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Checks To The Head Or Neck

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Checks To The Head Or Neck

I’ve gone through the procedural rules and some of the technical foul changes, but now I’m digging into the major safety violations that are different for 2014. I will use videos that are mostly from high school games to illustrate the fouls that the rules and situations describe. Please keep in mind that most of the videos that I find posted on YouTube are of truly excessive penalties and are not indicative of regular illegal body checks that occur in most games. These videos are of the outliers and they get posted on the internet because they are worse that run-of-the-mill body checks. Also, some of these videos are accompanied by loud music, adjust your speakers so you don’t lose your hearing.

NFHS Rule 5.4.1 – “A player shall not initiate contact to an opponent’s head or neck with a cross-check, or with any part of his body (head, elbow, shoulder, etc). Any follow-through that contacts the head or neck shall also be considered a violation of this rule.”

Penalty administration:  I was the official who threw my flag on the hit above. In a high school game this starts at 2-minutes non-releasable. If this had been a youth game I’m bypassing 2-minutes and going straight to 3-minutes.

NFHS Rule 5.4.2 - “A player shall not initiate an excessive, violent, or uncontrolled slash to the head/neck.”

Penalty administration: This penalty occurred after the whistle so for the context of that video at the youth and high school level I am issuing a 3-minute non-releasable Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty for deliberately striking another player during a dead ball. Had a similar slash occurred during live ball play the officials should not call this a 1-minute slash. It is an excessive slash to the head or neck so 2-minutes non-releasable would be the starting point.

NFHS Rule 5.4.3 – “A player, including an offensive player in possession of the ball, shall not block an opponent with the head or initiate contact with the head (known as spearing).”

Penalty administration: I show this clip in official’s training for what constitutes an ejectable hit at the high school and youth level. The hit above was late, unnecessary, excessive, and delivered with the defender’s helmet into the back of the offensive player (spearing). 3-minutes non-releasable, the player is ejected.

The end of rule 5.4 states that the penalty for checks to the head or neck is: “Two- or three-minute non-releasable foul, at the official’s discretion. An excessively violent violation of this rule may result in an ejection.”

So, body checks to the head/neck, and violent slashes to the head/neck should be flagged and start at 2-minutes non-releasable at minimum. But at the youth level officials may bypass the 2-minutes and go straight to 3-minutes because of page 94 of the NFHS Boys Lacrosse rulebook:

“US Lacrosse urges officials to apply these rules and utilize the more severe penalty options, and reminds them that body-checks that might be acceptable in high school play may be excessive in youth lacrosse, and should be penalized accordingly. Coaches are encouraged to coach players to avoid delivering such checks, and to support the officials when they call such penalties. All participants must work together to reduce or eliminate such violent collision from the game.”

Officials are encouraged to flag body checks in youth games that may be legal at the high school level. Coaches are encouraged to coach players to play defense with skill and not go head hunting or body checking a player way off the ball.

A quick personal note: Youth coaches, I will be the first to admit that officials miss penalties, but please do not scream at my partner or I when we throw a flag for what appears to be a perfectly legal body check. Do not yell out “That was perfectly legal,” and then tell your player “good hit” when he takes a knee next to you in the box. If the hit was perfectly legal we would not have thrown our flag and now your player is getting mixed messages. I would much prefer you ask, “Mr. Official why did you flag that hit?” I will likely respond, “Coach I saw that hit as excessive. Tell #12 to ease back for me.” That is a much better way for coaches and officials to interact on excessive body checks at the youth level.

Remember, the youth game is not the high school game and it certainly is not the college game. Officials are there for safety first. Coaches are there to teach proper body contact that is in line with the rules of the game, and parents/fans are there to enjoy a youth game on a Saturday afternoon without having an ambulance show up because every adult at the game wants little Billy to “bury” little Johnny. I want good defensive stick work, foot work, and body position. It takes no lacrosse skill whatsoever to obliterate a player late after a shot. Let’s keep the focus at the youth level on skill development and leave the big hits to the older age levels after the players demonstrate good lacrosse skills.

Cheers,
Gordon

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About the Author:

Gordon is a born lacrosse official who played for ten years before realizing he'd much rather ref the game than play it. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia and officiates youth, high school, and collegiate men's lacrosse games all over the southeast. His passion is educating and training officials, coaches, players, parents and all other fans on the rules of lacrosse, it's history, and how best to develop lacrosse in new areas.

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