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:
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.
Ugh. I’ve heard too many variations of this post’s title when I ref U9, U11, U13, and U15 boys lacrosse games. I’ve noticed that the new parents shout out what they perceive as incorrect calls and no-calls. Typically, the moms cry “foul!” when their child gets body-checked, and the dads shout “no way!” when their child is called for an illegal body-check. These shout outs indicate a lack of understand of the various youth boys lacrosse rules on proper body contact at each level.
The important thing to remember about body checking in youth boys lacrosse is that each age level is very specific as to what kind of body checking is permitted. Here are the rulebook definitions for youth body checking along with a layman’s explanation:
U9 & U11 – “No body checking of any kind is permitted.”
“Legal pushes (Rule 6 Section 9, Pushing) and holds (Rule 6 Section 3, Holding Article 3 a & d) are allowed.”
“In all loose ball situations players should ‘play the ball,’ but incidental contact, ‘boxing out’, or screening techniques during such play shall not be considered a violation of this rule.”
NFHS Boys Lacrosse 2013 Rulebook page 100
Layman’s explanation: Boys lacrosse for the U9 and U11 age levels is essentially basketball with sticks. I explain body checking in this way to give parents a good visual. Players at these two age levels are permitted to push and maneuver players around to gain a strategic advantage, but they cannot try and knock another player to the ground. Just imagine a basketball game and you will have a better idea of how U9 and U11 players can contact other players.
U13 & U15 – “Body Checking is permitted. To be legal a body check should be delivered in a generally upright position with both hands on the stick and the player initiating the check may not use his lowered head or shoulder to make the initial contact.”
NFHS Boys Lacrosse 2013 Rulebook page 100
Layman’s explanation: Body checking is permitted but only in a very defined area. Any body check outside of the defined specifications should be penalized.
With all body checking at the youth level parents, coaches, and players need to keep in mind the following from Rule 5: “US Lacrosse expects stricter enforcement of the Cross Check, Illegal Body Check, Checks Involving The Head/Neck, Slashing, Unnecessary Roughness, and Unsportsmanlike Conduct rules than is common at the high school level.” In other words, this is youth lacrosse and the threshold for personal fouls is considerably lower the younger you go.
This takes me to foul prioritization, which was recently explained by Lucia Perfetti Clark, the officials education and training manager at US Lacrosse, in her post “Not All Fouls Are Created Equal: How Officials Set Priorities“. She writes that, “if there is a potential for safety fouls to occur amongst other, lesser violations, then officials must move that foul to the top. Prioritizing fouls makes the game safer.” Think about what is most important for the officials to call in a U11 game. Should the official call the offsides 40 yards away from the play around the ball or the late body check on the shooter? If both occur near the same time I would much prefer that the official prioritize and catch the safety foul. Lucia explains further that parents have a place in getting the right message to the players:
For safety prioritization to work, coaches, parents and spectators need to support officials. All too often an official makes a big and appropriate safety call, and the next thing you hear from the sideline or the stands is, “That was a great check! Great defense! Keep it up!”
This kind of comment just reinforces bad player behavior and will only serve to escalate the severity and frequency of calls. What works better? Substitute that player so he or she can be coached regarding the call in question or simply has time to cool off before rejoining the game.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve flagged a perfectly illegal body check in a U11 game only to have a parent or even a coach yell to the player, “Great hit!” It was not a great hit, that is why I flagged it. Now the player has two very different messages to put together. I just penalized him for a hit that is not permitted at his age level, but the adults responsible for the player are praising him for the hit. When coaches or parents say things like that my safety radar goes off, and I get even more vigilant for safety violations moving forward. I focus more after hearing those comments because after doing this for so many years I expect the players involved to listen to their coaches and parents more than they will listen to me (the random adult official who they don’t know). Often I am sending the same player off the field for an even more vicious hit.
Officials at every level prioritize calls with safety being the highest priority. The younger the players are the lower the threshold for fouls, and it does not do the player any good to criticize a properly called safety violation for everyone to hear.