Tag Archives: coaching

Working With The Officials

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Bruce Weber stated it best, “It’s not just the opposing team that the players and managers want to defeat; they want to get the better of anyone in their way, the umpire included. This essential aggression is built into the game, and it’s something an umpire has to recognize and accept before he can handle himself effectively on the field.”

As a coach, you have to interact with officials in lacrosse. In fact, the rules require it. For instance, only a head coach may request a timeout, and only the head coach can properly certify that all players are legally equipped before the game to the officials. Sometimes, though, when you are coaching, the most frustrating part of the game is dealing with the officials. It is important to remember effective strategies for dealing with officials:

Communication, Communication, Communication

This is easily the most effective method there is to maintaining a good working relationship with officials when coaching a team. It starts with the very first handshake, and continues through to the conclusion of the game. Good communication involves politely asking the official questions in a manner that you would like to be asked questions. Demands for answers seldom bring good results, but a quick question, nicely delivered requires a response at an appropriate time.

Use The Coaches Certification To Ask Questions

Good officials respect coaches with solid questions. Not, “how are you going to call this game,” but, “Is pushing a technical or personal foul, because it’s been called both during this season.” Frame your questions in a way that is not accusatory. Remember, just because you didn’t like the officials on your first game does not mean the officials on your second game will inspire the same dislike. Officials may wear the same stripes, but each has a different reffing style.

Use Timeouts To Your Advantage

Timeouts create dead ball time, which means the officials have a moment to answer questions or strike up conversation. Ask the refs how they are doing. Ask if they want a drink (better yet bring a water bottle with you, I rarely refuse a chance to hydrate during a game). If the refs are not doing anything, like conducting a stick-check or checking the score, there is little harm in talking to them. If the officials don’t want to talk, then no worries, just go back to your team. By the way, this is usually the domain of the assistant coach since the head coach will often be talking to the team during the timeout.

Take The Four-Minute Mark At Halftime Seriously

This is your opportunity to talk to the officials about what happened during the first half, so use it! If your league does not use a full ten-minute halftime, let the officials get a quick break from the action, then ask them for some clarification on calls. If done respectfully, you will usually get a respectful answer.

If The Official Says Stop Talking, Then Stop Talking

Sometimes and official just has to tell a coach to stop talking. Maybe the coach is taking away needed concentration for the game, or maybe the official doesn’t think the coach is being as respectful as the coach thinks he is being. No matter what the reason, if the official says stop it is probably a good idea to avoid addressing the official unless absolutely needed. No need to get a penalty unnecessarily.

Control Your Assistant Coaches

Head coaches are the only speaking coaches. They are certified at the beginning of games as the speaking coach, and no other coach may talk to the officials. Now, confident and experienced officials will allow assistant coaches to respectfully ask questions and chat, but no official worth his/her salt takes flak from assistants. When warned to shut up your assistant coaches, pass on the message until your assistants get the hint.

Control Your Players

No official takes grief from players. Good officials will give a warning if a warning is warranted, or a penalty if the player steps over the line. Ensure that your players take any issues they have with the officiating to you so that you as the head coach can address it coach to official.

Control Yourself

If the official makes a call you disagree with it does nothing to pitch a fit. In fact, yelling and screaming and berating the officials generally makes things worse because they invite a conduct foul to be called in addition to the call/no-call you are complaining about. The best coaches generally have an air of silent confidence around them. Coaches are always welcome to argue their point, but try to do so in a manner that is reflective of how you would want to be argued with. The words rationally and calmly come to mind. You may not change the officials mind about a call, but you will earn that official’s respect.

Always keep this in mind: approach the officials the same way you would want to be approached.

If anyone has any other strategies that they use when dealing with officials I would love to hear them. Post them in the comments section below!


Shoulder Angel vs. Shoulder Devil

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Good versus Evil. Right versus Wrong. Morality versus Immorality. Shoulder Angel versus Shoulder Devil.

All of these capture the inner struggle we all have to do the right thing. This struggle is characterized as our conscience, and we all have one. Yet, for young players their conscience, like themselves, is immature. This is not to say that young players do not have a conscience. Just that is is currently undergoing construction.

Parents and immediate family members lay the deep foundation of conscience. My father and mother constantly told me that being a good person meant doing the right thing when no one was paying any attention. Those messages permeate deep into the minds of young players, as it went deeply into mine. The next level of conscience-building comes from forces outside the immediate family. Friends are the first that come to mind. Players, have your parents ever told you to choose your friends wisely? My parents told that to me constantly, and I chose friends who liked me for me and always had my back. I avoided the kids that wanted to party all night, drink, and try drugs. Instead, I was lucky to have friends that cared about me and I continue many of those friendships to this day. It is my hope that your teammates become close friends to you today and remain that way for years to come. Because I believe that good friends will keep you on a good path.

The last force that helps to develop a good conscience are teachers. I use that term broadly to encompass actual teachers, coaches, church-leaders, role-models, etc. For the purposes of this post, I will be focusing mainly on coaches and our responsibility to ensure that kids listen to their Shoulder Angel.

I have said before that sports are a microcosm of life. It allows kids to experience victory and defeat, and all the emotions and feelings that come with each. However, every sport has a dark side which if left unchecked, will ruin any kid’s experience on the field. That dark side is evident when players don’t listen to their conscience, and allow anger, rage, and frustration to rule their minds. When that happens cheap hits and fouls are committed, often with an intent to get back at another player for a perceived slight, or, even worse, to injure another player. These moments have happened, do happen, and will continue to happen. Sorry to say, but players lose control over themselves sometimes and will occasionally do something that is just plain wrong. So how can coaches use these dark side situations to their advantage? How can we teach young players to control themselves when everything around them seems so chaotic?

Option 1, Fight Fire With Fire:

Fire With FireSometimes, a player will do something so blatantly unsportsmanlike that the only thing to do is call the player out on it. Put simply, there is a lot of power behind a coach using his own dark side and scaring the heebie jeebies out of the player. For example, I did something downright ugly in a game many years ago. My coach (also my dad) got right into my grill and demanded that I explain myself. I was so taken aback by how angry he was that I chose to be the most sporting player I could be after that. Do I remember what I did that set my father off? Not at all. I just know that I’ll never do it again and I’m incredibly sorry that I did it. The point here is there is a place for anger as a coach, so long as it is used effectively.

Option 2, Create A Safe Place

Safe PlaceEvery player should feel comfortable coming to their coach with a problem. Especially if that problem is occurs during a game. If communication lines between players and the coach remain healthy, then players can talk through their issues with their coach. Coaches, especially at the youth level, should strive to become a safe place where players can voice their opinions and concerns. If you do this, players will think to tell their coach about unsportsmanlike behavior on the opposing team, so that he can handle it properly, and without the player having to get revenge against their opponent. Work on ensuring that players can come to you with any issue, and they will come to you if they have a problem in a game. Tell your players, “if someone is playing dirty against you I want to know about it, and don’t take it into your own hands.”

Whichever option you choose, remember they are not mutually exclusive. You are more than welcome, and encouraged, to use both.

To all of the players reading this blog, I want to request something from all of you – Do Not Sully This Game. That means, when you are fouled in a game, you don’t go looking for retaliation. That means, when one player calls you a bad name, you don’t reply in kind. That means when you step onto the field you leave the game better than you found it by your actions on the field.

Finally, I will leave you with a great and humorous video that showcases the contrast between the Shoulder Devil and the Shoulder Angel. Here’s a hint, the best part of this video is when Kronk tells his Angel and Devil to leave him alone and he goes with his heart. That is what conscience is really about.


Keep It Simple

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Parsimonious is a scientific term that effectively means to phrase something as simply as possible. The longer and more convoluted a statement is the less parsimonious it becomes. Now why am I drudging out scientific nomenclature in regards to youth lacrosse? Put parsimoniously, I want coaches to stick with the basics.

In my ten years of coaching and officiating youth lacrosse I have seen a lot of varying coaching styles. Some successful, and others not so successful. Please note that I equate successful youth coaching to how much their players improve over the course of the season. Not how many wins or losses a team accumulates due to the coach or coaching style. The best youth coaches I see generally do two things very well. One, they maintain discipline. One coach uses a particularly effective technique where he shouts out “Ready!” When he says “ready” all of his players snap their eyes to him and shout back “Focus!” I’ve seen this coach calm down an entire team with that one technique. The second thing that the best youth coaches do well is they have a simplistic game plan.

Here is where some youth coaches and I part ways. I personally think that the simpler an offensive and defensive scheme is, the more efficiently a youth team will perform. This goes against a lot of youth coaches that dream up cool plays, or zone defenses for their teams, and then whiteboard them to the whole team on game day. I have seen a lot of confused looks on many players trying to remember their job on the “Indigo Blue 31” play. This does not mean that a team should not have some set plays, or set defenses. What I am stressing here is the need to keep things simple.

For instance, last season a coach was unable to show up to coach his team. No problem, we are lucky enough to have staff on hand for these instances. It just so happened that my name was next in the rotation to coach so I strolled over to the team as they were warming up, and got them into some passing drills. I had no idea what their head coach had told them about offense or defense, so I went to my old standby: “players, remember that when we are on offense we are spread out like fingers, when we are defense, we are close in like a fist.” Every dead ball I repeated that mantra of spread and tight. Every time out I zeroed in on becoming like fingers on offense and being like a fist on defense. The kicker here is that the kids got the concept beautifully.

Offense = Spread


Defense = Fist


They played a tough game and wound up winning, more in part to their effort than my coaching, in a one-goal game. The coolest part was how the entire team latched onto two very simple concepts, and translated them into good lacrosse. I gave them no plays to run, or slide packages to consider. I just said stay tight on defense and stay spread of offense.  This became a team mantra for that game, and I could hear players on offense saying “get wide, get wide,” and players on defense saying “come in tighter!” The defense kept the goal guarded by protecting the middle of the field, and the offense got the ball around nicely by staying open and cutting naturally.

Tight. Spread. Two words that all of the players focused on, believed in, and executed well. At the end of the game I told them how great they looked as a team, and how they played the game well. I wrapped up question to every team I coach after a game, “did everyone have fun?” I got a big “yes” for an answer.

Finally, I will end with a quote by one of my favorite philosophers – Mike Tyson. Who said that “everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” Coaches – ask yourself if your game plan is simple enough to survive a punch in the mouth. If it has a lot of moving parts, and is very convoluted it will likely break apart. However, if it is strong, direct, and simple, your team will always have a fighting chance.

Featured Image Credit – www.robertsaric.com


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