A love letter to officials, or how NSO'ing makes me a better bench coach.

I'm going to tell you one of my secret weapons as a bench coach - NSO's. Trusting that all the non-skating officials will do their jobs right, and actually knowing what those jobs are, gives me a peace of mind.

I NSO every now and then. I'm not one of those kick-ass dedicated magical unicorns who can handle the penalty box by themselves in a scrimmage, or keep score and jam time at the same time. I am comfortable in the penalty box (even with just one clock! even with paper work!), and I actually enjoy keeping score. I've been known to line up track grudgingly. The scoreboard didn't explode when I was working it. I can get by as a NSO, but I'm by no means Army of Darkness -level awesome at it. 

There are two main reasons why I volunteer as tribute, ahem, as a NSO. First of all, officials, skating and non, rule. There's no roller derby without officials. Officials take great pride in knowing what they do, and always try to do their best possible work. I've rarely laughed as much as I do hanging out with other officials in cramped locker rooms pre-bout. There's this special feeling of camaraderie among officials. We're there to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible, we help each other out, we support one another. We're part of something great, something you have to understand to truly appreciate. 

And every single time I officiate a bout or a scrimmage, I learn something new about the rules or game play. That's the other reason I volunteer - it makes me a better bench coach. There's so much about roller derby you don't quite get no matter how many times you read through your rule book. Now I know to advise my players to go sit in the box during their warm ups, so they know what kind of force they can use without sending the chairs flying. I know that I can walk in to the box and bring my player a water bottle or a rubber chicken as long as I don't communicate with her, and just as well I know that I can stand outside the box and say whatever I want to her. I know the scoreboard may not have the official time, and the scores may be wrong, and that nothing in this world is official until the board says so. 

 Once you've stood in the penalty box with two jammers sitting time, the whole audience and half the players shouting at you, you KNOW what those situations are all about. Those 25 seconds teach me all about that situation that The Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby part 7.3.1. never quite could.

The level of officiating is rising by the minute here in Finland. We have amazing crews of officials who are willing to travel all over the country, all over the continent even, just because they love what they do. The days when any injured player or freshmeat skater was asked to work the box last minute are over, and I'm glad they are. 


I am happy every time I coach a bout, and I can name every single official working in the box that day, and I can trust that they won't fuck up. And even if they did, they'd do everything in their power to make it right, because that's just how it goes. It truly does.

There will be a day when my skills might not be good enough anymore to work bouts, but until that day I'll keep part-timing with my special super secret club mates. And you know, even when I don't, I'm their biggest and loudest fan, balloons and unicorn puppets and all, because that's what you do when you know a little about the magic that goes on behind the scenes. So I'd like to raise my glass to Team Awesome, you rule my world.

// Anna Miettinen