Why is this a winter sport again?

Ignore how dorky I look

Check that positioning. Beauty.

Hi everyone, long time no blog, I know. This is approximately 95% due to exhaustion and 5% due to writing blog posts in my head which makes me think I’ve updated when I haven’t. Possibly because of the exhaustion.

Anyways, there has been a couple of games I’ve refereed, though way less than my usual number, which is good because my knees are not happy. The right knee in particular, which I’ve dislocated multiple times, is at a low-level grumble most days now. I don’t think it takes a psychic to see arthritis in my future.

A couple of weeks ago, I was again roped into chasing after the Falcons, in what may be both the epitome of how rugby can embrace all comers – and the most improbable game to ever happen ever.

On one side were the gays. On the other side was half a dozen guys with special needs, plus a number of ring-ins. It was a blast. The score was a predictable blowout in favour of the team with fewest cognitive impairments (or at least, as few as you get in a bunch of rugby players) but that hardly matters. Rugby was definitely the winner on the day.

Fast forward a week, and I was determined to not referee. I’d had a week of earlies, terrible sleep, and the weather was utterly pants. It was really really cold, and raining, and blowing a howling wind. The kind of wind which drives straight through my boney ribcage and chilled me from the inside out. I have a big down jacket, and I wasn’t getting out of it. The other team had to provide a ref and they could damn well provide it.

Of course I ended up doing the game. It was a good one even – but really, blue fingers are no. Can’t remember the score because I didn’t take it, I have previously had the joy of attempting to take score on a freezing day, and the only thing worse than not feeling your fingers is trying to write while you can’t feel your fingers.

This afternoon I’m set to referee some Japanese girls playing sevens. One of them is billeted with one of my neighbours. The weather appears to be both cold and miserable.

Once more unto the breach, my friends!


Improvements all round

remueraRemuera seem pretty stoked after their win

Tournament week is over, and well done to Easts – who won the Bill McLaren tournament; and Remuera – who won the Walter Dickson. Both very good teams who played consistently good rugby.

I had the same game today as I’d had on Tuesday, playing off for 5th and 6th, but what a difference. Both teams had figured out how to play together, and they played good rugby. I only had to speak to the captains once. It’s a pity there’s not another week, the teams would probably be unrecognisable.

Although the pain in my hips and knees is reminding me that I’ve been doing a lot of refereeing and I didn’t exactly treat my joints nicely in the past. Owwie.

The tournament saw some complaints about referees coaching teams, or blowing too many penalties. Two sides of the same coin really – coach a team too much and the opposition will get rightly irritated. Blow too many penalties in the hope the players will get a clue (Pro-tip: They won’t) then that team will get irritated.

No one wants to be on the whistle the whole game. At this level, the kids want to run with the ball and score tries – not take endless penalties. I kind of see my role as facilitating that desire to run and score – if there’s doubt, I’m always going to rule in favour of positive play.*

But if I do coach a team, I don’t want to sound like a coach. Coaching should be a collaborative process, but if I get too collaborative with one team, the other will (probably rightly) accuse me of bias. So I just try to make it sound like I’m telling a player off, rather than helping him. Kids this age can spot someone trying to be their friend a mile away, and it’s not going to happen. Instead I use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ so it sounds like an obligation, and hope to work with mutual respect between me and the players.

(Aside: after uni, I very seriously considered going to teachers college to become an intermediate school teacher. I think kids this age are really cool.)

Personally, this tournament was much MUCH better than the last one. It was really great to get positive feedback from teams, organisers, and from the other referees there. I enjoy the feeling that I’m improving, even if I’m not refereeing higher grades than in the past, the games are still getting better.

Three trips to Oareki Park, plus one down to Dunkirk Road, and the kilometres traveled comes in at just over 100 for the week. I’m almost at 900 total, which is like 80% of the way from my flat to Christchurch.

*Note: This is at under 13 level – if you’re old enough to actually read the rules, I’m going to assume you understand them, and my tolerance for illegal play drops as your ability to play rises.


Tourney Time!

It’s that time again – school holidays, and under-13 zone tournament time. In Auckland there are two tournaments – Walter Dickson, which is weight-restricted and divides the city up into 8 zones, and Bill McLaren, which is not weight-restricted, divides the city into four, and features 12-year-olds who are bigger than I am. These two tournaments play simultaneously over five days, with 4-6 games on every day.

The kids in these tournaments are usually pretty okay. The adults involved as coaches and spectators… Not so much. Last year I copped plenty, and this year, while I’ve been mostly given a reprieve, there have still been some displays of terrible sideline behaviour.

And it affects the kids. In my game today I had one unbelievably irritating halfback, who was parroting all of the ‘advice’ I was receiving from a loud bloke on the sideline, only at a much higher pitch, much closer to my ear. Eventually I penalised him and told his captain if I heard him yell again (I resisted saying ‘squeal’ but that’s what it was) each time would be another penalty. Halfback eventually got the message.

And yesterday featured an absolute gem, from one coach to his team at half-time. He had them gathered round, all 22 boys, and was yelling* at them

“Do you want to shake hands with them knowing they dominated you? That they made you look like a bunch of girls?”

Gobsmacked, I tell you. Passed it on to the organisers today – Not impressed all round.

The games are good, fast, and mentally exhausting. The kids are SO fired up, and often their skills don’t match their enthusiasm or aggression – so it takes a lot of management to stop them from getting frustrated. I’m going okay so far, as well as working a full shift in the evenings, so lets hope the wheels don’t fall off immediately!

*Why are people who are inclined to yell a lot allowed to coach kids sports teams? Yelling is not an appropriate coaching technique at that age – these are kids, they should be learning positive behaviour, as well as rugby.

Serious post time

Super Rugby - Crusaders v Blues, 5 July 2014

Not pictured: Colin’s flying mouthguard

I was going to post about tiki-touring all around south Auckland and how irritating it is when teams just don’t show up and how much I hate mud.

But then some serious stuff happened and I’m now going to make a serious fucking blog post.

Jordan Kemp, a seventeen -year-old club rugby player from Northland, is dead after two head knocks. And what adds to that punch in the gut is that when we found out, we weren’t surprised. No one is asking how this can happen. We know this happens, year after year, and the only thing that makes this newsworthy is how young this kid was.

Northland has been doing some great things in as far as concussion management. Jordan was eased back into play over four weeks just like we’re told he should be – medical clearance and everything.

Well, medical clearance by a GP from a small town with no specialist neurological training. Eased back into play by a coach who thought putting him in headgear would help prevent another head injury (note: it’s actually the opposite).

I’m not blaming those people, or the NRU, or anyone. I’m just pointing out that we are putting the health of our amateur rugby players in the hands of people who just don’t know how head injuries really work. Who are genuinely doing their best but their best isn’t going to stop people dying.

And I’m not saying I know squat in comparison. I’ve read a bunch of studies. I sit through RugbySmart every year.

And I am in charge of two teams, every game, where I have the power to ask a player to leave the field if I think they’re unsafe. How am I in a position where the life of someone – usually a child – could rest on a decision I make? I’m not fucking qualified! I put stuff on the internet and write things and laugh at Dad jokes!

This is my worst nightmare. Not just as a referee, as a person. Where I’m in charge of a situation and someone’s child ends up dead. I don’t know who the referee for that game was but I hope someone has got him and is hugging him and telling him it’s not in any way his fault; and that he gets professional counseling. He stopped the game. He did literally everything he could.

Someone in my office who will remain nameless and hates rugby says it’s about stupid people dying in stupid ways. Another relates the difficulty of watching her teenage son play rugby but she can’t stop him because he loves the game.

I know that feeling – I love this stupid game so fucking much, and since we’re not going to stop people who are passionate about rugby from playing, something more has to be done. And I’m not sure that we can do it, because of how we view injury and weakness and how much rugby is tied up with notions of masculinity in New Zealand.

Colin Slade looks like he’s about to cry all the time because he keeps breaking his jaw and two weeks in a row now he’s been smashed in the head so hard his mouthguard has gone flying. Kieran Read was back doing full-contact drills two weeks after a concussion, while his team hoped he would get medical clearance to play that weekend (spoilers: he didn’t). And I know that these two players are professionals and they are being looked after by the best doctors in the country – but they set the tone. We ask rugby players to be role models in things that are completely unrelated to the game, but not to be role models in terms of serious injury prevention?

I have no idea how to keep players who are in demonstrable danger of dying off the field. I know the steps we have taken have been successful and serious head injuries in rugby are on the decline.

But I know it was the second knock that killed Jordan, like it was the second knock that killed a player in North Harbour last year, like it was the second knock that killed a teenage girl playing in Canada two years ago.

So we have to start doing something. Because otherwise we’re just going to keep not being surprised when our rugby players straight up die on the field.

(distance traveled since I last updated: 121.3 km)