Joya Clark, Seattle Saracen player and referee that is quickly climbing in the ranks of her fellow officials has been invited overseas on a referee exchange. An excited Joya shared her thoughts on her experiences thus far and what it may have to offer in the coming weeks.
“I refereed my first rugby match in May of 2017, while I was assistant coaching at Central Washington University and playing with the Seattle Saracens. I joined the Pacific Northwest Rugby Referee Society soon after, refereeing 7s/10s before heading up to a referee program in Alaska. This was my first chance to referee 15s full-time and to enjoy the people, culture, and nature of Alaska during the summer. Upon my return, I continued to play with the Seattle Saracens when I wasn't refereeing 15s club and college matches.
A shoulder injury in November was the sign I needed to focus all of my energy into refereeing. Come January of 2018, I continued practicing with the Seattle Saracens, while jumping into referee roles during touch, contact, drills and phase play. This created a unique chance to develop my referee skills while maintaining a player's perspective.
Saracens Coaches; Tim Zern, Lance Pruett, and Liz Kirk were encouraging in my referee development, in and out of practice.
During the spring, I centered in college, high school, Vancouver Festival 7s matches and volunteered as an AR for the Seattle Saracens Women. I've been blessed with opportunity after opportunity because I've learned to reach out to my coaches for more matches, listen to and apply their advice, and trust their allocation process.
The schedule is balanced well for us to have enough free time so we can enjoy the area while still be surrounded by the sport. I start my day out with a 15 minute rollout and stretch session followed by a large breakfast provided at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport Restaurant. From there, we walk a mile past the Paul Roos campus, along the river to the Danie Craven Stadium to start the day with the coach of the SA Referee Academy, Hendrick Greyvenstein at 9am. Generally, we start the day with fitness, either a grueling stair circuit or a tough 2.5 mile mountain loop.
We often head over to the Maties Gymnasium, into the Vision Lab with visual skills specialist Grant van Velden. We work with a half dozen machines along with visual charts with the hope to improve our visual skills, so we can be able to see things faster and more clearly on the pitch. The goal for us is always to make more accurate and quick decisions. I have improved scores each visit, which translates into peripheral awareness, greater reaction times, and near-far eye movements which strengthens the 'eye gym.' If we're not in vision lab or have early afternoon rugby, we discuss law and refereeing methods through various learning platforms: international video examples, personal film, law tests, World Rugby/South Africa interactive presentations, whiteboard sessions and such.
From Vision Lab or classroom sessions, I head back to the SAS campus to refuel, journal, and get a few errands done or rest up. There's schoolboy rugby early in the week as they are released from school and Tuesday through Friday are 'Hostel' (intercollegiate) matches. Many of the teams have four sides, accumulating up to the first side matches on Friday evening - followed by a social held in the Stadiums Coetzenburg Clubhouse.
On Saturday, we simply walk across the river from SAS to Paul Roos, where there are 4 pitches of secondary school rugby occurring at one time. This weekend I am scheduled for my first club match, in the afternoon after our morning primary and secondary school matches. It's not uncommon for us to center 3 matches in one day + AR another.
The referee experience for an American referee athlete is balanced yet busy. I finish many games feeling accomplished achieving some goals, but can honestly point out where improvements and errors were made. Some matches are not so great. But I stay strong mentally by not dwelling on mistakes or situations that could have been managed better. I am inspired each and every match to move forward, and do better next time for the growth of rugby.
Over my 8 weeks thus far, I've refereed and AR'ed 53 matches.
The lessons I'm learning here in South Africa are not only affecting how I manage the game, but developing my personal values that equally effect how I reach decisions on field and off. I will arrive home with a much better understanding of technical laws, how to apply materiality, and how to look and act as a professional referee. I am and will always be gracious and thankful for the appointments I receive, and will continue to work hard towards the goals I have laid out.
Each and every match matters to the players on the pitch, and I intend to make sure they have positive experiences. I am currently based out of Seattle, which provides unique access to PNRRS, Rugby Canada's BCRUs Premiership, and their referee coaches. I've followed the advice of my coaches and mentors to get as many matches as I can.
In the US, I look forward to the development pathway opportunities that USA Rugby is providing for growing referees through Collegiate D1A, the Women’s Premier League and the HP 7s Pathway.”
Seattle Saracens is proud to see its’ members giving back to the rugby community and sharing our Seattle Rugby culture with our rugby friends overseas.