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Whistle Blower - 'Still in the thick of the action'


Mike Smith was a player before becoming a referee

Mike Smith was a player before becoming a referee

Mike Smith was a player before becoming a referee

Ever been on the side of a pitch and wonder why the referee did or didn't give a decision? Maybe your bewilderment was supplemented with some colourful adjectives! At any given match you'll find many referees, but only one is allowed to blow the whistle.

The actual rule of law versus its grass roots interpretation can at times be polar opposites. It was for this very reason that one of ARCB's recent recruits decided to separate law fact from law fiction.

Mike Smith (Claremorris RFC), like many, questioned refereeing decisions down through the years. Firstly as a player with Buccaneers RFC, and then subsequently as a coach with his newly adopted club. Then a pivotal moment occurred.

To be a better coach, he was motivated to fully understand the laws of the game. Mike decided to attend a Referee Trial Members course hosted by Peter Fitzgibbon - who is the referee development officer in Connacht.

What was supposed to be a coaching aid, turned into something a lot more personally fulfilling. He described his unexpected refereeing journey after officiating at his first Senior Ladies game between Sligo and City of Derry.

"Having passed from trial member to full referee member of ARCB, it highlighted some laws of the game that I previously didn't fully understand," he says.

He was also quick to note he wasn't alone when it comes to having a "few law gaps".

Mike provides a few personal examples. "I previously thought that you could take two quick tap penalties or free-kicks in succession", or "the importance of being in control of the ball when it comes to deciding when it is in touch or grounded for a try/22 drop-out".

As a referee you can't afford to have many deficits around the laws of the game. Going through the comprehensive Trial Member training to refereeing actual games was a major factor in Mike becoming a full convert.

"As a player I enjoyed being in the thick of things, now as a referee it allows me to be as closes to the action as possible. As a coach you are on the sidelines, but as a referee you can really contribute to a good game of rugby," he says.

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Attending monthly ARCB member meetings (where there's always a refresher workshop), and availing of match assessments has seen Mike move from refereeing youth games to taking his first Senior Ladies game. When asked about any differences between the different competition levels, he mentions some interesting points.

"In youth games there is a little more coaching and detail provided for any penalties or free-kicks you award. This is to ensure you're helping the younger players understand the rules," he explains.

When asked about refereeing Senior Ladies, his answer is both forthright.

"Initially I was providing a bit too much information about why a penalty was awarded and this may have come across a little condescending. A little assessment coaching at half-time changed this and I found myself being able to enjoy the banter and keep the game flowing," he says.

"Ladies rugby players know the game and they play it with fierce competitiveness. They take the hits and give the hits, but they do it a way where they take the game seriously but not themselves. There was very little sign of egos on the pitch."

For Mike Smith, he wanted to learn more about the laws of rugby, what he discovered was a new found understanding and way to enjoy the game.

If you would like to learn more, then visit us at www.arcb.ie

Damian Eames, president, Association of Referees, Connacht Branch (ARCB)

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