How Did You Miss That?

Officials are not supposed to miss a penalty. They are also never supposed to make mistakes either. Not only are they not supposed to make mistakes, they are expected to be perfect throughout the entire game. Fans scream at coaches who sub out their favorite player. They laugh derisively when an opponent misses an easy ground ball. However, they save their scorn for the official. A person who is subject to the same amount of human error as any other person, but for the span of a game, they are expected to be omniscient and infallible.

This makes for some interesting commentary:

  • “Are you blind?”
  • “Hey ref, I’ve got your cell phone here. It says nine missed calls!”
  • “Hope your breaks work on the drive home!”
  • “Bend over and use your other eye!”
  • “Ref, if you had one more eye you’d be a cyclops”
  • “Are you even watching the game?”
  • “What? Are you getting DirecTV out there ref? Because you sure aren’t watching this game!”
  • “You’re missing a great game ref!”

Of those comments, six of them refer to the official’s sight. After all, that is a well-known officiating concept. If the ref does not see it, it did not happen. Or, if the ref does not see it, it isn’t cheating.

No one disparages an official’s sense of hearing or smell because everything an official does is based off what the official sees on the field. One big issue that many spectators ignore is that officials do not watch the entire field.

When two officials ref a lacrosse game, which we refer to as a two-man game, they split the field into “On” and “Off” sections. Depending on where the ball is on the field, one official is responsible for all the action in a particular area, while the other official looks at everything away from the play. This allows the two officials to see everything going on. Even though only one official is staring at the ball. The diagram below details the concept of “On/Off” officials.

Blue Zebra = On Official, Red Zebra = Off Official

Blue Zebra = On Official, Red Zebra = Off Official

Notice that the field is split into two rough triangles running through the crease. When the ball crosses the red line, the Red Zebra becomes the on-official, and the Blue-Zebra becomes the off-official. So when the ball carrier brings the ball behind the cage, everything happening around that ball is the responsibility of the Blue-Zebra, while the Red-Zebra looks at the five other offensive and defensive players, plus the goalie. By splitting the field in half, two officials can make sure the players away from the ball are not taking cheap shots at one another, yet still watch the action around the ball-carrier.

If you imagine the Red-Zebra next to the coaches sideline, he may be getting yelled at by coaches for something happening to the ball-carrier behind the goal. Unfortunately for the coach, the Red-Zebra is not concerned with the ball-carrier until the ball is brought into his section of the field.

The big question to this concept is why not have both refs watch the entire field? Put simply, watching an entire field is too much for any one official.

To give an example, I have officiated a few games by myself. I stand near the middle of the field and watch thirteen players on one side of the field. Only, I don’t see everything. For instance, I cannot watch the players behind my back on the other side of the field. To watch them I have to turn away from the action around the ball to ensure that two players are not engaging in an ultimate fighting competition behind me.

Even when I am watching the thirteen players in front of me, I have a greater concern for watching the ball-carrier and his defenseman. I cannot divide all of my attention to the ball-carrier and his teammates/opponents. It is simply too much for the human brain to process. Realistically, it is not possible for one or two officials to process all of the action happening on the entire field. This is why we split the field in half and have specific things we look for. It is not that we aren’t watching the game. It’s that we are watching the game in the way that best allows us to officiate it safely.

Now a quick video to show just how difficult watching action really is. I want you to let the video below load fully. When it is finished buffering, watch the entire video and follow the instructions closely. Remember, focus as intently as you would want an official to focus on your team’s game. When you are finished with the video, scroll down to the end of the post.

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Did that video blow your  mind? I hope it shows just how difficult it is to process new information when focused on a seemingly simple task. Lastly, if you have any fun ways to heckle an official/referee/umpire, please share them in the comment section below. I’m always looking for new and unique ones to add to my list, but please keep any curse words out of the comments section.

Featured Image Credit: www.myvisiontest.com

Cheers,
Gordon

About Lou Corsetti

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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