From reluctant teen to AR star

From reluctant teen to AR star

It’s a crisp Sunday morning in the Kingdom of Fife, and 15-year-old Kaylee McKervail is looking forward to a lie in and lazy day ahead of going back to school on Monday.

Dave, on the other hand, has an entirely different idea for his daughter.

Getting ready to take an Introduction to Match Officiating course, the experienced referee and educator hauled Kaylee out of her cosy beds to come along and make up numbers on the course.

“It was about 7’oclock in the morning and he was like, ‘come on, we need the numbers, it’ll be good for you’ so I was dragged out of bed to go.

“Whilst I enjoyed doing the course and found it insightful, it wasn’t until I started getting appointments that I began to get the enjoyment out of officiating”, said Kaylee, who is now 21.

“For me I love to be the eyes on the side and being the AR (Assistant Referee) much more than being in the middle. It gives you such a different perspective to the game having that different viewpoint, and it’s actually so enjoyable.

“I feel like I’ve picked up so many new skills and a better understanding of the game from being an AR. I absolutely love it.”

Kaylee’s first experience of AR was, of course, aided by her dad.

“After I’d done my course, my dad offered to teach me how to AR. I can’t quite remember where it was, but what I do remember is we just rocked up to a game. They didn’t have any AR’s appointed but dad said, ‘Do you mind if we run touch so I can teach her how to do it?’ they said yes so off we went.

“He had me all kitted up and he was in his referee kit too. I remember being so embarrassed thinking, ‘what on earth do we look like’. In the first half he was running the line and I was just trailing behind him. I felt absolutely ridiculous chasing him down the line in full kit, but it was such a good experience.”

Pictured: Kaylee (left), Dave (centre), Colin George (right) at a recent military rugby fixture.

Dave, who is an award-winning referee in his own right, having picked up the Match Official of the Season award in the Caledonia Midlands region last year, has been supporting Kaylee every step of the way has her journey has continued.

“I can’t remember my first appointment, but what I do remember is the day before my dad sat me down and got out a slideshow with clips and details on sort of ‘what happens when’, so like, what happens when the ball gets kicked out, where to go back to, all that kind of stuff.

“At the time I remember thinking it was quite boring because I hadn’t got the bug for it yet, but I was so grateful for it because it was actually really helpful.”

Since then, Kaylee – who also plays touch and contact rugby – has officiated at all levels of the game including military fixtures, and it’s even taken her to AR at Scotstoun and BT Murrayfield for youth rugby events.

Kaylee’s most recent appointments have been as an AR in the Girls Regional Game Series, a new programme run jointly by Scottish Rugby’s Rugby Development and High Performance departments, to support the development and identification of future Scottish talent.

The Series had three female referees officiating each fixture, a first for Scottish Rugby, made possible now that there are more than 30 women regularly officiating across the country.

With this growth, it’s now becoming a much more regular occurrence for games to be officiated by more than one woman, with many games having a full complement of officials who are female.

Refereeing alongside other women is something that Kaylee feels especially grateful for.

“It’s really valuable to have other women support you in your journey. It’s also great to watch how other women referee. I feel like there’s so much to learn from them and it’s really important for us as young, up-and-coming officials to have that.”

Kaylee (right) featured as part of an all-women match official team in the Girls Regional Game Series (Rebecca Wheatly, left, Niamh Hay, centre).

Looking ahead to the future, Kaylee’s heart is set on a career in the military. Whilst she envisions officiating remaining a part of her life, she’s not to sure quite how far up the ladder she wants to go just yet. But whatever happens, she long hopes it will continue and that more women will be interested in picking up the whistle or flag.

“I’ve not thought too much about what’s next. If I get an appointment then I’m up for it, I’ll always be there when I’m needed.

“I’d love to see more women give officiating a go. My advice – just do it. Even though I was the most reluctant person to do the introduction course, look how far I have progressed, how much I enjoy it now and the opportunities I’ve had.

“Even if you think you just want to continue as a player, do the course, it will only make you a better player. There’s a lot to get out of officiating, and I’m proof of that having AR’d at Scotstoun and BT Murrayfield. Not many people can say that.”

And of course, nobody is prouder of those achievements than father, Dave.

“She’d say I’m talking pants when I say I’m proud of her, but I am”, said Dave, who’s refereeing career began in Hampshire in 2010.

“Seeing Kaylee step up as an AR for military games – which can be a tough gig from the side-lines – and the likes of BT Murrayfield is great.

“My motivation to take her along to that first match official course was as I said to her, ‘you never know when your rugby journey is going to begin, and you never know when it is going to end’. By doing the course, if you think afterwards that officiating appeals to you that’s great, but if not, it’ll make you a better player.

“Straight away after doing it I could see her taking the knowledge she’d picked up into her own playing, explaining to team-mates ‘you can’t do this or that because of these laws’.

“With Kaylee waiting to start a career in the military, there’s a lot of similarities between those environments and refereeing and that’s going to help her in the long run. You have to make split-second decisions, you have to come up with a plan, understanding how what you say or decide now might affect what happens next. It’s very much intertwined.”

Learn more about the world of Match Officiating, and about how you can get involved on Scottish Rugby’s website.

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