By Jonathan Spaner

He or she is the least liked person in any sporting match, no matter what game you’re playing.

The only way to register if they had a good game or not is if they went unnoticed by either team. They are constantly blamed for the loss, screamed at by parents and coaches alike, and very rarely thanked. The pay is quite often secondary to the real reason they do what they do: without them, the game would not exist in the first place. Given the overly demanding workplace environment, the minimal pay and the real chance that it won’t just be your feelings that will be hurt by the end of the season, why on earth would anyone choose to become a referee?

That’s a very good question, and one I expect I’m going to ask myself more than a few times this winter.

I’ve signed up to referee minor hockey in the Peace River Minor Hockey Association. I’m a few games into my reffing career, and although I’m sure there will be trying times upcoming, I don’t think I’m going to regret my choice. After finishing my training course, I’ve found out I knew almost nothing about what it’s like to wear the stripes.

Here five reasons you should consider helping out with your local leagues, and start officiating:

  1. The Community: In every game, although only two teams are playing, there is always another team present. “Playing” for the referees provides an excellent way to feel apart of the hockey community. Refs take care of one another, and as a first-year rookie, the amount of education I’ve received from others is like my first year of university all over again; an amazing combination of nervousness and amazement. One of the more hilarious aspects of being a referee is learning a whole new language. Ref-speak is something I’m not yet fluent in, but I can’t wait to be.
  2. The Fitness: One of the refs I’ve worked with said he found he could count his steps during the game, working it out to be over 2000 steps a period, meaning over 6000 per game. In my first games, I’ve found myself more out of breath than when I played myself! For someone like me, who is now several years removed from playing organized hockey, refereeing is a terrific way to get back on skates and to really get your heart pumping.
  3. The Atmosphere: The drama of sport is unlike any other, and the referee has the best seats in the house. Nothing in the rule book says a ref can’t admire the raw skill and talent in front of them, especially when officiating for youth athletes. As a ref, you get to watch the game through a crystal ball, getting a view into the future right in front of you. Of course, you can’t get too mesmerized. As in any great spectacle, the referee knows his or her role, and performs to the best of their abilities, only making the game better when they do.
  4. The Experience: With a great whistle comes great responsibility. Refereeing provides some of the best experiences a young person can get for their future careers, whatever that may be. Want to be a teacher? Reffing has you working constructively with youth every time you hit the ice. How about a lawyer? A proper referee not only knows the laws (of the game) but knows how to argue them as well. From a police officer to a firefighter to a nurse, refereeing has something to teach every future profession. Even a business person, as the first thing I was told in my training course, was “know how to sell your calls!”
  5. The Love Of The Game: Where I will be reffing, in Northern Alberta, some parents and coaches will have to drive for over two hours to get to games. The rink attendants will have been working from six in the morning to eleven at night because, in a small town, all the action happens at the arena on a weekend. The players themselves, from Atom to Bantam to Midget to Major Junior, will be giving it their all. Without you there to referee, all of the community effort goes to waste.

By reffing, you can give back to the greater community, and help build the greatest game to even higher heights. As good as you feel physically after a good hour of skating, and as good as you feel watching some amazing hockey, I can promise you that nothing quite feels as great as the feeling you get knowing that you played such a vital role in the continued growth of Canadian hockey.