How the new Ref Certification Program is dragging North American Bike Polo (Kicking and Screaming) Towards the Future
Earlier this week, the NAH released the new 2014 Ref Certification site. On the surface, this seems like a natural progression to share the rules and make sure people are at least flipping through the rule-set in order to get a passing grade in the section quizzes. But after some pre-release testing and experience with the new system, it’s very clear that there is much more going on.
Rules and bike polo have a strenuous relationship. Bike polo players, as a generality, are very willing to ignore rules when it’s convenient. That sounds like a mean-spirited snarkism, but in my experience it’s true. Because of this, the NAH of the past found itself happy if people simply accepted there was a rule set in general. It made them weak as far as governance went in tournaments, and weaker still when it came to training up refs to enforce the rules at all.
The Beginning of Training
Last year, however, the NAH introduced an online system of quizzing for potential refs to become “certified”. In essence, it allowed for the NAH to assure that people who wanted to be refs were able to parrot back sections of the rule book in the form of a multiple choice quiz. It was effective in that it encouraged folks who wanted to learn some manner of having a test at the end of study, but it wasn’t exactly engaging and certainly one-dimensional. It was, however, a start.
This year the certification program has changed, and it adds a few things the program was lacking as of last year: explanations and challenges.
More than Check Boxes
A minimum of two paid and certified referees per court, available to be scheduled throughout the duration of the tournament. The names of these certified referees should also be sent to the Referee Committee prior to the qualifier. So, for a qualifier with two courts, four names should be submitted. These certified referees do not need be scheduled the entirety of the weekend. It is recommended that a certified referee oversee the scheduling responsibilities. This underpins what will be a single-referee system throughout swiss rounds and early bracket games, moving to a double-referee system later in the bracket.
After the meeting the basic requirements above, if the organizer wants to schedule unpaid, uncertified referees, that is their prerogative. It is also recommended to have certified referees scheduled for all winners bracket / late losers bracket games, especially when moving to a double-referee system. If a region has significantly less teams, NAH will make exceptions to this requirement case-by-case.
As you can see, refs are
- Not competing in the tourney (in theory, but not stated outright in the paragraphs I chose above)
- Doubled up on the final games (a complaint I heard time and time again at Worlds and other tournaments, that reffing requires more than 1 ref)
Compare this to the requirements last year, and you’ll see a near herculean change in expectations. Refs are acting as the foot soldiers of the NAH, exactly as they should be.
The certification itself is a series of quizzes based around each of the sections of the rule set, as well as a final section that includes video viewing and written analysis of what penalties should be called, why, and how that differs from last year (all of which is submitted and graded by Joe Rstom at the very least).
The quizzes are challenging at times, and purposefully so. I found myself cross referencing the rule set during some section’s quizzes. The video section is remarkably difficult, which is both revealing in how hard it is to ref “live action” play and how valuable it is to practice having your eyes on the game while looking for infractions.
The Value of Conversation
One of the keenest points that the new certification program provides is conversational explanations of each section. Reading the rule set is perfectly fine if you’re a robot, but if you’re a human (no offense to robots) you’ll need a bit more to really understand how rules work in the bike polo world. Take for example this outstanding explanation of technical penalties:
The delay of game penalty prevents players from impeding the progress of the game to gain an unfair competitive advantage. Players are not allowed to intentionally remove the ball from play to stop the clock, and alternatively, pin the ball to run the clock down. They cannot move the goal to prevent a shot from going in or abuse the rules of restarting play for. This rule ensures continuity and fairness.
The unsportsmanlike conduct is intentionally left open-ended. This rule allows the referee to issue penalties to players that are disrespectful and distruptive. Players are expected to control their tempers and opinions in such a way that respects other players, referees, officials, and the spirit of the game. Of course, civil discussion is allowed to a point, but excessive verbal abuse will not be tolerated.
How is this different? Instead of just reading the two or three lines of rule in the rule set, we’re sitting down with an experienced hand courtside and having them explain what the rule means when applied. We are getting the story behind how to enforce the penalty, when not to and how to tell the difference. It’s having a teacher rather than having only a book.
Bigger Than You Think
The ability to train and prepare a generation of refs is enormous. It allows for players to better understand the dynamics of the game while also making the playing field more even. It gives the NAH and players a chance to really understand what rules are working and what rules are not, as they should be evenly enforced.
The new NAH Ref certification program is a powerful tool not only for the NAH to further cement its role in the bike polo world, but also one for players to define their relationship to the sport. Knowing the rules to play by gives players the chance to work on skills and techniques that compliment those rules (instead of ones that are strictly against the existing laws of the game).
Furthermore, the expansion of the certification program demonstrates the ever growing presence of bike polo as a solidified, cohesive organization. That’s something most of us can recognize as a positive for a sport that suffers from a severe identity crisis nearly every year.