The View From The Other Side Of The Whistle

What it was like to referee my first strongman competition.

Almost seven years to the day is when I competed in my very first strongman competition. With weak and wobbly legs, I cantered down the field with 150 pounds in each hand for the farmer's walk. While a farmer's walk of that weight is nothing to write home about today, it was a big weight when Kaz and the gang were using that amount for the first time with the then-called "Fergus Walk" in 1983.  

It was thrilling to experience the tunnel vision of the flow state for the first time in competition and had me hooked.   

I've come to find that there’s always some new to experience with strongman at every competition and this time around for me it was the view from the other side of the whistle, as I got to be the head referee for Kingston’s Strongest Man 2018 last weekend. 

It was fun but I’d rather be competing. 

Giles Sharpe is a great ref and always runs well-organized shows. This year he was back in the game to compete for another title at KSM. Therefore he asked me to step in as ref. Taking some time off since returning from the Canadian Hercules competition in Calgary, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity since I had no intention of competing again so soon.


It’s nice to be doing something in the sport without the jitters and adrenaline roller coaster that comes with competing for a change. You’re able to relax and enjoy yourself more with the fellow fans of the sport that are there watching or taking part in some way at the competition without having to confine yourself to a back corner with headphones in and hoodie up like an angsty teenager whilst getting 'in the zone'.


A couple other things that I noticed from reffing the competition:

Different Starts (for different farts) - You may have noticed this before for yourself if you pay attention to what others are doing in competitions you are taking part in or from studying strongman on YouTube and watching WSM like the tapes of the opposing team before a football game, but everyone has their own way of approaching the start line and getting into position. Some lifters really like to get amped up and dialled in on the event whereas others just approach the bar and go for it. There are also athletes who will survey the equipment a little more closely, do a little jig, and dictate the pace rather than overly feeling the pressure from the ref. I think that whatever method works for you so that you don’t get into your own head is best. 

Reffing can be stressful - it’s still not the same feeling as when you are competing but there’s a lot of pressure to do right by each and every athlete. You don’t want to be the one who messes up the timing for an athlete or miscounts on the scorekeeping. You’ve got to be a master with a stopwatch and have the reflexes of a cat to start and stop it precisely for each lifter. When you’re managing the time, and giving down signals on reps, and counting, the pressure is on to make sure everything is still clear for the lifter and this is where it becomes valuable to have assistants sharing some of the responsibilities when it comes to reffing and scorekeeping. 

I’ll probably get back to reffing some more competitions again one day when I'm no longer as ambulatory but for now I’m still happier competing.