My Venture Into Refereeing

Firstly I want to start with an apology as I haven’t been able to update this blog in a while. To cut a story short I’ve had a pretty busy November when various things went wrong, including my laptop. Thankfully it’s been fixed so hopefully I can continue with business as usual. Also during November I managed to obtain a referee qualification through Welsh Fencing and for that I’m extremely grateful. I have to thank Mark Ridsdale for organising the course and of course our fantastic FIE Referee Lynn Melia who ran it. I definitely felt I benefited from her experience, while she’s sent me on my way to becoming a better fencing referee.

I don’t know why but I’ve never been one to shy away from refereeing even though and let’s face it, it can be pretty unforgiving. Hardly a week goes by without someone bashing a reff in some sport or another while I’ll happily admit that I have accused the odd rugby Referee of being useless. Honestly what sort of megalomaniac wants to be a referee? This view point is of course entirely unfair because we depend on Referees to conduct games and bouts in a safe and fair manner, while they make playing sport easier. Admittedly at times they do get things wrong although who doesn’t suffer from human error especially in high pressure situations? Never the less I’ve never really avoided refereeing since I came back to fencing. During my first year as an undergrad I remember the then Men’s Team Captain encouraging me to do a qualification because “if someone disagrees you can always point to the fact you have level one”. I didn’t follow his advice though because I couldn’t find a course that was convenient. That said an opportunity came up to do a course in Liverpool while I was living in Bangor which was easy enough to attend. Although I didn’t take it because it clashed with a competition I helped run, something with hindsight I regret. So when I heard Welsh Fencing were doing a referee course I jumped at the chance and emailed back at soon as possible.

I’ve always felt that I’m a competent Referee although I’m willing to acknowledge my weaknesses. I remember turning up to compete at a Welsh Fencing team competition and reffing the foil one week, then turning up the next and reffing the Sabre. Both times no one questioned my decisions (even after I was hit on the head with a Sabre guard) although there was an incident during Sabre. We were fencing the lads at Vale who got overexcited. Admittedly I was at blame as I didn’t make my decision clear enough, as soon as I explained that I couldn’t award the hit due to a clash in the middle of the blades they soon became quiet. Then again my reffing style has always been very descriptive and based on a fencer I came across while at Bangor. Something I’ll need to address if I was to pass the course. I don’t know why but I’ve never been great with hand signals, possibly due to the ad hoc way in which I learnt the rules, something else that would need looking at.

I’ve always thought that fencing would be better if the referee would verbally describe the action because let’s face it they can’t be any worse than some fencing commentators. While if I’m reffing young children I want to describe the actions so they gain a better understanding of the sport. That said I fully understand why this isn’t adopted on the international stage. Fencing is a global sport and it would be unfair on the competitors if the referees were to conduct it in only one language. That’s where my favourite bug bearer hand signals come in. Hand signals are there so everyone can have a basic understanding. Also if every reff was to start explaining the action it would inevitably slow things down. So when you have hall times and the odd TV and Internet Stream to consider you can understand why hand signals take president. Another weakness of mine is that I was not as aware of some of the rules as I should have been. For example I couldn’t tell you what the length the piste was. While knowing the exact length of tape to insulate a foil has never occurred to me and I double up as an Armour. When I re-tape a foil my measuring device is the palm of my hand.

So on a cold November morning I ventured to the Welsh Institute of Sport armed with a phone, in which I’ve downloaded the latest material and technical rules. A notepad and for some reason an array of armoury tools, to cut another story short I wasn’t certain what to bring so I packed my backpack with anything that resembled the stuff found in the Leon Paul Referee Kit Holder. The day went swimmingly; it was a mixture of practical and theoretical advice and just what I needed to combat the weaknesses I mentioned above. Afterwards we did an exam which went well although I couldn’t help but feel cold. The room temperature was fine although I always feel a bit cold when doing tests. That said I now know what it feels like to be a first year Chemistry student as I’ve never done so much multiple choice in my life. The results were later emailed (and I passed, baby!) while I left knowing that I needed to do a bit of swatting up on hand signals and the odd rule.

The course was done in two parts firstly the theory (completed) and the second part, a practical at the Welsh Youth Foil, taking place the week after. But before I got there went to reff a Varsity competition at Aberystwyth University. No sooner as I had walked through the door I was nabbed by the ex-Aber club president and persuaded to referee Sabre. Five Sabre Team matches soon went by with clear instructions and little deliberation. It was excellent practice and something I found easier than practicing hand signals in front of a video. I left with a smile on my face and an acknowledgement of a job well done with the voices of “thanks”, “well done” and “good luck” still ringing in my ears, sadly this would have been wiped by the next morning.

I arrived bright and early, all freshed faced anticipating what the day would bring. It was only until I was handed the poole sheet, or poole sheets in my case, that I truly appreciated how much hard work goes into running a competition. I soon felt like Rhod Gilbert on one of his Work Experience episodes, especially the coach tour as I had a mental check list as big as Eamonn Holmes’ grocery list (or some form of gag) in my head. Having to organise ten under 10 fencers, who for many was their first competition was tricky. For a bloke who’s a lonely child this was a tall order, although you can’t accuse me of shying away from a challenge as with hindsight I would have agreed to take the poole again, mainly to see if I could run it better. With a little help from Lynn who helped check the plastrons (I still find that process a bit weird) I soon found myself in my stride. As expected some of the children were a little bit shy but I felt I conducted the poole in a safe manner. Don’t get me wrong I couldn’t get them to sit where I wanted, while I was triple checking the poole sheet like a mad man for fear I’d make a mistake thus affecting the results and plummeting everyone to their deaths (ok I might have over exaggerated but you get the picture). I was even building up a good rapport with the kids, but no sooner as I felt comfortable I was asked to move. I was asked to referee another age group which was fun as I got to see more differing styles while someone else took over the poole sheet. We then had three quarter of an hour’s break before I was given the under 10’s and under 12’s finals and semi finals. After a slight confusion over what score the Under 10’s were supposed to go up to (sorry) the first semi final went well and again I felt comfortable and ready to go through the sheets I was allocated. I even built up a correspondence with one of the parents as to when I wanted their child on the piste. But no sooner as I had finished the first DE I was dragged to do another age group then taken off altogether which was doubly frustrating. I ended up helping to make sure one of the fencers wasn’t covering while in between watching the Turin stream. But at the end of the day it did give me time for some self-assessment. I don’t know why, possibly my tone of voice or the way my mouth moves the air but I can’t shout or whisper in English, I can in Welsh but not in English. While again I could have made the odd decision clearer, I’m going to combine my descriptive and my newly adopted hand signals. Having said that I did pass, while I have been invited to the British Youth Qualifiers so it couldn’t have gone that badly.

All in all if you can find a course then I would highly recommend doing it. It was a lot of fun while I already want to see whether I can go up a level. Fencing needs more referees and it’s another skill I’ve added to my arsenal.

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