Respect Your Ref, Please and Always

If you’ve ever been to a high school football or basketball game in America, then you know there are more than a few people who think they know how the game should be played and officiated.  As a Hoosier (native of Indiana), I can tell you that probably most people in Indiana have a good sense of basketball.  Not only that, we’ll tell you how to run the offense, when you should use man-to-man vs. zone defense, and when to call a time-out.  We know the game, and we’re not afraid to let the coach or the officials know just what we think.

I say “we” in a general sense – most of us are actually pretty good, muttering under our breath when an over-the-back call is clearly missed or a blatant travel goes uncalled.  We know our limitations and understand that while we can recognize a pick-and-roll, not all of us can actually perform it well.  But don’t tell that to the few folks with the vocal cords to match their opinions!  I’ve been to elementary school games where a few parents have genuinely spoiled the experience for everyone involved.  It’s not fun and quite frankly, I feel badly for the kids no matter the team.Ref at NC Ruggerfest 2014

So when I discovered rugby, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of “coaching” from the parents and fans, and a greater respect for the referee.  Of course, every now and then, there would be an exception to that rule, but for the most part we were all staring wide-eyed out into this vast field trying in vain to understand just what was going on.  It was actually a huge unifier for parents of opposing teams – bonded as we helped each other figure out the game (I was on the receiving end of help for my first two years, for sure).

The most difficult part of not knowing about rugby was learning about the tackles.  It’s one thing to be up in the stands many yards away from the field for a football game, thinking your son is safe because he’s wearing pads.  It’s quite another to be feet away, hearing the tackling sounds, and seeing the “unprotected” kids going down to the ground.  So, any “coaching/officiating suggestions” from the sidelines were probably geared towards hitting and tackling, because we just weren’t used to this and we didn’t realize that the tackles being made and the rules applied to them were so different from those in football.

The deference to the rugby referee isn’t accidental.  It’s part of the Code of Conduct that we parents sign off on here in Indiana, and it is part of the rugby culture.  Only the coaches are entitled to speak to the referee, and even then the opinion of the referee is respected.  Parents are instructed to keep quiet on the sidelines regarding calls made.  I have a great deal of respect for our rugby referees because I know how hard they work so our kids can play this game.

Referees need to be certified in order to work youth matches.  And, your state rugby referee society may offer clinics from time to time for newer referees, or to help seasoned professionals understand rule changes.  If you see a referee clinic offered in your area, I highly recommend that you sit in on the session.  You will learn a lot, hear the nuances discussed in great detail, and perhaps have a greater appreciation for your local rugby referees.

In our club, we have a “culture keeper”, a designated individual for each game who maintains a cordial atmosphere.  Luckily, we’ve never really had to remember who the culture keeper is for most games because we have a fairly good group of parents.  In the event of a parent or fan speaking rudely to a referee, perhaps “suggesting” medical devices such as eyewear, he or she would be kindly asked to refrain from such talk, or be asked to remove themselves from the playing field.

Our Kindly Ref at NC Ruggerfest 2014

I asked The Ref, Cody Kuxmann (an American Ref in London who also contributes to Rugby Wrap-Up), if it was any different in England.  He said that “what [he’s] realized is there’s a lot more discussion here afterwards. [Perhaps] it’s a cultural thing, though.… English are polite in general, but the discussion can end up being ‘You were wrong; here is why I think so.’’ Cody feels “that America’s yelling is a bit different” and that “as talent goes up in America, it gets worse as more people know what’s going on.”  In England, he’s “noticed it gets worse” but believes it’s more of a numbers game due to higher attendance.

I hope that our atmosphere doesn’t change too much when people get more familiar with the game.  Personally, I like this culture, and I like just enjoying a match without feeling the need to coach it.  So, if you’re a newbie rugby parent, remember:  While you may be close to Michael Jordan in your knowledge of basketball, or John Madden with football, you don’t have to be a premier rugger like Jonny Wilkinson to enjoy the game.  Just watch it for what it is – the most fast-moving, exciting contact sport on the planet.  Oh, and give your rugby referee a thank you and a hug!

Share your comments below, and follow me on Twitter  @Mumscrum!  You can also find me on Rugby Wrap-Up!

Youth Rugby Wants YOU!

Rugby 7s is on NBC, I’m watching snow squalls fly past my window and next to me sits steaming hot coffee.  Perfect!  I wish our weather matched that of Las Vegas, but I’ll settle for watching the USA Sevens Las Vegas Invitational on television.  (Actually, if truth be told, I love the snow and this has been a great winter for that!)  I’m passing the time waiting for our Eagles to play later today, and just getting excited about watching our high school players in a few months… provided the snow melts.  🙂

During the off season, while mums and kids are making sure they’ve got the proper equipment to survive the next 3-4 months with zero unexpected trips to the sporting goods store, lots of coaches and referees are using this time to further advance their rugby education.  There are coaching and refereeing classes going on in all corners of the country right now –  just check out USA Rugby’s website (Coaches: ; Referees:  With all of these classes available, now is the perfect time for those of you who play/played rugby to help us expand youth programs!

In the movie Breaking Away (great movie, by the way), Cyril says “We may plead, but we would never beg.”  I’m definitely pleading. And I may beg.  All of us involved with rugby, whether in a parental role, player, coach, referee, administrator, etc., want to grow this sport in a proper manner.  That means having coaches and referees who are certified and know the laws of rugby.  The best candidates for these roles are those who are currently playing or have played in the past.

If you’ve played, you’re more familiar with rugby laws than those of us who just watch from the sidelines.  We need your expertise.  Our kids need your expertise.  Rugby Development Officers in many states are actively working to teach rugby to kids through Rookie Rugby, Try On Rugby, and other programs.  Once the kids have learned about rugby, it’s imperative that we have opportunities in place for them to pursue the sport.

It’s amazing how many people I meet who played rugby in college.  They come out of the woodwork!  I am thinking of at least 3 people I know just from living next door or through friends that could help by coaching or refereeing.  Our future rugby coaches and refs are our friends, neighbors, co-workers and maybe even our relatives!  Currently playing rugby in college or high school?  Consider getting certified now to help us out in the summer or fall.

Share your love of rugby with a local program; let your heart be warmed with a child’s smile as he/she gives rugby a try. (And for a quick peek into how youth rugby can put smiles on kids’ faces, take a look at this video from Rugby Indiana:

These things don’t magically happen; it takes dedicated individuals to make it work.  Maybe that dedicated person is YOU.