Leah Berard / Photo: Jackie Finlan
The 10th season of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) will kick off in two weeks, and this year’s competition will enjoy an upgrade in terms of the officiating process. Modeled after Major League Rugby (MLR), the WPL has instituted a professional referee model geared at driving officials’ development and facilitating communication with WPL staff and beyond.
In 2017, High Performance Referee Manager Richard Every started beta testing ADVANTAGE, a more affordable video-review software, and according to WPL Referee Development Manager Amanda Cox, it’s been a game changer for referee development. Every implemented a professional referee model for the MLR and will oversee Cox, who will be running point for the WPL. She explained the set-up:
“You select a small group of referees that works together week after week for the entire league. We have an online video review system [Advantage], where refs upload and review their matches and then referee coaches add their perspective. The referee development manager reviews all the matches for the weekend and looks for overall trends – what’s going well and identifies development areas. Everyone has access to everyone’s reports … and it is all shared with team coaches who will have access to the online system – so they have the opportunity to provide feedback.”
Kat Roche / Photo: Colleen McCloskey (see more)
That’s where the dialogue between coaches and referees begins, and it’s a highlight for Cox. This opportunity was not lost on the referee community, and an abundance of applications for the 2018 WPL season meant that very good referees were turned away. In the end, nine referees and seven referee coaches from 12 different societies were selected. (list at end of article)
“They represent people who are really excited about women’s rugby and care about the league – and that’s important,” Cox said.
The same nine refs will travel around the country, and although geography is a constraint, every effort was made to make sure an individual doesn’t have the same teams on consecutive weekends. Cox also made some adjustments based on the model’s first run in the MLR.
“The MLR refs were pretty happy with the process, from what I understand, but we made some changes based on their end-of-season feedback,” Cox said. “For instance, when the MLR started, they were changing which referee coach worked with which ref every week, but the feedback indicated that they preferred working with the same coach week in, week out.”
Jill Potter / Photo: Jackie Finlan
That’s the arrangement in the WPL, the exception being some coaches will work with more than one referee.
This model will also help women referees, who make up the majority of the selections – a happy outcome that reflects the leading demographic of the applicants and not, according to Cox, the result of a specific initiative geared toward women. Cox, too, is looking forward to leading the charge in the WPL.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to be a league referee manager because those opportunities are limited in the U.S.,” Cox said. “For the MLR, we consulted highly experienced referee coaches from other countries, because the lack of professional rugby in the USA impacts the development of that population base. Referee coach growth is also a key development focus for this league and the fifteens pathway program.”
For more information on the WPL, visit www.wplrugby.org.
Graphic courtesy WPL
(Name – Referee Society)
Lee Bryant – NorCal
Leah Berard – Minnesota
Steven Fenaroli – NorCal
Emily Hsieh – Potomac
Amelia Luciano – New England
Jenny Lui – New England
Michelle O’Brien – Pacific Northwest
Kat Roche – Texas
Haylee Slaughter – Florida
WPL REF COACHES
(Name – Referee Society)
Ros Anderson – New York
Lee Johnson – NorCal
David Haines – MidSouth
Mike Hill – Potomac
Marc Nelson – Rocky Mountain
Olivia Rogers – Eastern Penn
Joe Zevin – Rocky Mountain