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Impact Free Jack: New England Rugby Referees Society

“Making rugby better…”

Impact Free Jack celebrates the stories, efforts, and people of the New England community who inspire players, leaders and future Free Jacks. The weekly Q&A series explores the journeys of players, coaches, referees, officers, ambassadors, and organizations of the game and how they are making a difference.

In a slight twist, this week we are sharing and celebrating the story and efforts of the New England Rugby Referees Society (NERRS). NERRS promotes the advancement and enjoyment of the game of rugby by providing qualified volunteer match officials to clubs at all levels within New England and to USA Rugby! We are lucky to have them in our region and aim to collaborate with and support their efforts.

Free Jacks: So, what can you tell us about NERRS?

NERRS: The New England Rugby Referees Society was founded in 1967 as the Boston Rugby Referees Society. The Society recruits and trains referees, helping them achieve their highest potential by offering world class assessment and coaching, promoting exchanges and other networking opportunities, and by supporting Territorial and National Panel development opportunities.

Refereeing activities were largely on hold during 2020 but we are all looking forward to starting up again in early 2021.

FJ:  How many referees make up NERRS?

NERRS: We currently have around 120 in the database. On a busy Saturday, you might see around 60 out there on the whistle! We have around 6-10 referees involved in or around MLR level in  some capacity remembering that there are other roles outside the one in the middle including assistant referees and on the sidelines.

FJ:  What does NERRS aspire to achieve?

NERRS has four main functions:

  1. Recruit new referees
  2. Develop current referees through ranks of grading systems
  3. Educate referees on game management
  4. Provide foundation for referees to succeed beyond New England

FJ:  What does an annual cycle for NERRS look like?

NERRS: We see the calendar year as having four seasons: Spring Season, Summer Sevens Season, and Fall Season and separately other leagues, e.g.  MIAA (schools). Typically we gear up the Level 1 (introduction to refereeing) and Level 2 courses to precede those seasons, these are typically sponsored by rugby authorities so are free to referees. 

This year we have seen a drive in webinars that have formed a giant step in standardizing understanding of various laws right across the country. 

FJ:  What changes to the rugby landscape would you like to see?

NERRS: Clarification as to certification and developmental processes beginning at a national level, filtering down to a regional level. 

FJ: What are the benefits of being a NERRS member?

NERRS: The most important benefit of membership in the Society is your continued enjoyment of the game of rugby. Active members of the Society are eligible for a variety of benefits. 

An active member is defined as a referee who accepts assignment by the Society to five Saturday matches in a calendar year. Benefits for active referees are being able to contribute to the game of rugby in a meaningful way, expense reimbursement, development with courses, tools, and exchanges to other referee societies around the world.

FJ: What referee development opportunities exist?

NERRS: in conjunction with USA Rugby, we provide a series of courses from beginners (L1, L2), assistant referee (AR), Sevens etc. to educating referees on the basics of refereeing the game. In addition, USA Rugby recently ran a brilliant initiative including a series of webinars (Advantage Program) to focus on specific areas of the game and in game management during the current period away from the game.

Most importantly however, the concept of individual mentoring is critical to an individual’s development to be able to hear feedback from a coach on areas that need improvement and progress up the qualification scale. This is augmented by video technology that allows the referee to review their own performance based on quantitative approach rather than qualitative.   This technology is a typical tool for advanced referees to learn from the game day experience and focus on areas of improvement in the next match.  

FJ: What can we do to assist NERRS?

NERSS: The fact the Free Jacks are asking the question and highlighting what we do is very encouraging. If the Free Jacks can shed light on our opportunities to become involved as a referee and collaborate with us across their Regional Training Groups to facilitate understanding and standardization of the laws and ensure safety of all involved, that would be a big win.

FJ: How does one get started as a rugby referee?

NERSS: Talk to a referee. At the end of a game, introduce yourself to the referee and say that you’d like some advice on how to get started.

  1. Decide which type of game you want to work with. (Under 7’s, Under 14’s etc)
  2. Contact your local Referee Society.

For information about NERRS, visit www.nerugbyrefs.org, Chris Schuyler President of NERRS at president@nerugbyrefs.org or  Declan Boland NERRS Development Officer at declanboston@gmail.com or 617.981.4065.