Today was the day of my first formal referee training: the RFU Level 2 (Refereeing a 15-a-side game) course. Don’t get confused, this is the entry level for referees. The Level 1 course is for referees who are involved in junior rugby.
I turned up at a (not very) local rugby club for a course with eight other “starters” though I use that term loosely given I was the only person with no playing experience at all.
Who was there
There was a mixture of young players aged 17 upwards, and an older guy who I would put at around 55-60. Some of the older attendees had a huge amount of first-team rugby experience and were still actively playing at a high standard. I immediately felt out of my depth, but I was there now so stick with it! The worst outcome would be that I ended up with all the free kit (red/yellow cards, whistle and lanyard (yes – another whistle!), a ref’s notebook and law book.
The course is a mixture of classroom and practical work. We had fantastic weather so the instructor made the most of it and we did a lot of work outside instead of being stuck in a classroom all day. It is possible to do a lot more class-based work if necessary.
We started with a discussion about the Core Values and what this meant to us as referees. We also had a chat about what we were looking for from the course and what our fears were.
It was clear that this was a good crowd. Which isn’t surprising really. A bunch of people who are interested in rugby, play it, coach kids and are willing to give up time refereeing are probably going to be a all right!
We quickly moved on to what are the qualities of a good referee and then went out for the morning practical session. After a quick discussion on inspection of kit and pitch we talked through the importance of a warm up and then went through one. We followed that with whistle practice (yes you read that right) and then into practice of refereeing as we oversaw a game.
The game started as ‘rugby netball’ (i.e. pass forward or back, but you can’t move with the ball) and quickly moved on to touch football.
WARNING – If you are not a rugby player then you need to understand how to play touch rugby. I had no idea what the laws of the game were and was lost for large parts of the session. And for any of you experienced players out there thinking this is simple, it really isn’t when you don’t know what the offside rules of the game are for example.
Anyway, the rules of the game are made more complex as the session continues and at the end of each mini-session of a few minutes feedback is given to the player taking their turn as a referee.
WARNING – When there are a small number of you (4-a-side for us) this is an exhausting game. We were all knackered within 10 minutes. I’m still stiff this evening.
Lunch, and the on to discuss context, materiality and advantage. Some videos where we analysed the play and what the referee did and then discussed whether advantage should have been played for example. In these exercises the huge gap between my experience of the game and that of the players came out in spades. It was great to listen to them discuss the ins and outs of a situation and what the players were doing and planning. I was out of my depth but learning a huge amount.
We were then back outside to play Touch again but this time with the aim of looking at the materiality of infractions and also how well we played advantage. Before each session some players were asked to deliberately play in a certain way (e.g. continuously go off side).
I was completely thrown by adding this aspect of the game. Watching a fast moving game, positioning, looking to play advantage, signalling correctly. It was a baptism of fire and I didn’t do all that well to be honest.
What did I learn?
I came away made even more determined to become a skilled referee from the starting point of a complete novice. And far more aware of how challenging the first few games are going to be when there is so much to watch and remember.
Day 2 of the course in a week’s time!