Review of the RefsCall Electronic Flag Set
My parents get the biggest kick out of my refereeing, and even more-so on my taking it seriously. After all, when I was a kid... well heck, I was a kid. My team could do no wrong, and if we lost, it was the fault of the other team and of poor refereeing. As is popular today, I'd spew more venom over the referees than the other teams - after all, we tended the get the refs far more often than our opponents. I'd groan in agony if certain names would be announced.
Now my parents get me autographs of those same people... and I like it.
This year, they sent my Christmas gift early (to ensure I wouldn't stare at it for months waiting for the snow to melt), and it was a doozy: a set of RefsCall electronic flags. For those who aren't familiar with them - the concept is quite simple - it's a paging system from the Assistant Referees to the Center. If the Center Referee misses something, they push a button on their flags, and a receiver either beeps or vibrates to get his attention.
The most important thing to remember about this set is that this is NOT the "Bip Flags" that are used in the MLS or in the World Cup. If you want those, you are going to need to spend an extra $225. Frankly, even these flags (at half the cost of the Bip Flags) are out of my range. But hey, apparently I hit the jackpot. There are, as you might imagine with a half-priced product, two major shortcomings compared to the Bip Flags, and also some differences. But let's go through each piece of equipment and get a feeling for each:
First thing you'll notice is the size - and above I've placed the RefCall flag against two others. But taking first things first, this is one long flag - I've used an Olympus Pro-Swivel Flag in the first picture for comparison, as I see this flag (and others with different brands, but almost clearly identical) all the time. After I started snobby with my flags, I only break these out when I know I have kids on the line, because I don't want them to abuse my good flags. The second picture is a similar comparison with Official Sports' Diamond World Cup Flags, which is in itself a large flag, but the RefsCall one just eeks out a little bit more length. I bought those flags on recommendation of someone else who shares my like of heavier flags, both in the flag itself, and in the larger and heavier handle . But if you have a tendency to step on your flags when you run the line, think before you shell out the money on this unit (or look for a shorter flag to replace the one included).
The handle itself is larger, of course, because of the transmitter - which is pretty self explanatory: press the big button and you get the Center's attention. The little circle (it looks like a button, but it's not) blinks green to confirm you're transmitting - but since you shouldn't be looking at your flag when you signal, it also gives a short beep itself to confirm that you're paging the Center - a nice touch! The downsides, in comparison to Bip Flags are pretty minor, although only one is correctable. The Bip Flags can be programmed to beep at different intervals (so you can tell, without looking, if the signal is coming from the Senior or Junior AR) - this feature does not exist the RefsCall flags, and in my opinion this is pretty minor, as procedure recommends that we keep good eye contact with both assistants as much as possible.
The other problem, which is a bigger but correctable, is that the handle is totally made of plastic. Plastic?! Do assistant referees not sweat where they designed these flags? I could rant on this for a while, but there is a good work-around: go to a sports good store, buy some "overgrips" designed for tennis rackets. This produces a a much better feel for the flag, in addition to being absorbent. Unfortunately, after a couple of purchases, I found that most (if not all) of these overgrips only have adhesive on the very begging on the tape (for the bottom of the wrap), and you have to tape the top; I ended up using black hockey tape, banking that it would hold up to water, as well as blend into the handle and overwrap - although it's quite obvious on the close-up picture here, it's not nearly so from a distance (and if people are concentrating on the tape-up job, you're not doing your job).
Easy-to-find 9-volt batteries power the transmitters, and are stored inside the handle, via a screw-off cap at the bottom of the flag (so watch where you start your overwrap).
The receiver is very easy to use (although there's a misprint in the instructions, prompting OSI to include a correction). To turn on, press both button on the side for two seconds, it'll beep and the green power LED (on the top of the unit) will turn on. To change from just beeping to beeping and vibration, press Mode; to change to just vibration, press Mode again; to get it to accept the signals from the flags, press Learn and then fire off signals from the two flags you're using (in case there are more than one team using these flags, or if more than one member has their own set) - it will remember the last set of flags used, as long as the battery is still good.
The sound is good and loud, the vibration works well - it would be very difficult to not be able to figure out how to use the receiver - but is also has two flaws, or should I say, one flaw and one nearly useless accessory. First and foremost, it's big - much larger than it needs to be - even with the 9-volt battery (instead of the watch batteries the Bip Flags use). It's about a thick as a VHS videotape, and about 2 1/2 inches tall (basically, shorter and squatter than an iPod [Editors note: think the original iPod]) - this means that if you want to wear it on your arm, it will not be hidden well - it won't be hidden at all, in fact. I'm thinking about placing it in a front pocket, as it may be less noticeable, but I doubt that'll be a good option when a woman uses this unit.
If you want to try it on your arm, you'll want to find another case, because the case that comes with it.... Um... what the heck were they thinking? I'm guessing that this was included by OSI because there's no mention of this in the instructions - only on the included sheet from Official Sports. The case is cheap - it doesn't look like it'll get through a game, let alone be comfortable. If you want to use it on your arm, get another case, pronto. I'm still looking for a good one (it fits in an [original] iPod case [which you can't find anymore], but it's a very tough squeeze, because it's thicker) for when the center would like to use this (as I imagine may be the case). There is no attachment for a belt clip, either. Take a trip out to your local runner's store, and you might find something that'll fit better.
The battery, like with the flags, is a 9-volt that you can get at any store (this is a big advantage over the Bip Flags, which need specialty batteries) - it took a few times to get the wires put away properly for it to fit; but the tight squeeze is a good thing, as you don't want the battery rattling around.
The other stuff
The case is decent, but it seemed amiss to have a flag case for electronic flags, but not have a space for the receiver! In my case, I've placed it in the box with my other gadgets (lightning detector, weather radio, and a bunch of wrist-bands for shock absorption), but it seems indicative of some of the missing details. Instructions are in English, Spanish, German and French, but the corrections are only in English. Nonetheless it's a very straightforward set, and I look forward to using it, and telling you how it holds up.
RefsCall Electronic Flag Set
Available in the US via Official Sports
- Half the price of Bip Flags
- 9-volt batteries allow easy replacement, changing
- Easy and straightforward to use
- Some nice details: flags beep when transmitting, flags interchangeable
- Flag handles all plastic
- Receiver should be smaller
- Arm case is pathetic
Should you buy? This is actually a single question with two meanings. The least obvious is, are you ready for the responsibility of using these flags? You need to be meticulous when it comes to your pre-game, and serious about your responsibility to the game. While it's easy to call these flags, "toys" - they're not. They can be used for good or for evil, and if not used properly they can really mess up your game. Please read this article about their use when contemplating a purchase.
The other, more pedestrian question is about the actual physical product. Simply put, you get what you pay for, which means you're missing some of the details those with National Badges get when they buy the Bips - however, most of these can be worked around for a few extra dollars, and the flags themselves perform well. If you really, really want an electronic flag set, and but don't have the dosh for the Bip Flags, these might just be the set for you.