Objective: This drill teaches observation and communication skills related to defining the pack and correctly identifying whether skaters are withing the engagement zone or out of play.Typical length of drill: 20-30 min at a time. These skills will take multiple short sessions to master. I wouldn’t rush the skaters or refs through all three versions. Running this drill until the skills of all refs are solid before progressing through to the next version.
Materials needed: Required: Pre-measured 20’ rope, pre-measured 10’ rope. At least 6 skaters who are willing to help, divided into 2 teams (dark/light shirts). Track or markers simulating a regulation-sized track.
Skill level required: Ability to look at and concentrate on nearby skaters while starting, changing speeds and stopping. Knowledge of rules including referee hand signals and penalty procedures.
Description: For new refs, I’d start with a quick review of the following hand signals: Out of Play (signal v. penalty call), Illegal Procedure, Pack is Here, No Pack. The skaters and refs are briefed together as a group, as follows:
“The skaters are going to form a pack and skate, and skaters of the dark team are going to carry the coiled 20’ and 10’ ropes with them. This is a no-contact drill, and the goal is to create a pack. The teams aren’t playing against each other. The goal is purely to train refs on distances and pack definition. Start with forming a pack. Start on the whistle. Then the skater with the 20’ rope is going to hand off one end to the lead skater in the pack, and take the other end up 20’ in front of the pack. Since distances are measured front of hips to back of hips, this is where they’ll hold the rope when it’s fully extended. Just skate slowly like this for 3-4 laps or so. Refs and pack skaters are to concentrate on recognizing and identifying this distance. It’s further than most think, especially in the curves, where the 10’ lines are no longer accurate. This is just as valuable for skaters to know as for the refs. In the curves, ensure the skaters stay just enough outside the curve that the ropes don’t cross the track boundary. The correct measurement is a straight line on the track without cutting the corner short. And then we’re going to blow off the jam (4 whistles).”
Repeat this drill with the skater falling behind the pack instead of in front.
Intermediate Version part A – Bridging. Instruct the skaters:
"Now we will repeat the drill with a skater bridging. In this case, the lead skater in the pack will hold one end of the 20’ rope and one end of the 10’ rope and we’ll demonstrate just how far she can extend the pack with a “bridge”. She should hold the two ropes on the front or back of her hips, as appropriate. Again, ensure the ropes don’t cross the inner track boundary on the curves."
Then run the drill exactly the same – once stretching the pack in front, once stretching it behind.
Intermediate Version part B – Pack definition. Instruct the skaters and refs:
“Now you can get rid of the 20’ rope, but keep the 10’ rope. The skaters’ objective will be to split the pack into two groups once they get going. The skaters will use the 10’ rope to monitor the distance between pack parts. Once the refs have re-defined the pack as one group or the other, re-form a single pack and break it again differently. Do this repeatedly for 2 full minutes with the rope. Skaters can also create a “no pack” situation in this way (two equal groups with blockers from both teams, or two groups each with only one team each). Important: This is a learning environment, so after changing the pack, hold the new position until the change is verbally “called” by the refs and then another couple seconds before re-forming the pack and doing it all again. Refs are calling pack definition every time the pack changes, as well as no-pack situations. No penalties will be called. After 2 minutes, we’ll blow off the jam and rest for 30 seconds.”
Repeat this multiple times.
Advanced Version – Ref communication and penalties. Now we combine it all without the ropes, but still at only 50% speed. As skaters get to between 15’ and 20’ from the pack, the closest pack ref watches them and yells “good, good, good...” continuously until the skaters leave that zone. This tells the jam ref (who isn’t as focused on pack definition as on his jammer) that the pack skater is still in play for scoring and penalty purposes. When she gets “out of play”, the closest ref gives the hand signal (no chop yet) and yells “out of play, out of play, out of....” until he either decides to call a penalty or she returns to the engagement zone. If done loudly and consistently, this is a HUGE assist for the jam ref in terms of scoring. Refs can also call illegal procedure penalties as appropriate when the pack is destroyed. For the purposes of the drill, a penalized skater will skate to the outside of the track, stop, and immediately re-enter from behind the pack. Jammers can also be added, (likely without jam refs). As the refs get really good, skater speed can be increased to 75%, and eventually to 100%.
Additional notes: My first challenge was “where do I get skaters”? Some league leaders don’t see the importance of investing track time or skater time in their league’s referee team. But with today’s strategically smarter skaters, their strategies are dependent on refs having the skills to quickly and accurately identify bridges, consistently call an accurate engagement zone even in the curves, and react to deliberate changes in the pack without under- or over-calling illegal procedure penalties. Good leaders will also see the advantage her skaters will gain by learning how to re-define or destroy a pack at will, learning the boundaries for penalties, and learning exactly how far they can chase an opposing jammer. Games are won and lost on such things. Once they see the personal value, you’ll have the cooperation of the needed skaters. In a large ref team, refs in dark/light shirts can also be used as skaters.
I have run this drill with up to 6 active refs-in-training at a time. They are position 2 at the front, two in the middle, and two at the back. Experienced refs give feedback to each group, if possible. When in the middle, they concern themselves primarily with pack definition and calling “no pack” situations. At the front and back they practice their distance estimation and communication with Jam Refs. The refs rotate positions (front-middle-back-front) regularly.
Troubleshooting: If the refs are having difficulty, blow off the jam instantly, instruct the skaters to change the pack definition more slowly or to have the lone skaters increase their distance from the pack more gradually. This is a training environment, and speed has to be built up slowly. If distance estimation is the weakness, go back to using ropes again for a couple laps before continuing. Be sure not to advance the drill too quickly through the 3 stages. Finally, if the skaters don't recover the rope as they move back together, it will become a tripping hazard. Perhaps I should have said that first :-)