By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
As someone who grew up playing sports and has always liked helping out, Monika Roberston said it was a no-brainer for her to become a cycling official, or commissaire, more than 13 years ago.
“I didn’t come from the sport. I really knew nothing about competitive and amateur cycling in Manitoba as a whole. What I really thought was great about it was that I was able to use my other experience with other sports growing up and focus my learnings from that and putting it into practice within a different sport,” said Monika.
One of the few individuals trained to officiate all three cycling disciplines that run in Manitoba (mountain, cycle cross, and road), Monika has accumulated a great deal of experience, memorable moments, and has helpful tips and advice for new commissaires and those who might want to give it a try.
There’s a ton that goes on behind the scenes as a commissaire to put on a successful race for athletes, coaches, volunteers, and spectators.
As a cycling coach, race organizer and cyclist, too, Monika understands the ins and outs from multiple different perspectives and believes time management is one of her biggest strengths in her officiating role.
“That’s one where I feel it’s one of the most important things about a full day cycling event — the time management. Ensuring that our athletes know what time they have to race at, and we actually start at that time, or at the very least communicating to them that we’re experience a 10-minute delay, and that’s definitely one of the things that I value and I try to really stick to when I’m officiating,” said Monika.
Part of the most rewarding thing she experiences as a commissaire is at the end of the day, having a successful event that ran smoothly without a lot of hiccups.
“The [goal is that] the racers have a good time, the volunteers have a good time, the volunteers know their expectations and their outcomes, and everyone is happy with the results,” said Monika.
Preparation, Education & Communication
Because cycling races take place on public grounds, and can’t be booked in the same way a court or pitch can, Monika said there’s been a few instances where an issue has come up because of blocked trails or roadways.
To avoid that and any other potential conflict during race time, it’s all about preparation, education and communication.
For example, if a race occurs at a provincial park with open roadways, Monika and the other commisaires and race organizers work with the park to ensure they’re in accordance with the rules and busy intersections are marked. They work with the volunteers to explain what their duties are and aren’t. They communicate with the surrounding residents to make sure the race isn’t causing any issues. They meet with coaches and athletes on rules and expectations before race day.
In the end, there’s lots of positive feedback.
“We’ve had great conversations with walkers or hikers at parks and they’ve been mostly respectful,” said Monika.
But sometimes, things do happen, and when it comes to a situation where an athlete(s) might not be pleased with an outcome, Monika said it’s about listening to and understanding both parties, and safeguarding fair play.
“I can’t make any call about the race, the event, or the instance unless I physically saw it with my own eyes. So, it could have happened out of sight, and all I can do is talk to the parties involved,” she said.
It’s also important to remain calm and make the call to the best of your ability with the information you have.
Tips and Advice for New Commissaires
It may be intimidating to think of officiating a race, but the role of a commissaire and giving back to the sport is fulfilling, fun, and deeply rewarding.
For new commissaires, or someone interested in becoming one, Monika’s advice is that it’s all about knowing the rules, standing your ground, and being confident in your decision.
“One thing that I’ve learnt over the years of coaching is, if the situation presented itself again, with two different sets of athletes, or two different parties, would you make that same decision? Is that the same decision you’d make for everyone? And you’d hope [the answer] would be yes. So, ensure that you know the rules, you’re following the guidelines, and you’re consistent throughout how you handle any situation,” said Monika.
Recruiting New Commissaires
Another good thing to know is not to let fear or uncertainty stop you from the great experience of officaitng.
“As we try to recruit new race officials for cycling, I think it’s the unknown. They’re nervous about ‘What if I don’t do good? I don’t know the rules. What if something happens?’ And hopefully we can try to tell them that it’s not that complex, it’s not that hard, it’s a time commitment is what that is,” said Monika.
And you’re never alone out there!
“There’s lots of people to help you. You’re never officiating a race on your own. We always work in twos and threes, so there’s always someone there to assist you to help you learn.”
What the Mantioba Cycling Association would love to see is more people getting involved in the sport through officiating, and to see the non-racers become commissaires, like the spectators, families, and those in our greater sport community.
“I think that without race officials, and organizers for that matter, our events can’t take place. And sport is so important to our kids, as well as our adults. Sport is important for everyone’s health right now. [There’s even more awareness] right now on how sport plays a role in just healthy living. We might not be all high-level, competitive athletes, but we still like to compete and socialize and get out there and participate. And definitely kids — it’s so very important to get them out there and try new things.”