Tag Archives: official

It Takes A Village To Raise A Youth Official

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I was on the far side in a game that I was working some time ago. Red player was legally body checked by the White player and I saw no reason to throw my flag. A spectator in the stands yelled out, “Don’t you have to take a class to ref? Maybe you should take it again.” I permitted myself a small smile. Unbeknownst to that particular fan, I am one of the officials responsible for teaching youth and adult officials classes for the entire state of Georgia. I didn’t do anything about that spectator because I was in a competitive high school playoff game, and I was twenty-four. I’ve spent the last five years growing as a lacrosse official, and over those years I’ve learned to shut out the cacophony of verbal tirades unleashed upon me by those who have likely never read the rulebook or stepped onto the field as an impartial arbitrator. I do not require protection from these absurd comments, but the youth officials I work with do.

Parents complain to everyone when an adult coach curses at their child or their child’s team within earshot of the parent, but I have yet to witness a parent or group of parents confront an adult spectator who is berating and cursing a teenage youth official. Instead, I see these spectators turn. They hear one or two adults verbally attack a sixteen-year-old official, and they jump on the “abuse the kid ref” bandwagon because they don’t want to chance that the youth official will make calls against their team because of the comments from an opposing spectator. So they even out the verbal abuse, just to keep things fair.

From our early days of YMCA LAX I never permitted any spectator to insult or aggressively question any of my youth officials. I maintain that policy at AYL today for one reason – I need these youth officials.

I need these youth officials to keep and grow their interest in officiating lacrosse. By knowing the rules and their application they become better lacrosse players, which benefits the teams they play for. Also, when these youth refs graduate high school and go off to college they have a foundation in officiating that any Lacrosse Officials Association (LOA) would be happy to build upon. We need to keep youth officials in the officiating pipeline for as long as possible to support the continued growth of lacrosse all over the country.

I’ve worked with adult officials who could not take the endless criticism and are no longer officiating because it, “was not worth the abuse.” Men over forty stop officiating in every sport every year because of that reason, and we have the collective gall to assume that a sixteen-year-old kid is actually being “toughened up” by the sideline vitriol. Eventually that sixteen-year-old gives up officiating even though it pays better than a job at the local movie theatre. I’ve worked with many youth refs over the years and I can tell you unequivocally that they are much tougher than you give them credit for. In fact, I would wager a good amount of money that if I took a mom or dad screaming at the top of their lungs off the sideline and shoved them onto the field with a flag and a whistle that they would quickly realize how tough officiating youth lacrosse is.

It takes a village to raise a youth official, and every adult present at youth games has a responsibility to stand up for a kid who is trying to manage a competitive lacrosse game between children wearing body armor and carrying batons. They have enough to focus on without worrying about what piercing comment is coming next from some parent in a lawn chair.

So the next time you are watching your child play and some other adult is losing his or her mind, go and tell that person to start acting like an adult. If you do not feel comfortable doing that alone then find the league administrator or adult staff member and ask them to address the angry parent.


If you are interested in being trained as a Boy’s Lacrosse Youth Official (14-18) please visit: http://atlantalacrosseofficial.com/2013/10/spring-training-dates-announced-for-new-youth-officials/

If you are interested in being trained as a Boy’s High School Lacrosse Official (18+) please visit: http://galaxref.com/training/adult-officials/new-adult-officials-registration/


Post Inspiration – http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/teen-hockey-refs-quitting-over-verbal-abuse-1.2438081

Featured Image Credit – http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/zebras/images/24515272/title/momma-baby-zebra-photo


We Are Not On The Same Skill Level

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I spent the last part of my post The Stopwatch Parent stating that I do not like applying the term “Elite” to any youth player ages U15 and below. I have seen these elite teams as a lacrosse official and I do not believe any of them are elite. I came to this opinion not through my travels as an itinerant lacrosse referee or from coaching various youth teams over the years. I developed it at sixteen years old in a jiu-jitsu gym.

I’ve always loved training in different martial arts and I’ve written about some of the lessons I learned on the gym floor, but one of the biggest lessons I ever learned was that I was not nearly as good as I thought I was. I spent two years in the kids/teenagers class learning the basics of kickboxing and jiu-jitsu, but I wanted more. I took private lessons with one of the younger instructors and my technique and skill rapidly improved over a four month period. After those four months I was both a kickboxing and jiu-jitsu force in my young adults class.

My speciality in kickboxing was my rear leg kick and I got so good at turning my hips over that I started leaving bruises on the forearms of my younger training partners even though they were holding four-inch thick kickboxing pads full of absorbent foam. I got so skilled at pulling off my favorite submission, the triangle, that I submitted every other teenage opponent in class every week with variations of that same move. At the end of those four months the head instructor of the gym asked me if I could be mature enough to train with the adults even though I was only sixteen and he typically only let eighteen year olds train with the adults. I told him I would do whatever it took to take on the challenge of training in the adult classes.

Now, I told you that story to prepare you for this story:

When I entered the adult class I immediately realized it was a different beast. Classes were paced faster, went longer, and I was holding pads for adult men. Many of whom were current or retired military and policeman who used kickboxing and jiu-jitsu to stay in combat shape. For the first real time in my life I was challenged physically and mentally as I learned ever more complicated combinations and fighting strategies, but I still thought I was pretty good because my body is built well for kickboxing. I have long legs and shins which gives me a distinct advantage against most opponents, but jiu-jitsu is the great equalizer.

My instructor did not let me roll (wrestle) for two months as I got the feel for the adult classes and the more advanced techniques I was learning. For my very first roll I was paired against a young Japanese man whose nickname was Hurricane in the gym. I was sixteen and he was perhaps twenty-five. At the time I weighed 135 pounds and stood 5’8″. Hurricane might have weighed 95 pounds soaking wet and stood an unassuming 5’1″. Keep in mind that I had been training in the youth classes for two years up to this point, and I thought I was pretty skilled at jiu-jitsu.

I got worked.

I got owned.

I got beat so badly my picture on my new driver’s license swelled up.

Hurricane submitted me about six different times in less than four minutes and it was all I could do to just tap in defeat. I was completely demoralized and stunned. Hurricane wasn’t even an advanced jiu-jitsu practitioner at the time. He was a beginning adult and he had just defeated me in every way I could think of without breaking a sweat.

Even though I had trained for two years at the youth level, as soon as I went up against a regular adult opponent I couldn’t even keep up. It took me a full year of training before I actually tapped an adult with a submission. It took me another year to start regularly tapping the white belts (beginners) and blue belts (intermediate) in class, but it only took me one day to realize that I was by no means “Elite”.

Just because I do not believe in assigning “Elite” and other such labels onto young sports players does not mean that I don’t recognize good skills or don’t praise hard work in mastering those skills. I am all for a young boy or girl finding a passion for any activity that they can get better at and build their self-esteem while practicing the skills in their chosen activity. What all of these kids need to maintain is the drive to get better. I got better at jiu-jitsu precisely because I got beat down when I thought I was awesome, and then I decided to do something about it. If my instructors, parents, and friends told me that, “no, Gordon, you are the best jiu-jitsu practitioner in the gym” every single day no matter what happened to me during my rolls I would have gotten sick of getting beat because the real world I was experiencing was not matching up to the smoke everyone was blowing up my rear end. I probably would have quit before I ever really got started.

This is what I hear at tournaments from some parents and coaches after their Elite U11, U13, or U15 team loses a close game or gets blown out:

  1. “Don’t worry [insert player name], the other team was a bunch of cheaters.”
  2. “If your coach had put you in during overtime we would have won.”
  3. “If the field wasn’t so wet you would’ve dodged by all the kids defending you today.”
  4. “If that awful ref hadn’t made that horrible call in the fourth quarter you would have scored.”
  5. “Our team didn’t do anything wrong. We just came up short.”

Comments 1-4 I hear all of the time, and parents and coaches don’t even realize I’m nearby. It’s as if as soon as the game is over my stripes turn me into the invisible man, which is what I prefer to be before, during, and after a game unless I need to be seen. That power of invisibility lets me easily listen to a lot of conversations that I’m not even trying to listen to. I just happen to be sitting at the table while a parent talks within earshot of me and my partner as they walk off the field.

I can deal with comments 1-4 because for every one parent or coach who says something like that, there are twenty who give useful critiques to their players and don’t come up with pitiful excuses for poor performance. What I really don’t understand though, is #5 – “Our team didn’t do anything wrong. We just came up short.” This is a lie, and it is completely useless. Teams do something wrong every game win or lose.

Telling a bunch of U11 players a long way from home at a travel tournament that they did nothing wrong after getting blown out 11-3 is not helpful! Don’t lie to your team to soothe their egos or boost morale. I assure you, if you explain what you see in a measured and positive manner you can tell your team the truth after every game.

Every youth team I coach gets told a variation of the following:

“I will not judge you for winning, losing, or tying a game. I will judge you on how well you do the little things. Then I will coach you to be better at the little things that you need to work on.”

The little things is what matters in the long run. Do you call out “ball down” when going for a ground ball? Do you yell out “I’m hot” when you are the next defensive slide? Do you alert your wing midfielder to drop further down the line because you think that is where the ball is going on your faceoff? All of these are little, minuscule things that are nothing by themselves. But, when added together within an individual player and then added further with his or her teammates they add up to a team that may not be “Elite”, but certainly has the foundation for creating truly elite players once they move out of the youth age levels.

I think the term “Elite Player” should be saved for those who have put in years of work at a high level in much the same way black belts are presented in jiu-jitsu. On average, it takes a decade to earn a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and you’ll never guess what true black belt jiu-jitsu masters say once they earn that belt. They tell people that they can now start mastering jiu-jitsu! Can you believe that? The black belt is not the end result of a decade of training, it is merely an acknowledgement of years of hard training, dedication and study. The reward is that the new black belt now knows enough about jiu-jitsu to study the intricacies even further and deepen his mastery of his skills.

Let’s reserve the term “Elite” for those that have earned it and stop telling kids that they are the best you’ve ever seen because it isn’t true. What should you tell the kid then? You should tell the young lacrosse player that, “[insert player name] I am very proud of the effort you gave today, and if you really love doing this and want to get better that brick wall looks like a great place to spend fifteen minutes working on your off hand.”

Here is a short video clip from one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes that was part of the inspiration for this post:


Featured Image Credit – www.championsma.us


“Just Hand The Ball To The Ref!”

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My Dad and I watch a lot of sports together, and I’ve noticed a few things that he usually says during football games in particular. Be it college or professional football there is a 68% chance of my Dad saying, “quit showboating and just hand the ball to the ref,” after a player does some fancy dance after a scoring drive. There is a 100% chance of my Dad following up that statement with this statement: “act like you’ve been there before.” He is perfectly okay with an enthusiastic fist pump, but the ball better be in the official’s hands within five seconds of the score.

If the game is close he gives a little extra leeway to celebrate. Maybe a fist pump and a chest bump, but the player still has to get the ball to the official quickly. What he cannot stand more than anything is if a team is destroying another team and does some elaborate end zone dance, or if a team that is down by several touchdowns manages to finally make a decent tackle and the defender crosses his arms and does the “no-no” shake of the head. He is not a fan of showboating when a team is winning, or of defenders celebrating the one time their team wraps up the winning team’s running back. I believe he finds both of those actions pretty classless.

I take the same view of my Dad but for different reasons. As a sports official I am less concerned with how cool or funny a celebration is. I am concerned with it escalating into a bigger problem. The 2013 NFHS lacrosse rulebook has this to say:

Rule 5.10.1.c – [Players may not] bait or call undue attention to oneself, or any other act considered unsportsmanlike by the officials.

Fans look at celebrations and wonder why officials flag the players for just having a little fun, but that is not how we view excessive celebrations that call undue attention to the goal scorer or their team. Imagine you are the losing team and the winning team just scored their fifteenth unanswered goal. Then the shooting team decides to do this:

You would be justifiably pissed off, and you might decide to do something foolish if the winning team does something similar following another goal. We officials are not trying to ruin the winning team’s fun, they are choosing to win without class. Plus, they scored! It’s already fun to score! Why rub salt and cayenne pepper into the wound?

I had a game that was 17-1 to start the fourth quarter. The winning team was being very respectful in their domination, but three young fans walked into the stands yelling to the losing team, “17-1! You suck! Come back when you learn to play lacrosse!” I saw the head coach of the losing team looking both angry and a little sad, and when the ball went out of bounds I called an official’s time out and told him I would take care of the three knuckleheads. The rules state that the head coach is responsible for the spectators so I went to the head coach of the winning team and pointed out the three young men who were not representing his team or his school very well. He promptly kicked them out of the stadium. That is the mark of a classy program and the game wrapped up without incident.

If I hadn’t stepped in and had the coach exercise his authority, those fans could have incited some on-field mayhem. Some goal celebrations bump up against my threshold for calling a penalty. In those cases I go up to the player who celebrated and tell him that I’m okay with what he did happening once, but that if he does it again or goes further my flag will hit the ground before he finishes his Macarena dance.

I’m okay with being called a fun-killer by the fans, but I am not okay with a huge melee breaking out on the field and having the fans go, “why didn’t you do anything?” What I and my officiating brethren do is never popular, but we are not out there for the player’s fun. We are out there for safety and fairness. Excessive celebrations raise the game temperature and impact player safety. If you want to celebrate, pump your arm into the air and get to your spot for the next faceoff. As my Dad would say, “act like you’ve been there before!”

Here are the Top-10 Touchdown Celebrations before the NFL outlawed most celebrations:

Featured Image Credit – www.kansascity.com