Tag Archives: player

Investing In Blowout Scores

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The summer tournament season is nearly over, and I, as usual, am grateful. The summer grinds on players, coaches, refs, parents, and organizers. There is a lot of travel, it’s freaking hot, and the days are long. With team fees, tournament fees, travel fees, hotel fees, and buying yet another tournament t-shirt the adults at tournaments easily throw down a few thousand dollars by the end of the summer. All of that money generates momentum to crushing less-skilled opponents by obscene scores. The more summer tournaments I officiate the more I see the pressure to win games by large margins, and it is because of a very adult idea: investing.

A few thousand dollars represents a decent investment for pretty much every working adult, and we have the adult idea that putting money down will result in a reward later on. Kids do not understand this no matter how often they are told. I didn’t fully understand the importance of money until I got my first utility bill – that brought a lesson my middle school history teacher Mrs. Woods expounded on in almost every class: “there is no such thing as a free lunch in this world.” The players want to play, and the fact that you put down money for them to play does not factor into their experience or drive their on-field performance. The monetary investment parents make in summer tournaments creates an incentive to reduce the risk of losing as much as possible by the adult coaches.

As an official, I experience my fair share of running time games during the regular season, and in nearly all of them by the time the goal differential is ten or twelve goals most of the starters are sitting on the bench. Typically the final score ends up something like 13-4, 12-5, or 15-10. The winning team is never in any real danger of losing the game. Contrast that to the common final scores I run into during the summer like 22-0, 18-1, and 17-2. Those are scores played with the mercy rule in effect where the losing team was at least six goals behind and got the ball in lieu of a face off. To hammer this point home consider these two situations I ran into this summer at the U11 age level:

  • Final Score 18-3: The winning team kept all the starters in (roughly 22 players on the team), and doubled the ball at the midfield when the losing team was given the ball at Center X. Most of the players on the losing team didn’t have a solid skill foundation, and each time I blew the ball in the losing team midfielder got stripped and watched his counterpart on the other team waltz past stationary defenders for a point-blank shot.
  • Final Score 17-2: I purposefully did not call a technical foul against the losing team. Their player released early from their penalty early in the 4th quarter and the winning team coach was beside himself that I would permit such a travesty. I had heard enough and told him I saw the early release, but was not going to make the call. To which he replied – “Goal differential is important in this tournament sir.” Now he had a legitimate point, but goal differential happened to be the third tiebreaker behind head-to-head and goals against. Sometimes it is the job of a youth official to save an adult coach from himself. Also, the ball had crossed to the other side of the field all of five times by the end of the game, and I was tired of watching the losing team goalkeeper getting shelled. I didn’t feel bad about ignoring that technical, and I still don’t.

Teams are silently, and not-so-silently, encouraged to run up the score whenever they can just so they don’t risk being on the losing end of a tiebreaker by the end of pool play. I see this consistently from U11 all the way to U19A division games over the summer. Every time I look over at the winning coaches and want to say – “Really? Does #12 really need to score seven goals? Is there no one else who can shoot on the bench?” It is possible to sub players out when the game is well in hand, or at the very least switch up the lefty attacker to the other side of the cage so he can practice shooting with his right hand.

I also get confused by the parents cheering for their team’s eighteenth goal just as hard as they did for the first goal – “Congratulations, your team can score against zero defensive pressure! This is a marvel to be celebrated!” To these parents I ask what is the greater accomplishment – scoring two natural hat tricks against a defense that cannot talk or move and a goalkeeper that is facing the wrong direction, or scoring two goals against a defense that slides well and a goalkeeper who tracks the ball?

When I played my coach had a rule for the starters and second stringers every game – do your job. Against lesser-skilled teams we had to go to work. Once we put up eight goals and shut down the opposing offense our job was done, and he subbed us out for the sophomores and freshman. We were never worried that we’d lose the game, but we also weren’t going to go out of our way to show our superiority. Beating a team by such wide margins is not a demonstration of skill – that was demonstrated when the winning team scored six goals in the first four minutes. Put in players that need more experience, slow down the offense a bit, and don’t do a ten man ride because it might be a good idea for your defense to see at least one settled possession before going up against a better team in bracket play.

Cheers,
Gordon

If you don’t recognize the featured image check out my favorite Mayhem commercial:

It Made A Difference For That One

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Over the last ten years I’ve coached a great many youth and high school players. I’ve had the real privilege of officiating a freshman that I coached when he was thirteen, coming in to play for a few minutes while his team was winning, and then seeing that freshman turn into a senior leader on his team four years later. Officiating is, and will always be, the way I give back the most to the game of lacrosse, but there is such an allure in coaching players of any age that it is always a pleasure to coach at a camp, clinic, or rec league.

My favorite part about coaching is getting to watch the lightbulb moment in action. Seeing a high schooler I’m instructing over the offseason fully understand the proper way to break down on defense after several repetitions, or seeing the gears turn in the mind of an eleven-year-old as he processes the benefit of finding the extra pass in a two on one. That is my selfish reason for coaching. I really enjoy it when players gain a flash of insight about how to play the game better after a little nudge or two from me in the right direction. But that is not the main reason I coach.

When you take out the team records, the individual statistics, the diagrammed plays, and the seemingly constant travel to practices and games all that is left is one question – why do I do this? For me at least, the answer is that it matters to the players.

When I was very young I won a competition in my Taekwondo class for being able to stand at attention the longest. For a seven year old boy standing still for any length of time is an accomplishment, but I managed to keep myself from squirming long enough to win a martial-arts themed coloring book. In this book were many different stories about the proper attitude to bring to a lifetime of training, and one story stuck with me for nearly twenty years. After searching I found this coloring book story was based on “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley.

The story was shortened considerably in the coloring book, but here is the core of the tale:

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

– The original text from above may be found here: http://mommiesofmiracles.com/star-thrower-loren-c-eiseley/

In the coloring book a new martial arts student witnessed a master tossing starfish from the beach into the sea, but no matter who the people in the story are the truth is always clear – It does not matter how long you’ve coached or how many wins you accumulate. What truly matters is that you had a positive impact on another person and they will remember you as I have remembered the amazing coaches in my life.

So if at the end of this regular season you are tired and wondering why you’re still leaving work early for practice and staying late to help a player improve their technique remember that you’re a coach and every one of your players is a star on a beach waiting for your positive impact.

Featured Image Credit – http://elonawareness.com/2013/10/17/the-starfish-story-how-ordinary-people-can-make-a-difference/

Cheers,
Gordon

The Defenseless Player

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Everyone got introduced to “Targeting A Defenseless Receiver Above The Shoulder” in college football this past season. That rule change made waves in the college football community and there was no shortage of controversy because the penalty for targeting was severe: a 15-yard penalty and the ejection of the player leveling the hit.

The rules for lacrosse are changing for the 2014 season regarding defenseless players. Hitting a defenseless player, and I’ll get to the definition in a bit, carries a more severe penalty. As I’ve been explaining to coaches since this rule change was announced:

“What was a legal hit last year might not be a legal hit this year.”

I also remind coaches that this rule has existed for a while as the “Buddy Pass” rule:

2013 NFHS 5.9.3 Situation B: A1 is receiving a pass and is in a vulnerable position, “Buddy Pass.” B1 body checks A1. Ruling: Unnecessary roughness if the check was avoidable.

In past years officials could call a 1, 2 or 3 minute unnecessary roughness (UR) penalty against the player putting a hit on a player who could not protect themselves. Generally a flag would fly on a “Buddy Pass” hit if the officials thought that the player didn’t need to hit with such force or hit at all in order to properly defend. It’s a huge judgment call that varies with the officiating crew, because that is the nature of how the rule is written. It’s called unnecessary roughness because the official judged the hit to be unnecessary.

This brings us to new terminology and definitions in the 2014 NFHS Boys Lacrosse rulebook. Specifically the language related to illegal body checking (IBC). A new article was added explaining the defenseless player and it was added to the IBC rule because any body check that isn’t a legal body check is, by definition, an illegal body check.

NFHS Rule 5.3.5: A body check that targets a player in a defenseless position. This includes but is not limited to: (i) body checking a player from his “blind side”; (ii) body checking a player who has his head down in an attempt to play a loose ball; and (iii) body checking a player whose head is turned away to receive a pass, even if that player turns toward the contact immediately before the body check.
PENALTY: Penalty for violation of Article 5 is a two- or three-minute non-releasable foul, at the official’s discretion. An excessively violent violent of this rule may result in an ejection.

Then Situation B in the UR rule was updated to match the addition to the IBC rule:

NFHS Rule 5.9.3 Situation B: A1 is receiving a pass and is in a vulnerable position, “Buddy Pass.” B1 body checks A1. Ruling: Unnecessary roughness if the check was avoidable. However, if in the official’s judgment, B1 was targeting a defenseless player, the penalty shall be a two-to-three minute non-releasable. (See Rule 5-3-5)

*Note – Unnecessary Roughness penalties in youth lacrosse are always non-releasable (page 103 in the NFHS Boys Lacrosse Rulebook)

In my last post, “Checks To The Head Or Neck,” I explained that the penalty starts at a minimum of 2 or 3 minutes non-releasable. Hitting a defenseless player regardless of whether or not the player is hit in the head or neck carries the same penalty. This is what I meant earlier when I said a what was a legal hit last year might not be a legal hit this year. For example, Red 10 has his head down in an attempt to pick up a loose ball. Blue 22 violently body checks Red 10 from the side and the official judges that Red 10 never saw the hit coming (blind side hit) and throws the flag. Blue 22 will sit in the penalty box for at least 2-minutes non-releasable. The rules committee has not taken good man/ball plays out of the game, but they have made it clear that body checking a player in a defenseless position should be called and will carry the same penalty as a hit to the head or neck.

As I did in my earlier post, let’s watch some videos to further drive this new penalty home.

Buddy pass hit, or hitting a player who just caught a pass and turned immediately before the body check

Penalty administration: Either a two- or three-minute non-releasable unnecessary roughness penalty, or a two- or three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty.

Blind side hit where player turns right before contact

Penalty administration: Either a two- or three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty. Fair warning, this one is going to be tough for officials at every level to call. The rule effectively requires the official to determine from their vantage point whether or not the player getting hit saw the hit. Because of this there is going to be variability in how this is called across the country and across age groups. Although the hit in the video above should always be called at the youth level as a takeout check.

Body checking a player who has his head down for a loose ball

Penalty administration: Probably a three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty at the youth and high school level, possible ejection foul as well. This is a blind side hit while the player had his head down to play a loose ball. He is hit while looking down and the hit starts and finishes at his head/neck.

Clear blind side hit

Penalty Administration: Minimum 2-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty. I use this video in adult and youth officials training classes to show a clear blind side hit. The player with the ball was looking across the field to make a pass and gets body checked. Even under last year’s rule I’d probably call a 2-minute unnecessary roughness penalty. This year officials who flag this as a blind side hit will go at least 2-minutes non-releasable.

These changes have been in the works for years as more research comes out on the damaging effects of concussions and that these types of hits unnecessary in lacrosse. As I said in my last post it takes very little skill to blow up a player who has no clue you are coming.

As Jim Carboneau, 2002 New England Lacrosse Hall of Fame, World Game Referee, and current Chair of the US Lacrosse Men’s Officials Training Group, said at this year’s convention: “You can’t referee in the present if you’re stuck in the past.” He meant the rules were changing and all officials must adapt. I’ll add to his quote: “You can’t play or coach in the present if you’re stuck in the past.” Everyone should update their mental rulebooks, this year is going to be a bit different.

Cheers,
Gordon