Two Thoughts After Refereeing a Tournament

This weekend I went back down to Topeka to help out with the Sunflower State Games. We sent 6 referees down this year. It was my second year doing it with guys from my gym, and once again it was really fun.

This year I spent almost all of my time in the kids brackets. I wrapped up the kids’ gi matches right before lunch, and then no-gi about 1.5 hours after lunch.  By the time I was all done with the kids, I ref’d 4 male white belt matches, 2 male blue belt matches, and 2 female absolute matches, and then the tournament was done.

As I was refereeing the kids, there were quite a few key lock attacks from mount. Only one was successful and even that one, the kid didn’t tap, but I stopped it as it looked pretty nasty.  Watching the kids compete this time made me realize something, if a kid got hurt on my mat, and I could have prevented it, I would feel absolutely horrible. We want them to have fun and compete, and part of our job to is to make sure they’re doing so in a safe environment.  So when arms started getting twisted, I was watching closely. For example, one kid had his arm stretched out in a straight arm bar, but his thumb was pointing down and the attacker didn’t correct it. I’m sure it wasn’t comfortable, but overall, the kid was safe. The only one I stopped the attacker had correct form and the kid defending had his elbow pointing almost to 12 o’clock. I wanted to make sure he was safe, and when I stopped it, he didn’t argue, no parents argued, no coaches argued, I think everyone realized that even if he didn’t tap, he was in a pretty bad position.

The other thing that struck me while refereeing was how, for the most part, the competitors have a lot of sportsmanship.  It’s hard to see with the little kids, because the get emotional from losing. It’s almost always out of embarrassment and occasionally out of being scared. I didn’t see a single kid get mad at his or her opponent. I saw, on numerous times, both coaches congratulating the kids, consoling the kids and telling them they did good and were safe. That wasn’t too surprising, really. What struck me was the teen and adult competitors.

There was one teen that was 3 or 4 years older than his opponent, and had him in a tight arm bar. The younger teen kept working to defend. In the end, he tapped, but not to that arm bar. As soon as the match was over, the victor turned to the other kid and said “That was a good arm bar defense.”  And it really was. Although I only ref’d less than 10 adult matches this year, they were all good sports, telling each other after the match things like “That was a tight choke you had” or “I couldn’t believe I didn’t sweep you.” I even saw one match in which the two guys had gone against each other and the guy that lost had his elbow pop. That was before they came to my mat. The guy that won the first match was once again winning the second one and he had his arm, he turned to the guy and said “I don’t want to hurt your arm.” The other guy didn’t tap, so he applied it a little bit more and he tapped.  True, he shouldn’t have been talking during the match, but he could have easily locked on the submission and cranked hard, but he didn’t.

When we step on the mat to compete, it’s for different reasons. I do it to challenge myself and see how I’ve progressed. Others do it to prove they’re the best. Others do it for their own reasons.  But it was nice to see that even in a tournament experience, the competitors respected their opponents and wanted them to be safe.