NSO Life by Critical Mash

Hi, I’m Critical Mash and I’m an NSO and learning reffing and skating here at Auld Reekie. Nearly two years ago I went to a roller derby taster session, I could barely stand but fell in love with skating.  I signed up straight away to join the next skate skills beginners programme. At that point I probably thought my roller derby heroes would look something like this:

Zero G Photography
Zero G Photography

A few weeks later I went to watch my first game, I loved the speed and the physicality. I also noticed there were quite a few referees, between the stripey shirts, whistling and loud shouting they are pretty noticeable. What I didn’t really notice were there were even more non-skating officials or NSOs doing all the other jobs that need doing to keep the game running safely, fairly and on time.

Shortly after starting skate skills we were invited along to try NSOing and to watch a scrimmage session, where the ARRD teams practise against each other under game conditions. I was taught the basics of penalty timing. I spent the evening sat in the penalty box watching derby and chatting with friendly people who explained a lot about derby. I enjoyed it so much I went back the next week, and the next… Before long I was being encouraged to apply to NSO at a game and I haven’t looked back.

I started learning by being taught by more experienced NSOs at scrim sessions, but roller derby is a DIY sport and excellent referees and NSOs from around the world have created training videos online to help others. I am now helping to organise meet ups before scrims where officials at Auld Reekie can get together to watch videos and discuss things so that we can learn and improve. Every time I officiate at a game I meet new people, make new friends and learn new techniques to make things easier. The tools of our trade are clipboards, paperwork, pencils, stopwatches and whistles. To be good at NSOing requires practice and experience.

If you’re wondering what do NSOs actually do. Well, it usually takes a minimum of 9 NSOs to crew a game. There are 3 people tracking scores and running the scoreboard so that the teams and audience know what’s happening. There are 3 people timing skaters in the penalty box, so that everyone is penalised the correct amount of time. At least 2 people are recording which skaters are on track and how many penalties they have accumulated. Finally, there is one NSO in charge of timing, to keep everything running as it should. All the information is recorded and after the game it is typed up to provide stats for the teams to analyse and learn from.

If you add 9 NSOs to the 7 referees, the team of officials needed for each game is bigger than the teams of skaters and so officials are in demand for roller derby games nationally and even internationally. Being an NSO can give great opportunities to travel and watch derby. I have travelled with the team to NSO around the UK and was selected as an NSO for the first Men’s Roller Derby Association tournament to be held in Scotland. Though I’m continuing to learn skating it turns out after a couple of years my actual derby heroes look like this:

Paul Jones Photography Cardiff
Paul Jones Photography Cardiff

So next time you go to a derby game keep an eye out for the NSOs dressed in black, like the team of highly skilled ninjas they are helping the game run smoothly.

Inspired by Critical Mash’s story? Tempted to give roller derby officiating a go? Do it! Email officials@auldreekierollerderby.com and they will give you all the information you need.