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  • Is refereeing Juniors an advantage to a referee or not?

    By Scott Rogan

    Before I discuss my opinion on that, let me declare my interests here. In have been refereeing and referee coaching in Junior Rugby for a long time and I currently work appointing referees to the junior and most weekend schools competitions in Sydney.
    At the peak of the season I would appoint to somewhere north of 300 games of rugby over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So now you know where I am coming from.

    Having said that, I referee coach at senior level and have a son who referees at a senior level with the N.S.W. Referees Association. The way things currently stand in Sydney with Premiership and Suburban rugby being played on a Saturday and Sydney Juniors predominantly being played on Sunday, referees can indulge themselves on both days of the weekend.

    I am a big fan of referees starting out in junior rugby, learning your trade, gaining experience before moving upwards. Referees will get to a stage in their development where they will have to give away the junior game but for a good period of time it is an advantage for them to be involved. I have seen many of the current top level of referees in Sydney develop from junior ranks into Shute Shield referees and beyond.

    I watched bemused one Saturday morning some years ago as a then current test referee send off an Under 10s player at a local oval for punching. This referee had refereed the night before in the then Super 12 competition. The next morning he walked to the local park and refereed this 10s game as a recovery session and he wanted to give something back to the game. He thoroughly enjoyed his time with the kids (despite the send off) and unwound a little.

    Some years later another test level referee would seek appointments for Under 9s and 10s on route to Shute Shield matches on a Saturday as a relaxation and a bit of fun. Neither of these guys sought praise for what they did, nor did many of the kids or parents there know who they were, but they were thankful for the games they provided.

    There is a period of time in the life of a referee where they cannot referee enough games. I am of the belief that once you are comfortable on the field and in your ability to referee, you go out and referee, referee, referee, and refereeing kids is the ideal environment. Junior rugby will provide you with so many different levels of game and experiences that will hold you in good stead later. From the low level, low skilled match where you end up coaching more than refereeing, to the testosterone filled game of 14-15s where violence is never far from the surface, to the high skilled, high paced 16s or 17s game that at times is far better quality than many lower grade Suburban games. Your refereeing and game management ability will be tested at every stage. One game you are rescuing a low skilled match, then you have your hands full controlling testosterone filled 14 year olds that have no ability to reason at all, then chase that same 14 year old 70 metres in a runaway try only to have his head spin all the way around like Linda Blair at the next breakdown and you are back to policing again.

    Recently I coached a referee in a 1st grade lower grade Sydney Suburban match. The referee is an experienced referee that has been around the block once or twice. He referees kids on Sundays. So this game, well within his ability should have been a pleasant afternoon managing 1st v 3rd in an open game of a pretty good standard.

    Wrong!

    After 1 straight red card for stomping and a yellow for a high tackle to one team in the first half, the 2nd half got worse through no fault of the referee. The team on the wrong end of the cards self-destructed through their lack of discipline and the yellow card became a second yellow card therefore red for a leading forearm whilst in possession of the ball.

    The team captain then lost the plot and was close to becoming the 3rd yellow card for the match. The game finished with the referee having to deal with the Vice Captain with a very lopsided penalty count that he couldnít address, despite using every management tool at his disposal with no change. I asked the referee if he could find the positives out of this game?
    He was pleased as punch that despite the cards, difficulty in dealing with one of the sides the game did not degenerate into a total shambles with fighting consistently (which always threatened). He related to me a game some years ago of Under 16s that was similar in nature. He admitted to having handled that game badly and having a running street fight on his hands and having to abandon the game. He had learnt a lesson and made the right changes, about 10 years apart.

    I guess the point I am getting to is this. There is no substitute for experience as a referee. We will all have bad games, make mistakes and make game changing errors. Learn your trade from the ground up, gain the experiences you need to have in games at lower levels so you donít make the bad error at the top level where the pressure to succeed will be far more intense. Strive to succeed but donít short change yourself the experience of failing. You will be a far better referee for it.
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Rushforth's Avatar
      Rushforth -
      Nice article, even though I can't imagine refereeing 300 matches in a season! Admittedly when I say "30+" it is match days; if I counted sevens and beach matches individually I'd quickly double that.

      This season I will be primarily refereeing U17 (called juniors here) and U15 (called cubs), because they play on Saturday, and I want to coach on Sunday. I find it very rewarding indeed, although I prefer adults (or rather, refereeing as opposed to coaching!)

      It is great that a current test referee was there for under-10s! Despite the (alleged ;-) punch incident reported, the younger they are the more honest and clean.

      And yes, especially at the age hormones are kicking in, it is quite possible for a game to go south. Fortunately I haven't had that with juniors yet, if you exclude the incident at national finals day where I whistled for a tip-tackle and scanned the field to make sure nobody was charging in to impose their own justice. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the tackler do a Henson ... the tacklee being the guilty party.

      Management is very different between Seniors (whether elite or not) and Juniors. Safety first always, but even firster with younguns!
    1. Browner's Avatar
      Browner -
      It's interesting to hear that such an experienced referee can struggle with the testosterone fixture, These are arguably the most difficult age group that I experience also, compounded by the Captain having limited influence/persuasion skills on his players. Great article.
    1. SimonSmith's Avatar
      SimonSmith -
      I'm convinced that as a younger referee, my Saturday Adult, Sunday Colt arrangements was of huge benefit to me.

      It helped the learning curve, and showed me a wide range of rugby and management challenges.

      Iwas also helped by the fcat that many of the Colts games were at clubs generously stocked with Assessors and Referees on Sunday mornings - Basingstoke, for example.
    1. shadowrider65's Avatar
      shadowrider65 -
      I love referring juniors. This is where the passion starts. My prematch always includes a reminder that rugby is a game that should be enjoyed and that are playing primarily for FUN.
    1. Dickie E's Avatar
      Dickie E -
      Quote Originally Posted by shadowrider65 View Post
      a game that should be enjoyed
      as opposed to ...?
    1. shadowrider65's Avatar
      shadowrider65 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dickie E View Post
      as opposed to ...?
      Sometimes coaches of junior teams forget this simple aim. Some coaches, and perhaps some clubs take junior games a little too seriously.
    1. crossref's Avatar
      crossref -
      Quote Originally Posted by Browner View Post
      It's interesting to hear that such an experienced referee can struggle with the testosterone fixture, These are arguably the most difficult age group that I experience also, compounded by the Captain having limited influence/persuasion skills on his players. Great article.
      my observation is that experienced refs who are unused to reffing kids tend to under-estimate the level of skills and knowledge for the age group and are too forgiving, which infuriates the opposition players/coaches.

      also they can be uncertain about the details of the Law variations applying, and can fall victim to plausible urban myths presented by the coaches.

      But on the positive side: on some occasions when we have - for one reason or another - had a very senior level referee appointed to a junior game, it has been a great experience for players and coaches alike: on occasion referee will have expectations of the players, epecially the captain, that are greater than the players are used to, and if the captain can rise to meet those expectations, which is possible, then a great game of rugby can break out.

      A very experienced ref (who is au fait with the age variations) tends to quieten the coaches as well.
    1. didds's Avatar
      didds -
      Quote Originally Posted by shadowrider65 View Post
      Sometimes coaches of junior teams forget this simple aim. Some coaches, and perhaps some clubs take junior games a little too seriously.
      and I'd add to that sometimes the coaches and clubs get it right but parental/elder sibling influences are not "on message".

      didds
    1. dave_clark -
      Quote Originally Posted by crossref View Post
      But on the positive side: on some occasions when we have - for one reason or another - had a very senior level referee appointed to a junior game, it has been a great experience for players and coaches alike
      one of my former colts players once mentioned that he was playing in the national school sevens tournament, and thought the referee looked familiar. mid way through the second half he realised - it was Wayne Barnes. i'd guess that this was March 2008, so after WB became an international.

      great experience for the lads, and it wasn't a high profile school (so no ego massaging for WB).
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