Everyone Needs To Pass The Rules Test

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You cannot legitimately criticize a player, coach, or official if you do not understand the game.

I have finally moved through the Kubler-Ross model after listening to blatantly incorrect statements from players, coaches, and fans as a lacrosse official. More commonly referred to “the five stages of grief”, the Kubler-Ross model is a guideline for the typical emotions most people go through when facing death or extreme grief. I’ve spent five years going through my own stages of rules grief as I see less overall lacrosse knowledge as the sport grows unbounded in Georgia.

The Five Stages of Gordon’s Rules Grief

  1. Denial – When I started officiating I dissected the rulebook and learned the exceptions to the exceptions. I’ve never thought that the average player, coach, or fan should know precisely how to administer live-ball simultaneous fouls. But I still can’t believe how many people think that a body check to a player’s chest is a push in a Varsity game.
  2. Anger – In year two of my officiating career I got angry. Mostly at coaches. I was too particular in applying the least-understood rules at the worst times, and I became angry because a lot of players, coaches, and fans had no idea what I was calling and then yelled at me for making those calls.
  3. Bargaining – At this point in my career I started to understand the basics of game management. So I approached coaches and players with more understanding. I still applied the least-understood rules of the rulebook, but I got better at explaining what I called and why I made a call. I was also learning the game-within-a-game between officials and coaches. As I understood how coaches were approaching a game I got better at conversing with them and, while not convincing them that I was right every time, that I was consistent.
  4. Depression – When you ref almost eighty games during the regular season, and over 150 games of varying age levels in the off season you can get a little burnt out from the same comments endlessly repeated. I don’t have a problem with the regular “C’mon ref call something!” comments. I got depressed over hearing “he’s offside!” when the player stepping offside was forty yards away from the ball and gained no advantage. I got even more depressed when multiple parents asked me after multiple U9 games, “You mean I shouldn’t tell my player to lower his shoulder into the attackman?” No, no you shouldn’t.
  5. Acceptance – I am pleased to report that I have reached a state of acceptance over the general lack of lacrosse rules knowledge by the public in our developing area. I hear the same blatantly incorrect statements from the sidelines, but I let them pass through me and I am unaffected.

Now, just because I’ve reached the “Acceptance” stage of the five stages of rules grief personally does not mean I’ve reached the “Acceptance” stage for the lacrosse community that I am a part of. I do not accept that anyone can fully enjoy a sport without knowing what the rules and their application are.

For instance, I enjoy watching rugby. I find that sport to be incredibly fast and exciting to watch, but I have no idea what is going on. I do not know what the rules are or how rugby plays are designed. In short, I don’t know the game. I think I would find rugby much more fun to watch if I knew what the major rules were and how basic plays were run.

I know that any person is perfectly capable of illegitimately criticizing anyone even if the person doing the criticizing has no experience or understanding about that which they are criticizing. I could strongly question my doctor for what I believe is an unnecessary prescription of antibiotics based off a cursory reading of my cold symptoms on WebMD when I am feeling ill. Just because I can access and read any information about the common cold from a Google search does not mean that I have the same level of comprehension that a qualified and certified doctor has. That doctor knows more about antibiotics and possible medication side-effects than I will ever know, and I’m not going to tell the doctor, “Whoa, doc, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night and read up on the best course of treatment for myself.”

We live in an age with vast amounts of interconnected information that we can access on the phones in our pockets. Unfortunately, just having knowledge does not bestow comprehensive understanding of it’s application. You need to test yourself.

I propose the following model for all youth lacrosse leagues to help increase overall understanding of the rules of lacrosse.

Rule Comprehension Testing

We will never stop ignorant criticism of those who apply knowledge in a manner that we disagree with, but we can improve legitimate criticism by providing everyone the knowledge of lacrosse rules and test everyone on the application of those rules. Perhaps after a few years of doing this spectators will stop telling me that a slash is a two-minute technical foul.


Why I Don’t Play Anymore

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Whenever I ref a men’s club game or tournament, like I did this weekend, I invariably run into a former teammate or opponent from my playing days. After the usual pleasantries are exchanged I get asked the same question: “Why aren’t you playing today Corsetti?”

The short and funny answer is: “I’m not getting paid $50 bucks to play the game, but I do get paid that to ref it.”

The more complicated answer is: “I don’t want to play anymore.”

I rarely give out that second answer because I get a lot of perplexed looks from youth, high school, college, and men’s club players. None of them understand why I wouldn’t want to get out and mix it up with some buddies on a lacrosse field. I don’t think they believe me when I explain that if I never picked up a lacrosse stick again for the rest of my life that I would still die happy.

You see, I love lacrosse, but I never really liked playing. And that is a huge distinction to make.

Since I started playing in fifth grade at Atlanta Youth Lacrosse at Murphy Candler Park until I stopped in my final club game around 2011, I had trouble enjoying lacrosse while I played it. I had a blast with my teammates, and I rejoiced when we won games, but there was a darker side that I never liked.

Since I began playing as a child I never fully enjoyed a game because I was so self-critical. Every mistake I made was magnified in my mind as being the worst mistake ever made on a lacrosse field. I had fun, sure, but I was also plagued by self-doubt and a ridiculously critical inner-voice. As I grew older and played in more competitive games that self-doubt turned into anger. Eventually the game wasn’t any fun no matter what the final score was.

I spent ten years playing lacrosse turning much of my anger towards myself, and at twenty-two years old I played a men’s club game out in north Georgia with some friends. The team played well, I played well, we won with a comfortable lead, and I was miserable driving home. I was miserable because I got stripped of the ball on a clear. I was pissed off at myself in a game that had zero meaning. So I made the decision then and there that I no longer wanted to play lacrosse.

I never liked playing lacrosse, but I loved the game then and I love it now. The only difference is I get to officiate, which allows me to cultivate a mental attitude that I am much happier with. For me, the best part about officiating is that I only have one metric that I judge myself on, which is:

  1. Did I give everything I had to the two teams playing?
    • As one high-level official I met said, “If the players are going to give 100%, I am going to give 100%.”

The second best part about officiating is that you never win and you never lose. You either did a good job or you didn’t. For some reason that tiny difference turns my competitively hot anger against myself into a cool anger. When I make a mistake that cool anger keeps me hyper focused on the game in front of me, and it drives me to make sure that I don’t commit any more mistakes for the rest of the game.

Officiating lets me be my self-critical self without being destructive. I tell people who ask me why I officiate the following:

When I ref a game I get to be the calm center of the swirling tornado around me. I step on and off the field with a calm and relaxed mindset. That makes me happy.

I’m still competing to be the best lacrosse official I can possibly be, but it took me over fifteen years to realize that while lacrosse is a competitive game, it is still just a game, and I’m not going to crucify myself mentally for not hitting my generally too-high standards.

I love lacrosse, and I like officiating. So that’s what I’m going to stick with until I can transfer my officiating mentality into my playing mentality.

Featured Image Credit – http://melaniexyz.deviantart.com/art/Hanging-up-the-Cleats-184435915


Why Kids Should Take Care Of Fish

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I know what you’re thinking. How am I going to link caring for fish to lacrosse? Well, here I go:

I was in fifth grade when I started taking care of a few freshwater fish in a tiny ten gallon aquarium. My first fish was a little catfish that zoomed to the side of the tank and swam erratically against the glass when it saw it’s reflection. I named it Frisky.

As I got older I went to a twenty gallon, and finally a forty gallon aquarium through most of high school. I kept Frisky, the algae eater, Spot, and most all of my fish alive for a good six or seven years. I did this by reading up on how to keep a freshwater aquarium ecosystem running well. I changed the water regularly, kept the light on a timer, and did not overfeed the fish. At a young age I learned how to care for an entire group of small creatures that relied on me. I also learned that small mistakes repeated over time can drastically harm the tiny ecosystem.

The smaller the ecosystem the greater the impact of every change so it is important to make very small changes. This same principle applies to a youth lacrosse team of 18-22 players. If a coach wants to change many things at the same time the team’s players will not respond well. Say you want your players to throw better checks, break down better, have better footwork, and slide better. If you try to teach all of that at the same time you will fail. The team ecosystem will break down with the flood of too much new or different information. Instead, institute your changes gradually. One week just work on better footwork. The next, better checking. Over time your team will improve defensively because you broke down a big change – Better Defense – into a bunch of smaller, easily digestible, changes.

Another lesson I learned from fish is that you cannot introduce new fish into your tank by just pouring them in. When you get a fish from the store, the employee puts the fish into a small bag in the water it is used to swimming in. That water is different from your aquarium water in chemical levels and temperature. Imagine how you would react if a stranger picked you up from school, drove you a distance you couldn’t measure, and then left you at a new school in a different state. You might be a little shocked.

The correct way to bring in new fish is to float the bag in your water so the temperature equalizes. After fifteen minutes, pour a little bit of your water into the new fish bag so the shock is lessened. Then use a fish net to scoop up the little fish and gently deposit him in your aquarium. The fish will be less shocked, and you don’t have to worry about introducing a bag worth of store aquarium water into your aquarium.

Players must understand that they will not get better after one practice or one game. You can’t shock your system into learning anything. Just as coaches must be gradual in teaching new concepts, players must take a consistent approach to learning new skills. If you want to get better at winning face offs, you don’t try to master every face off move at the same time. Remember what Bruce Lee famously said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Get really good at the basics, and then add to your skill set slowly and consistently. If you do that, the only person getting shocked by your skills will be your opponent.

The last reason I have for young players taking care of fish ties in with the main AYL message: Player Responsibility. We put a huge emphasis on players at every age level to be responsible for their gear and their practice off the field. Our staff does not like seeing players handing their gear to their mom or dad for the short walk to their car. It is your gear, you wear it, you carry it.

The trouble with responsibility is that kids have to be given something to be responsible for, and adults can never be sure how the kid will handle it until given the chance. That is why caring for one or more fish in a tiny aquarium is an awesome way to teach kids responsibility. You can get small aquariums for very cheap, and freshwater neons cost less than $2 per fish! If a fish dies the parent isn’t out a bunch of money, and neons are not tough to keep alive because they are hardy little guys.

The young player taking care of fish learns how to take care of creatures that are completely dependent on the young player for their survival. That is a huge lesson in responsibility for a kid, and if the kid fails early on you get a few more cheap fish and try again. Very little is at stake, but the kid learns how to be more responsible, and if they demonstrate the responsibility to take care of a few fish then they prove to the adults that they can take on more important tasks.

Alright! Fish to lacrosse link accomplished! I wonder what other obscure non-lacrosse related things I can link to lacrosse…

Gordon Corsetti