One of the most common things I hear said by both beginner parents and parents who've been around for awhile is "I'm not really sure what's happening when I watch them fence." A lot of parents would like to be able to follow along more and know the rules so they know what's happening. To help with that, I'm hoping to do a sort of "understanding fencing" clinic for parents at some point in the not too distant future. A common way for parents to expand their understanding though is to go to a referee clinic or possibly become a referee. There are some additional reasons why this can be a good idea, and since we have a pretty high level presenter coming to do a referee clinic at our club soon I figured I'd share some reasons why parents might consider it.
1. Helps you understand what you're watching when you watch your child fence
The clinic will talk about the rules and how the referees decide who gets a point or who doesn't get a point. It might not really teach the skill of watching for all those things, but if you're used to watching fencing and just don't really feel you comfortably understand the rules, this will explain them.
2. It gives you another way to connect to fencing.
I've seen parents who became division officers, or who became office managers for clubs, referees and tournament managers because they really liked supporting and being involved with their child's sport. Sometimes I've seen parents who continued these things after their child went off to college or was more or less done with fencing as they entered the adult world because the parents enjoyed the fencing community and being around the sport. Refereeing can be a way to explore connecting to the sport and give an option for involvement.
3. It might give you something to do at tournaments or subsidize the tournament experience.
Tournaments can be long, and big events might be several days. Some kids like being watched by their parents as they compete and for some it can be an added source of stress. Whether you're watching your kid fence or not, if its a larger tournament you'll likely be there for a fair amount of time. If your kid referees then it might be even more time without the option of watching them fence. For larger tournaments that involve travel, you'll be stuck there through that. There will also be tournament fees and travel costs.
If you are a referee then you'll have something to do in those situations if you are hired as a referee at the tournament. Referee income can cover the tournament registration expense, and the tournament will likely reimburse the travel. So refereeing can make traveling for your fencer to fence larger more important tournaments a lot more tenable.
4. It may allow you to support your child in a competition better.
If your athlete isn't getting actions called in their favor either because the referee is making a mistake or because your child is making a mistake in how they do the action it can be frustrating and confusing both for them as the athlete and you as the parent watching. If you have learned more about the rules and gotten some practice refereeing you may be better equipped to help them understand either what mistake they are making that the referee is seeing or how to adjust to what the referee is calling if the referee is consistently calling in a weird way. This might help your child adjust during the tournament, alleviate some of their confusion and allow them to have a better event.
5. It may allow you to advocate better for your child in a tough situation where rules aren't being followed.
Referees are human and make mistakes. There are a lot of rules to remember, and depending on their experience they might misapply or forget a rule. If a referee doesn't make the call you expect because they see the action differently, or because they don't see an element of it, you can't appeal that. If they apply a rule incorrectly or don't apply it uniformly then you can appeal that and have it overturned.
Fencers won't usually recognize when this is happening in the moment and won't know when or how to advocate for themselves in that situation. Having a spectator on their side who knows the rules can help make sure they're receiving fair treatment when little unintentional mistakes happen. It also helps you as a parent feel empowered to and have the knowledge to advocate for your child in those super rare cases where a referee really steps across the line. When that happens fencers and parents usually feel like there isn't anything they can do. Knowing the rules will help you know who to approach and how to approach them for assistance if an unusually difficult situation arises.
6. The fencing community needs referees.
You wouldn't usually be able to referee your child in a tournament, but local tournament organizers are always looking for referees. The more quality referees we have in the local community the easier it is for tournament organizers to organize good events that your child can attend.
7. You might like it.
Personally, I became a referee because it used to be required to get certified as a referee before you could get certified as a coach. It's also interesting to me to know the rules and how they are applied, and it's useful for me as a coach to be able to explain those things to my students. I referee routinely because it's helpful to the local fencing community, but it's not the thing I enjoy focusing on because I'm much more naturally suited to coaching.
I know other people who are very suited to refereeing and some who enjoy it quite a bit. Some people like the experience and like studying and exploring the rules. Some of them like the referee community and make friends there and enjoy hanging out with them at large tournaments. It may be the sort of thing you might have fun with and may be an arena in which you can find new friends with a shared interest.
If you think refereeing might be for you, the clinic is the first step in checking it out.
If you think you might be interested in refereeing, there are clinics that happen routinely, it's just a question of when one will be in a place close enough that you're willing to go to. If you're reading this post around the time it's being posted and you're local or local-ish to here, we will be hosting the Vice Chair of the referee commission (former Vice President of USA fencing, and a referee who has national and international experience and has lead the referees at several national circuit and championship events) to run a referee clinic here in Catonsville September 26th 2021. If you're not around here, or you're reading this too late for that clinic, check out the clinic section of askFRED and you'll see when clinics are being offered.