Tag Archives: officiating

Stop Turning Youth Athletics Into More Than It Actually Is

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Heads up parents, this post is going to sting.

Your child:

  • Is not going to play professional lacrosse
  • Is not getting recruited to play at Maryland, LeMoyne, or Lynchburg
  • Is not scoring the winning goal in the high school state championship
  • Is not getting All-American honors as a freshman on the Varsity roster
  • Is not getting “Most Improved Player” on his youth team

Your child is not getting any of this. At least not right now. Or even tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now. All your child is doing tomorrow, next week, or next year is playing and practicing lacrosse along with homework assignments, other sports, sleep overs, pool parties, movie nights, and family vacations.

AYL has posts up about recruiting and parental responsibility regarding a child’s athletic development. We maintain a strict policy on how every fan should behave at all of our games, practices and league events. We put a great deal of responsibility on the young players to bring their own gear and take ownership of the game they are coming to love. As I’ve said in numerous posts I do not have children so I am not about to make this post about how to raise your player because I don’t know the first thing about child rearing. What I have is an outsider’s perspective, separate from winning and losing, that I want to share with every parent who has one or more children in any youth extracurricular activity. That perspective is one of a sports official who has seen many kids start playing the game in middle school, grow through high school, and head off to college. I’ve seen the successful players and the not-so successful players go on with their lives, but I noticed that the successful players tend to have one thing in common: their parents got out of the way unless asked.

I’ve seen middle schoolers stunned speechless by their parents critiquing their ground ball technique after a game, and other kids reduced to tears because their mom or dad thought the kid should’ve scored that goal in the third quarter. Parents who do this adulterize their child’s sport. They swoop in like some out of town interloper and steal the game away from their kids. These parents are sport-adulterers and they’ve gotten rid of the “youth” in “youth athletics.” Now it’s just “athletic development pursuant a full collegiate scholarship, professional contract, or some high accolade.” See the problem? The sport-adulterers become their child’s agent. I’ve spent season after season deprogramming young players from their overly excited and demanding parents to just relax when they are on the field. It’s like every game is a tryout to these kids because of the pressure imposed by the parents.

I had one player that I constantly reminded to not pay attention to his parental unit on the sideline. I got him to understand that I as the coach was the only adult voice that he cared about when he played. The best part is how great the young kid played when he wasn’t beholden to some arbitrary performance level. His parents wanted him to score three goals a game and they let him know it – he never scored. When I rebuilt his operating system I wanted him to relax, have fun and smile – he scored five goals in our next game. Suddenly I’m a great coach who understood the value inherent in the young kid that his parent’s thought never shined in the old coach’s system. Not the case. I simply allowed the young player to play like a young player. Oh, the kid was eight and a half by the way.

The worst part is how innocent-sounding these parent’s justifications are:

  • “I just want little Johnny to have more confidence on the field.”
    • Translation: My kid needs to go to the goal more often.
  • “I just want little Timmy to get tougher”
    • Translation: My kid never gets ground balls. Maybe we should invest in an athletic trainer so he gets more explosive.
  • “I’m just not seeing any improvement.”
    • Translation: What if a scout sees my player now and isn’t impressed? His whole chance to get a scholarship will be ruined!
  • “He/she doesn’t seem to be having fun anymore.”
    • Translation: I don’t get it, I’ve invested thousands of dollars over the last three years in his athletic development, he plays all year for two different travel teams, and I’m sending him to a recruiting camp for four days. He just seems to be going through the motions and I’m worried all of this money I’ve spent is going to waste because he is spending more time playing flag football with his friends in the park.

If you want to be your child’s agent then go all the way and actually hire an agent. I’m sure the big names agencies are stoked about signing your twelve year old who shows great potential (sarcasm). I’m being sarcastic because it is the only way I can discuss this issue without breaking down into tears. I’ve seen too many young players quit before they turned thirteen because the adults around them were more interested in the final outcome than the process. It is the adults that care which team wins or loses the U13 championship game at a summer tournament because they think it means more than it actually does. What does it actually mean? I say it means less than the plastic the trophy was made out of.

I won championship games in the spring and summer during my youth lacrosse days. I know I won because I have warm, happy feelings thinking back to those games. What I don’t remember is more significant:

  • I don’t remember what my team name was for any of the championship/playoff teams I was on
  • I don’t remember what the final score in any of those games were
  • I don’t remember what the championship t-shirt looked like
  • I don’t even remember if I had a good game or not

I do remember that I had fun, and because I had fun I stuck with it past thirteen and got to be a pretty decent player. These days I officiate, which has completely changed my understanding of what achievement and accolades are all about. I was the Chief Bench Official for the Georgia 1A-4A State Championship Lacrosse game in 2013 between Westminster and Northview. It took five years of hard work to become the best official I could be before I was made the fourth man on a championship game crew. In my mind it was a huge accomplishment and a just award for the work I put in.

Here’s my point for this backstory – After the game no one cheered my name, no one asked for an autograph, no one gave me a trophy or a medal, and no one told me if I had a good game or not. All I knew for certain was that I did an exceptional job for my role in the crew. Officiating crews don’t get many accolades outside of the officiating world, but my internal knowledge that I did a good job was worth far more than any plastic championship trophy. Let’s teach our young players accurate self-evaluation, it will pay off better in the long run than pawning that plastic trophy.

What I love most about AYL is that we do everything with one core concept in mind – “it is all about the kids.” Everything we do is put up against that belief and that is why we are successful. I want kids to win, improve their game and grow as individuals. However, I will not stand for any adult that puts professional-level pressures on an eight and a half year old. Matt Ryan is paid to be under pressure and scrutiny, while your eight and a half year old probably doesn’t realize that you are paying for him to play. Keep that in mind next time you are on the sideline.

Cheers,
Gordon

I Cannot Prevent Fouls

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Whenever I have a game with a lot of flags this comment usually gets yelled out by someone: “You’re not controlling the game ref!” I beg to differ.

The coaches and fans making that comment do not understand that I only have two additional tools at my disposal after throwing flag after flag on both teams. I can either:

  1. Ramp up the penalty minutes and start disqualifying the repeat offenders
  2. Cancel the game once I believe that the players and coaches are not getting the message from all of my flags

What non-officials do not understand is that I cannot prevent fouls. All I can really do is strongly discourage players from committing another foul. Whether or not they get the message from spending time in the penalty box is up to them. I had a coach tell me that I was not keeping his players safe from the opposing team. Despite the fact that I had thrown multiple flags and my hat on fouls the other team had committed.

I was a little confused by this coach. Did he expect me to jump in front of one of his attackman who was about to be slashed and absorb the blow? Perhaps he wanted me to tackle one of the opposing players before they had a chance to hit one of his players. He was still pissed off at me at the end of the game even though the other team spent almost the entire game with someone in the penalty box.

What frustrates me the most is after I call a penalty, usually an Illegal Body Check for a late hit after a shot, sometimes one coach will tell his player kneeling in the box that it was a great hit. It wasn’t a great hit! That’s why I flagged it! Coaches that congratulate players on a body check that levels another player when the ball is twenty yards away undermine the called penalty.

One coach yelled at me, “How can you possibly call that? This is a contact sport!” While I did not respond to him at the time here is what I wanted to say:

  1. I can call that because I judged the hit to be illegal
  2. This is a finesse sport with contact
  3. Your player released from the penalty box, sprinted forty yards to the ball carrier, hit him from behind with the exposed metal of his crosse and managed to ride up to finish in the neck of the ball carrier

These kinds of coaches do not serve the game. I much prefer the coach who asks what I saw so he can inform his player not to repeat the infraction. That coach is working with me to keep the game safe.

Officials cannot prevent fouls. Everything we do is after the fact. I can warn a player to not do something, but I have no control over whether or not that player will listen to me. The only people who can prevent fouls are the players on the field.

Featured Image Credit – www.dailytarheel.com

Cheers,
Gordon

Fair But Not Equal

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Fair But Not Equal

A few times during the season I will inevitably get a coach that yells to me, “How is it that my team has seven penalties and the other team only has two?” The off-the-cuff answer of, “well coach, your team is fouling more,” rarely goes over well. I will usually respond with one of two phrases:

  1. “Coach I’m just calling what I see”
  2. “Coach I’m calling the game fair but not equal”

The idea of fair but not equal is a tough concept to get for many people. If the officials are calling all the penalties on the Red team then clearly the officials are against the Red team. The idea that the Red team may actually be fouling more than the Blue team is not often brought into the discussion.

For example I had a youth game late in the season and my partner and I threw about fifteen flags on one team to the other team’s three. You look at the box score of the game and the disparity between the two teams on penalty time is vast. The team that we threw all of the flags on were fouling big time. Huge wind-up checks that never found the stick or glove. Hits with a twenty yard running start, and hits that were well away from the ball. Never forget that an official’s primary job is safety. So in the interest of safety my partner and I kept throwing our flags hoping that this team would get the message.

The coach of the penalized team complained to me that I was not calling things equally. I told him he was absolutely right. There is nothing in the job description of an official to balance out the scorebook on penalty minutes. I’m not looking for fouls on the other team just because I threw five flags in a row on their opponent. If the other team is not fouling then trying to manufacture fouls on them would be considerably unfair. The second job of every official is fairness, and if we try to call things equally we inevitably find ourselves not being fair.

I told the coach I was only going to call what I saw and judged to be a penalty. His team continued to rack up time in the penalty box while their opponent played under control. His team lost the game. Not because of the calls my partner and I made, but because his team could not check with discipline. Believe it or not, most officials do not like throwing flags and penalizing players. However, it is our job to make the necessary calls when players go beyond the rules of the game. I do not hesitate in making calls when I have to, but I am never going to try and even out the flags I throw between two teams so everyone has the same net amount of penalty minutes. That would be equal but not fair.

Cheers,
Gordon