So you’re going to be a Penalty Box Timer?

A couple of weeks ago I worked as a penalty box timer for the Fab Slav roller derby sevens tournament. If you don’t know what roller derby is, this post is not for you. Instead, you should find out!
This post is about what I learned of penalty box timing after doing it for the first time. It’s not a substitute for reading the WFTDA docs, being familiar with the sheets you’ll fill in, watching Brain of Terror’s videos, or taking any training that is offered to you.

For context, I had been to two or three tournaments before, and helped out with track maintenance, but this was my first time in an NSO position. I know the game well enough to enjoy watching it, but I don’t know the rules thoroughly.
Anyway: the two most important things I wish I’d known earlier were:
  1. how to listen for the whistles, and
  2. unless you have a player in the box, and a jam is running, your stopwatch should not be running.
You need to know the whistles before you start, because two of them are critical and one is merely important.
The two critical whistles are the jam start whistle and the jam stop whistle. If you have a player in the box, these whistles define when you start and stop timing penalties. Much of the time, it is not obvious to the eye exactly when a jam starts or stops. Skaters do not need to start or stop moving with the whistles, and you may not even have a clear view. The start and stop jam whistles are your friends. The jam start is signalled with one short whistle, and the jam end or timeout is signalled with four short blasts; the jam officially ends on the fourth of the short blasts. I suggest listening to them. (I also recommend watching the jam timer for the five-second call, if you can.)
The other important whistle is the penalty whistle. It’s one long whistle. If you listen closely, you may hear the referee calling the penalty, but if it happens at the other side of the track during a noisy game, you probably won’t be able to see it. However, if you hear the penalty whistle, you should quickly see a player leave the track and head to your penalty box. If they’re your colour, you can decide where you want them to sit, and if you can see their number, you can note that before they even sit down. Before I learned to distinguish the penalty whistle, I was reliant on the penalty box manager telling me what was happening, or I just saw the players when they were close to the box.
If you’re like me, if you have a stopwatch in your hand, you’ll naturally start playing with it, and you might keep your finger over the start / stop button. I don’t recommend this! I kept my finger on the button when I had a player in the box, and the jam was running. Obviously,  if the jam ended, I stopped the watch, and if my players finished their penalties, I reset it. Other than that, starting and stopping the watch was a distraction: I found myself starting the watch when jams started, even though I didn’t have a player in the box.
Those two things, listening for the whistle, and not being too quick on the stopwatch, were the most important tricks I picked up. There are a few others things I’ll try to do if I fill this position again:
  1. Put a dot next to each recorded penalty when I’ve added it to the player’s tally (tip from Liz Frizzle!) When things got busy, it was hard to keep track of this, and this seems like a really simple way to stay on top of it.
  2. Ask the Penalty Box Manager to let me handle seating my players. (It was extra stress to have players seated on the other side of the box from me.)
  3. Ask the penalty box manager to confirm and multiple penalties. I wasn’t confident that I could read the hand signals between the box manager and the inside track officials.
  4. Consciously call out the jam number just before the start of each jam. The reminder to myself lessens the risk of me trying to work it out when a player arrives in the box.
  5. When the stopwatch keeps running because there are two players in the box, write down times on the sheet in the same format that the stopwatch uses. Converting, for example, 78 seconds into minutes and seconds is not difficult, but it’s trickier than not having to cover 1:18 seconds. So I’ll write 1:18 in the Stand or Leave boxes, so I don’t have to convert back.
  6. Put a phone or tablet running the scoreboard where I can glance at it, so it’s easy to double check the jam, or see when the jam has been called off. The scoreboard  was not easy to see from the penalty box during the tournament, and in some cases it was hard to know the jam number.

Overall, the penalty box timer role didn’t seem too tough. I definitely made some mistakes, but no-one expects perfect on the first attempt. For me at least, the key was just learning what to focus on.


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