or non-call), or someone specifically asked to talk about the play later. Other than that, I truly have a short memory in the game. I don’t remember my time in the background; I remember those times I had to step out of it.

Off the Pitch

Unfortunately, the ref mentality does not always end when I walk off the pitch. I’m sure I would appreciate this sport even more if I could stop thinking like a ref when I am on the sidelines. That off switch, however, is not so easy to find. Whenever I watch a game from the sidelines, I inevitably end up backseat reffing. Anyone who has sat beside me during a game knows that I can’t help but ref the game in my head. It actually becomes a bit painful to watch. This is not because the ref is bad. It’s just that, unlike when I am reffing, I am actually seeing the calls that are being missed. I even backseat ref myself when watching videos of games I was on, whether I am watching for training purposes or not.

Constantly being in ref mode like this keeps me from appreciating play from a spectator standpoint. Similarly to when I am reffing, but to a slightly lesser extent, it’s not the great plays that stick with me; it’s the fouls (calls missed or made). For that reason, I have all but given up on watching this sport. Unless the one team I actually care about is playing (yes, I have one), you won’t find me anywhere near the pitch on my games off. Instead, you will probably find me near HQ, the merchandise tables, or wherever other inactive head referees are congregating. Sometimes I’ll even look to jump into another game as an assistant.

I do often wish I could just turn it off, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. It’s something I wish I hadn’t lost in my move to reffing. But when I think of what I provide as a good referee, and the pride I have in myself for how far I have come and the work I have done, I know it was far more than worth it.

In the Community 

Quidditch has an amazing community of people. Sure, it has its bad eggs who do tend to be the loudest and most noticeable ones online. But what you have all hopefully realized is that, on the whole, this community is full of wonderful, friendly, and welcoming people. It’s something a lot of people like about the sport, and seeing all these people again is something players look forward to every time they go to an event. And, to an extent, I too look forward to seeing you all. But every time I go, I have to keep my professionalism intact and keep that pesky little reminder in my head—a referee should primarily be in the background.

That means that I can’t afford to become too close to any team or good friends with many players. While I am confident that I can keep such friendships from affecting calls on the pitch, I still can’t risk it even appearing like it might have. My relationship, at its base, must remain professional. So while you will still see me joking around with players and being friendly overall, I avoid letting it go beyond that. With the exception of the players on the team I care about (who I will never ref anyway), and two or three other people, my only good friends in the community are snitches, tournament leaders, and other refs. I do remain my normal (hopefully funny) self in all of my interactions with players, and I do try to be on a friendly basis with many of them. So I still have lots of fun with my time around them, but I just cannot afford to let the relationship stop being professional.

One could easily let themselves view this as a loss, but, at the same time, I am not truly missing out. I am still having fun around those players, and I have a wonderful time at pretty much every tournament I go to. But I have also earned the opportunity to be part of another community. The referee community is its own great quirky group in its own right. It is the quidditch community of the quidditch community, and I would not give it up for the world. 

Different Experience, Same Result 

While I have these differences from players in how I experience the game, I am sure of one part of the experience that I share in common with everyone who shows up. We all feel pride and fulfillment from our performance when we do well and frustration when we don’t. We all strive to improve. It’s just that when players do well, people notice and their skills are directly appreciated. When a referee does well, by the very nature of the refereeing, they are generally not noticed by the community at large. That lack of recognition can be frustrating at times. At some level, everyone wants recognition for his or her success. But while it would be nice to have such recognition, I know that I have succeeded because I have remained primarily in the background, and so I am happy to be there.

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