Are You Kidding Me?

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The phrase I hate the most when I officiate is when a coach, player or fan yells, “are you kidding me?” No, I am not kidding you. In fact, I am completely serious. I called a penalty and that is the end of the discussion. A coach or person affiliated with a team is likely to say “are you kidding me” at least one time during the regular season. I can almost guarantee it because there is going to come a point when that person just cannot accept a particular call or no call. So they yell out in frustration. I understand their frustration, but I still don’t like the phrase.

That phrase irks me because it implies that I am not taking my job seriously. The person making that comment probably thinks that I just show up, throw on a striped shirt, and make calls whenever I feel like it. That person does not know that I:

  • Read the rulebook multiple times before the season and almost every day during the season
  • Run in the offseason so I can keep up with the players who get faster every year
  • Spend hours in the classroom teaching and being taught the intricacies of officiating lacrosse
  • Buy two new hats and two new flags every season so I look the part of a professional official
  • Take meticulous notes after my games detailing how I felt I did and what I need to work on for my next game
  • Call up my officiating friends and discuss weird rule situations so we all know what to do when something strange happens in our next game
  • Show up an hour early to every one of my games
  • Make calls based on safety and advantage/disadvantage. Nothing more.
  • Do not care who wins or loses
  • Want the game safe and fair

These are some of the things that I do and believe in, which I believe makes me a competent official. Many of my officiating colleagues in this state and across the country do similar things to prepare and be at their very best come game time. We put in hours of work behind the scenes so we can provide a quality product. To everyone who says, “are you kidding me?” I suggest taking an officiating class and stepping onto the field. Every new official that I have ever worked with says the exact same thing – “This is much harder than it looks.” It is hard to do, but the rewards are great if you put in the effort to become as good as you can be.


Youth Statistics

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Youth Statistics

I accidentally pissed off someone a few weeks ago. I was coaching a youth lacrosse team at a tournament and while the team was warming up I was on the sidelines watching my players. A gentleman with a scorebook wearing the apparel from the other team came up next to me and asked where my team was from. I told him and then he asked what our record was. I responded that I had no idea. I think he assumed that I was not the person in charge and asked to see my team’s Head Coach. I stated that I was the Head Coach, and he seemed a little taken aback by my statement.

He asked again what my team’s record was. I again responded that I did not know and I did not personally keep track of that information. After hearing what I had to say this individual became quite angry and stormed off to his other team’s bench. It took me a second to realize what was going on but then it hit me – he was fishing for information about how good or bad my team was. When I didn’t give him the information he wanted he went away and pouted. When I realized all of this I was shocked, but after the game I was downright angry.

Just to be clear my team’s record and some basic statistics are kept on a spreadsheet on a computer somewhere, but I have never looked at it. I was very forthright with this individual when I told him that I do not keep track of records or stats on my team, but he thought I was hiding my team’s record to give my team some kind of advantage or to disadvantage his team. Eventually, I moved from anger to sadness. Sadness because I’ve seen this kind of behavior before on the sidelines and in the stands, but it was never fully brought out into the open until that game.

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics” – Mark Twain.

That Mark Twain quote should tell you everything you need to know about my feeling on keeping stats at the youth level. They are not necessary and can be down right dangerous. I dislike statistics because they confirm what is already known. This player is better than that player. This team is worse than that team. When I officiate youth lacrosse games I can usually tell within the first five minutes which team is likely to win and I never look at the stat book. I look for two things. One, does the team communicate well, and two, are they going for every ground ball? That is all I need to determine whether or not one team is better than another.

While statistics confirm what anyone can figure out if they get their eyes out of the stat book and onto the field, they are also of no benefit for the youth player. Statistics benefit parents and overzealous coaches. That is it. Do they validate all the lessons the parent is paying for? Do they confirm to the coach that he is right keeping only his first lines in the game while everyone else rides the bench? Probably both. Statistics do nothing for the youth player except quantify his abilities at an age when he should be more concerned with the quality of them.

I have two standing rules with every team that I coach: The score is always “zero to zero” and I don’t care if they make a mistake as long as they are running as hard as they can. I do not care what Johnny’s shot percentage is. I do not care what my goalie’s save percentage is. I do not care what our team’s faceoff percentage is. I care that they are going after every ground ball as hard as they can and that they keep playing as if the score is perpetually tied. This approach allows for kids to make mistakes without fear.

Statistics create fear because statistics lock kids into predictable behavior. I want the kid who is eager to win his next faceoff, not the one more concerned about keeping his 80% win record going. The former kid is going to go after every faceoff with tenacity, while the latter is likely to implode if he loses one or two faceoffs early in a game. I want the goalie who forgets about the last goal he let in, not the one who is worried that the team stat keeper just put another mark in the “Goal’s Against” column. The former plays without fear, the latter turns into a hole in the net.

Truthfully, I do care about one statistic and I’ve hinted at it this entire post. I care about ground balls. In my opinion, ground balls should be the only statistic kept by teams. Let the league keep the win/loss record, but if a team wants to keep stats they should only keep ground balls. Ground balls are an effort statistic. They show how consistent your team is at getting the loose ball off the turf and into a workable possession. Without GB’s, shots and goals are simply not possible. Ground balls are the true measure of a team.

I believe we have one goal at the end of the day in youth athletics. That goal is to get the kids to want to play again the next day. That should be the statistic we are measuring – which kids stay and which kids go. If they leave because they found a different passion then more power to them, but if they leave because adults started ranking and quantifying them then shame on us.

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I Wrote A Book!

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Advancement Rules

I can’t believe it but I just sent the final version of my officiating book “Advancement Rules: Improving Your Lacrosse Officiating” to my publisher! CGP is responsible for the design of the front and back cover, my mother took all of the photos, my sister edited the entire book, and my dad kept me focused on finishing! It has been a long year of writing, but I am proud to soon be calling myself an actual author! My book will be available for purchase on the Amazon store as an eBook, and will also be available to order a paperback version.

This is a short book full of advice, insight, commentary, methods, and strategies for managing a game and improving as a lacrosse official. I want any official who reads this book to feel more confident when they next step onto the field. I am looking forward to putting out future editions of “Advancement Rules” every two to three years. Those editions will go into more detail of specific officiating techniques, interviews with top NCAA officials, and more strategies that I’ve implemented in my game.

This book has been a great labor of love for me, and it could not have happened without the contributions, advice, testimonials, and stories from numerous officials. They are, in no particular order: Wade Lenicka, Brad Lapinski, Rick Eltz, James Eubanks, Dave Adams, Jim Kennedy, Stuart Smith, Jeff Green, A. Nick Brown, Bill Powell, Jon Oschner, Don Stoppenbach, Jeremy Redmon, Tony Rouse, Lou Diaz, Andy Halperin, Topher Lawson, Eric Sanders, Mike Gossett, Patrick Fecke, Harold Buck, and Brian Higgins. Any omissions are the fault of the author.

To the Georgia Lacrosse Officials Association – It has been one of the great pleasures of my life to officiate with the individuals that comprise this fantastic association.

To those that have shared a LAREDO event with me: Jeremy Redmon, Topher Lawson, Jeff Greene, Kurt Trampel, Jon Cisowski, Jeremy Bofman, Dave DuBan, Pat Finn, Nic Herriges, David Redfern, Ben Voskia. We went through the crucible of training and came out better officials. I had a blast working and hanging out with all of you.

Special thanks to the men who have mentored me over the years: David Clements, Peter Fleury, Trey Towery, Jeff Bruso, and Dale Hall. If it wasn’t for you taking me under your wing and advising me after games I would never have reached the goals I set for myself.

To every official I’ve ever worked with. I’ve learned something from all of you that helped to improve my game.

A special thanks to my sister, Caitlin Corsetti, for her hard work editing this book.

Finally, to my parents. My mother, Mary Jo, for all of her support and belief, and my father, Lou, who has always been my biggest fan.

I decided to put a little teaser of the book up on the AYL blog so here is the introduction to “Advancement Rules!”

My career as a lacrosse official began in the seventh grade. I helped run the scorer’s table during youth games at Atlanta Youth Lacrosse, one of the earliest youth lacrosse leagues in Georgia. On the final game of the evening, the scheduled officials did not show up. The players and coaches were ready to go, but we had no one to ref the game. I was the only person around who had read at least part of the rulebook. So I stepped down from the elevated scorer’s platform, grabbed a whistle, and soldiered onto the field for my first game.

I was alone, petrified, and had no idea what I was doing. I knew what a slash was, but I had no clue how to report it properly. I had a vague notion of the proper enforcement of a flag down slow-whistle. I had zero idea of how to conduct a play-on. At the very least, I knew how to signal a goal. I distinctly remember angering the head coach of the home team. A person who, up until that point, I had considered a friend and mentor in lacrosse. He was incensed that I did not award a free clear to his team after a foul by the opposing team in his team’s defensive half of the field. This is something I do without hesitation now, but I had no clue what he was talking about then. All I could do was stare at him as he yelled and gesticulated emphatically that I was the single worst official he had ever seen on a lacrosse field. That was the inauspicious start to my officiating career.

Despite that coach’s opinion of my officiating abilities, I found that I liked wearing the stripes for two primary reasons. One, I liked getting paid. It was a marvelous first experience to be handed cash after the game by the league administrator, and I was making a terrific hourly rate at roughly $20-25 per game. It definitely beat working retail. Two, I liked the authority. Not many middle and high school students get to exercise authority and command. The authority of being an official was intoxicating. I blew my whistle and play stopped. I threw my flag and handed out swift judgment. I reported fouls and people listened. For a young kid, the general deference people showed me when wearing stripes was just plain cool.

While my officiating career began in my early teens, I did not consider it a profession until I joined the Georgia Lacrosse Officials Association, GLOA, in 2008. When I hit the field for my first game as a newly certified GLOA official I was a nervous wreck. But, game by game I got a little more confident, and a little more sure of myself. I was also incredibly lucky with the officials I was partnered with. Those individuals, many of whom contributed to this book, were my first mentors and they helped navigate a hapless first year official through the treacherous terrain that all new officials must go through. By the end of that year I was a better official. Mainly due to the experience I gained on the field and the advice I received from my mentors. However, I was far from being the official that I wanted to be.

That off-season I was consumed with improving my officiating skills and reaching that next level. I read as many books as I could find on officiating. I watched the college officials on television. I called my mentors after fall ball games if I had questions. I even practiced signals in the mirror. My goal was to get assigned varsity games, and I wanted to do everything possible to get to that level. Eventually, I put in enough work and started seeing assignments pop up every so often with a varsity tag next to it. To say I was both thrilled and nervous is an understatement. Having reached my goal, I needed a new one. Which became how do I become the referee on games instead of the umpire? Once I started getting referee positions, the next thought was, “Maybe I could be a college official.” I am proud to say I was recently recommended to become a collegiate official, and will have some college games in the 2013 regular season on my schedule.

Every year there is a new goal, a new level to reach or place to advance to. The question you must ask yourself is how do you get to the next level in lacrosse officiating? Whether you want to move from youth games to junior varsity, JV to varsity or varsity to college. This book will help you advance and reach your goals in this fantastic profession.

I’ll do another post once the book goes to print and is available on Amazon!