They are essential to the good running of a competition but do you really know them? Dressed in their recognisable yellow outfits, referees are an essential part of the development of underwater hockey. Damien McNulty is the Great Britain Chief National Referee. He talks about his passion for refereeing and his desire to pass on his knowledge.
On one of those days when sticks and bodies are clashing, a novice referee finds himself in the middle of this war. It is the English national championship and a lot of international players are fighting for victory. Damien has to make sure that everything goes according to the rules. It was a role he found difficult to take on. ‘I think the way I expressed myself frustrated the players and that reflected on the match. The referee’s role is not to show that he knows all the rules, it’s to facilitate the game.’ He admits that this event is one of the most memorable moments of his refereeing career. However, it was not all bad. ‘It was my most difficult experience but also the one where I learned the most‘.
Since then, Damien has taken part in the European Championship as a referee and has become the Great Britain Chief National Referee. It’s fair to say that the apprenticeship has been a success. ‘I realised that it would not be possible for me to play an active role in the national championships as a player. I was keen to become a qualified referee to help in local and national competitions.’ Damien’s involvement does not stop at the UK borders. Now a member of the CMAS refereeing committee, he can share his ideas with the different representatives of the countries that make up this body. ‘The aim is to standardise the approach to training for referees and to determine the key points depending on the level.’
During his years of experience, Damien has refereed hundreds of matches, both national and international. However, where he prefers to officiate is in local competitions. It’s ‘more relaxed‘, he says. As a teacher in life, he can use his experience as a professor to educate the youngest players about the rules of refereeing. ‘One of the keys for being a good referee is to share your knowledge so that players are familiar with the rules when they are competing.’ Will this create vocations and start training the referees of tomorrow ? Damien is aware that no one can continue his role forever. He is totally willing to pass on his role to the new generation. ‘There are a lot of talented young referees and I think it is important to give them space‘. While his future as an international referee is uncertain, Damien intends to continue to try to make underwater hockey evolve in the right direction whether he is in the pool or not.