Category Archives: Coaches

That’s A Stupid Rule

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“That’s stupid.”, “That’s a stupid rule.”, “We don’t use those rules, they’re stupid.”

When I hear these comments from players, coaches, fans, parents, program administrators, or tournament organizers I always take a breath to settle myself. This prevents me from starting an argument that I have no hope of winning. I usually hear the following from each group:

  • A player after calling him for withholding when he loses his crosse with the ball in it:
    • “What?! I get a chance to get my stick back! That’s a dumb rule.” 
  • A coach after flagging his #1 player for delay of game when he rolled the ball away:
    • “You’ve got to be kidding me, he was rolling it to where the restart was going to be anyway! That’s a ridiculous rule!”
  • A parent after I flag his nine year old for launching his body like a SCUD missile into the helmet of an unaware opponent:
    • “You guys take all the fun out of a physical game with these stupid rules!”
  • A program administrator explaining to me that I am to play the game without NOCSAE balls:
    • “I don’t think there is any real difference between NOCSAE balls and non-NOCSAE balls. That was a stupid rule they put in, and we choose not to use those balls in our games.”
  • A tournament organizer on goalie arm pads at the youth level:
    • “It doesn’t protect the goalies from shots, and it’s unnecessary equipment. It’s a stupid rule that doesn’t do anything.”

Ask anyone that knows me and they’ll tell you that I love a good rules discussion. I like bouncing weird situations off my fellow officials and then seeing who is right. If I’m right I have a mini-parade in my head complete with Matthew Broderick singing “Twist and Shout.” If I’m wrong I feel bad and try to remember if I misapplied the rule in any earlier game I reffed. Those are great rules discussions because there isn’t much emotion involved since officials look at the rules as nothing more than the rules. We just want to know how to apply the written rules in the fairest way possible.

I prefer to look at the rules from an officiating perspective because they make the most sense from that perspective, which is why some rules grate on every other group involved in the game. I know because I’ve been in every one of the positions listed above except for parent and can understand those perspectives. However, as soon as someone tells me that a rule is stupid I lose a great deal of respect for their position, especially if that is their only reasoning.

The argument of “that’s stupid” worked brilliantly for me and my friends during recess in elementary school. Somewhere between learning how to write a five paragraph essay and balancing an algebraic equation it was impressed upon me that the argument “that’s stupid” is pretty stupid. It doesn’t work in school, higher education, or any planning meeting I’ve ever sat on. I can’t tell a client that his idea is stupid without also having a very well-reasoned argument behind my position (and telling the client that his idea is stupid is rarely a good way to win him over to my position). Yet for reasons unknown to me “that’s stupid” is the fallback position for most people who disagree with youth rules, and their follow up argument generally goes one of two ways. Either, “that’s just how I feel,” or, “they’re ruining the game.”

I think it is time to destroy both of these tired arguments:

  • “That’s just how I feel.”
    • I get this one. I feel strongly about lots of issues. It’s the nature of being human, but feelings are terrible guides for rules. Some people feel youth goalkeepers should not be required to wear arm pads during games because they need to learn how to deal with getting whacked in the elbows when they reach an older age level, and elbow pads don’t provide protection against really hard shots and tend to limit a goalkeeper’s movement. That’s the feeling. The reason this rule was put into place is because across the country moms, dads, grandparents, coaches, and players from the opposing team would shout “Elbows! Goalie is out, get him!” whenever a goalkeeper ran out of the crease. Which led to several youth goalkeepers getting their arms bruised and broken. Feelings should never be a reason to disregard safety rules or required equipment, which, contrary to public belief, have solid logic behind them.
  • “They’re ruining the game.”
    • Ah the mysterious cabal of cloaked people who meet in a darkened alcove during a full moon and discuss how best to ruin lacrosse as we know it. The group of which everyone speaks but no one researches is the Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee, and that group is listed on the last page of the 2014 US Lacrosse Boys Youth Lacrosse Rules PDF, and unlike the Illuminati they ask for feedback: “Please send all comments or suggestions regarding the Rules for Boys’ Youth Lacrosse to the US Lacrosse Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee […] to Please do not contact NFHS about these rules.” Here is a helpful hint: don’t send emails saying that a rule is stupid. A more reasoned argument is necessary.
    • To the other part of this poor argument – If you believe that the Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee, the NFHS, or the NCAA is trying to ruin the game with new rules then I want to know exactly when the game was perfect. Was it where it needed to be prior to being discovered by French Jesuit missionaries? Or were the rules William George Beers established in 1869 plenty? Wait, I’ve got it. The argument isn’t that the game is being ruined by new rules because if that were true then the game was ruined well before the 20th century. In fact, this really isn’t an argument. It’s just whining.
    • The one gripe I hear the most is that “they’re ruining the game by taking out hitting.” I hate to burst the bubble of these individuals, but William Beers, who wrote the first standard rules of lacrosse, stated that: “‘The perfection of checking is to check without hitting your opponent’ and that actually hitting an opponent with a check [or body] was indicative of bad or unskillful play (178, 201).” Hitting was never in the game to start with as a legal action and happened to be looked down upon. So in a sense, the game was ruined by the introduction of hitting, and all these groups are trying to do is make a contact sport as safe as possible for your child to play. What a horrible group of people.

The rules are going to change. The only reason I don’t like the rules changing is that it’s more work for me. I have to read each book and study up on how to apply new rules as fairly as possible while remembering the numerous exceptions to the old ones, but I don’t reflexively say “that’s stupid” when I come across a rule I personally disagree with because that accomplishes nothing. Do some research, come up with a better argument and then we’ll talk.


Go Get Some Rest

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To any U9-U17 player who reads my posts I have one message for you as the spring season comes to a close this weekend: Go get some rest. Take a break. Chill out. Slow down. Put your feet up. Take a breather.

Rest has become increasingly taboo in our culture. It’s as if slowing down for a moment means we are wasting time that we could be putting towards some useful pursuit, but rest is critical for sustained performance over time. This is the last week of the high school playoffs in Georgia. From May 19th to May 30th I am not officiating. I’ve already officiated 86 games this season according to my exported schedule. My body and my mind need a break, and I assure you that if I need two weeks off at 26 years old that every youth player across the country could probably use a break too. They might not need as long of a break as I do, or they might need a longer one. The important thing is that youth players should do something other than structured practices and games for a little while once the season wraps up.

During my break I’m going to continue my HeadSpace meditation sessions and new Yoga practice, both of which have helped me immensely this season stay relaxed and calm. The kids might want to go to the pool, have sleep overs, or run around in the yard pretending to be pirate-ninjas. The point is there is a time and a place for rest, especially after great labors. And finishing a full lacrosse season as a player, parent, coach, or official is a sustained labor. Treat yourself to a rest, whatever it is you need to recharge. I promise you, lacrosse is still going to be here when you get back, but you’ll be in a better frame of mind to enjoy it.

For those of you who may be interested in HeadSpace check out this excellent Ted Talk by Andy Puddicombe:


More Games! More Games! More Games!

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With the end of the regular season almost upon us everyone’s attention is turning towards summer travel ball. I have several trips in the works to officiate different summer tournaments because it is a great way for me to stay in touch with many of my officiating friends in different states. I was also fortunate to be selected to officiate the festival games in Denver that are going on alongside the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships, which I’ll be heading out to in July and I’ve been geeking out about that since I got the assignments. In my officiating travels I’ve noticed a strange mindset creeping into youth lacrosse: it seems that games have taken on a greater importance than practice.

I want to be clear on what I think the relationship between practice and games should be:

Practice > Games

Games < Practice

I hear over and over again the need for more and more game experience for youth players. It’s as if playing more games accelerates skill development. It doesn’t, and a personal lesson from my high school algebra class demonstrates this.

A math test and a lacrosse game are surprisingly similar. Math tests require a student to demonstrate proficiency in a particular area of math after learning it in class and solving problems while studying. Lacrosse games require a player to demonstrate skill in their particular position after learning it at practice and working repetitions in their free time. Math tests are rarely passed without consistent study, and lacrosse games are rarely won without regular practice.

I imagine I would get many ludicrous looks if I suggested the best way to get better at math would be to take more and more tests at the expense of more and more study. Tests and studying are not the same. Tests are designed to prove that you know the material you practiced on your own time. They are not designed to teach you new information. When I was in high school I performed very poorly in algebra. I did not study much and the tests reflected my lack of preparation. After getting suitably chastised by my teacher and parents I found a way to pass by spending hours working as many problems as I could so that solving for “x”  was burned into my brain. If I just took the tests without studying I would have had a lot of “test experience,” and a failing grade in the class. But I learned to study and the test just became confirmation of information I already knew.

Games have become more important than they should be at the youth level. Youth lacrosse is meant to light a fire so a player has fun playing the game and so they understand the importance of carving out time to practice. High school and college coaches do not care if a player was in 200 games over the course of their youth playing days. They want to know if a player logs 200 hours of wall ball each off season because anyone can get up to play a game. Getting up to practice is much harder.