Tag Archives: rules

That’s A Stupid Rule

Published by:


“That’s stupid.”, “That’s a stupid rule.”, “We don’t use those rules, they’re stupid.”

When I hear these comments from players, coaches, fans, parents, program administrators, or tournament organizers I always take a breath to settle myself. This prevents me from starting an argument that I have no hope of winning. I usually hear the following from each group:

  • A player after calling him for withholding when he loses his crosse with the ball in it:
    • “What?! I get a chance to get my stick back! That’s a dumb rule.” 
  • A coach after flagging his #1 player for delay of game when he rolled the ball away:
    • “You’ve got to be kidding me, he was rolling it to where the restart was going to be anyway! That’s a ridiculous rule!”
  • A parent after I flag his nine year old for launching his body like a SCUD missile into the helmet of an unaware opponent:
    • “You guys take all the fun out of a physical game with these stupid rules!”
  • A program administrator explaining to me that I am to play the game without NOCSAE balls:
    • “I don’t think there is any real difference between NOCSAE balls and non-NOCSAE balls. That was a stupid rule they put in, and we choose not to use those balls in our games.”
  • A tournament organizer on goalie arm pads at the youth level:
    • “It doesn’t protect the goalies from shots, and it’s unnecessary equipment. It’s a stupid rule that doesn’t do anything.”

Ask anyone that knows me and they’ll tell you that I love a good rules discussion. I like bouncing weird situations off my fellow officials and then seeing who is right. If I’m right I have a mini-parade in my head complete with Matthew Broderick singing “Twist and Shout.” If I’m wrong I feel bad and try to remember if I misapplied the rule in any earlier game I reffed. Those are great rules discussions because there isn’t much emotion involved since officials look at the rules as nothing more than the rules. We just want to know how to apply the written rules in the fairest way possible.

I prefer to look at the rules from an officiating perspective because they make the most sense from that perspective, which is why some rules grate on every other group involved in the game. I know because I’ve been in every one of the positions listed above except for parent and can understand those perspectives. However, as soon as someone tells me that a rule is stupid I lose a great deal of respect for their position, especially if that is their only reasoning.

The argument of “that’s stupid” worked brilliantly for me and my friends during recess in elementary school. Somewhere between learning how to write a five paragraph essay and balancing an algebraic equation it was impressed upon me that the argument “that’s stupid” is pretty stupid. It doesn’t work in school, higher education, or any planning meeting I’ve ever sat on. I can’t tell a client that his idea is stupid without also having a very well-reasoned argument behind my position (and telling the client that his idea is stupid is rarely a good way to win him over to my position). Yet for reasons unknown to me “that’s stupid” is the fallback position for most people who disagree with youth rules, and their follow up argument generally goes one of two ways. Either, “that’s just how I feel,” or, “they’re ruining the game.”

I think it is time to destroy both of these tired arguments:

  • “That’s just how I feel.”
    • I get this one. I feel strongly about lots of issues. It’s the nature of being human, but feelings are terrible guides for rules. Some people feel youth goalkeepers should not be required to wear arm pads during games because they need to learn how to deal with getting whacked in the elbows when they reach an older age level, and elbow pads don’t provide protection against really hard shots and tend to limit a goalkeeper’s movement. That’s the feeling. The reason this rule was put into place is because across the country moms, dads, grandparents, coaches, and players from the opposing team would shout “Elbows! Goalie is out, get him!” whenever a goalkeeper ran out of the crease. Which led to several youth goalkeepers getting their arms bruised and broken. Feelings should never be a reason to disregard safety rules or required equipment, which, contrary to public belief, have solid logic behind them.
  • “They’re ruining the game.”
    • Ah the mysterious cabal of cloaked people who meet in a darkened alcove during a full moon and discuss how best to ruin lacrosse as we know it. The group of which everyone speaks but no one researches is the Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee, and that group is listed on the last page of the 2014 US Lacrosse Boys Youth Lacrosse Rules PDF, and unlike the Illuminati they ask for feedback: “Please send all comments or suggestions regarding the Rules for Boys’ Youth Lacrosse to the US Lacrosse Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee […] to boysyouthrules@uslacrosse.org. Please do not contact NFHS about these rules.” Here is a helpful hint: don’t send emails saying that a rule is stupid. A more reasoned argument is necessary.
    • To the other part of this poor argument – If you believe that the Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee, the NFHS, or the NCAA is trying to ruin the game with new rules then I want to know exactly when the game was perfect. Was it where it needed to be prior to being discovered by French Jesuit missionaries? Or were the rules William George Beers established in 1869 plenty? Wait, I’ve got it. The argument isn’t that the game is being ruined by new rules because if that were true then the game was ruined well before the 20th century. In fact, this really isn’t an argument. It’s just whining.
    • The one gripe I hear the most is that “they’re ruining the game by taking out hitting.” I hate to burst the bubble of these individuals, but William Beers, who wrote the first standard rules of lacrosse, stated that: “‘The perfection of checking is to check without hitting your opponent’ and that actually hitting an opponent with a check [or body] was indicative of bad or unskillful play (178, 201).” Hitting was never in the game to start with as a legal action and happened to be looked down upon. So in a sense, the game was ruined by the introduction of hitting, and all these groups are trying to do is make a contact sport as safe as possible for your child to play. What a horrible group of people.

The rules are going to change. The only reason I don’t like the rules changing is that it’s more work for me. I have to read each book and study up on how to apply new rules as fairly as possible while remembering the numerous exceptions to the old ones, but I don’t reflexively say “that’s stupid” when I come across a rule I personally disagree with because that accomplishes nothing. Do some research, come up with a better argument and then we’ll talk.


NOCSAE Lacrosse Balls

Published by:


“As of January 1, 2014, all lacrosse balls used for play MUST meet NOCSAE standards and include the words ‘Meets NOCSAE Standard'” (NOCSAE Ball Mandate).

For those of you unfamiliar, NOCSAE is the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (www.nocsae.org). In 1969 NOCSAE “was formed to commission research directed toward injury reduction.” The goal of this organization is to reduce injury through research and effective standards. Notice that their goal is not the elimination of sports injuries as that is impossible and unrealistic. However, good standards for equipment are similar to good rules governing proper body contact. When both are properly applied the risk of injury goes down.

I want to be very clear on what a legal ball is in 2014 and what an illegal ball is in 2014. The image below shows both:


The white ball on the left side of the image is a legal lacrosse ball. It has the “Meets NOCSAE Standard” imprint. It also says NFHS and NCAA, but those markings do not matter according to the rule. All that matters is that the ball is imprinted/stamped with the phrase “Meets NOCSAE Standard.” That imprint means the lacrosse ball meets NOCSAE Ball Standards (PDF).

The orange ball on the right side of the image is an illegal lacrosse ball. While it bears the NFHS and “Meets NCAA Approve Specs” stamp it does not have “Meets NOCSAE Standard” label. Therefore the ball on the right is illegal and cannot be used during play.

When this rule was first published I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Then I read: USL – “What’s in a Ball?, and heard the story again from the rules committee at the 2014 USL National Convention. The cliff notes version is that a player was struck with a ball in practice off a missed shot. He was wearing a top of the line helmet, but a CT scan revealed a ruptured artery causing blood to fill his brain cavity. Fortunately the player received emergency brain surgery and he was back on the field for his senior season. I am not writing this to scare anyone, but to explain the facts. The mother didn’t understand how her son could have sustained such a serious injury with his brand new NOCSAE-approved helmet. The balls from practice were tested and did not meet NOCSAE standards.

The balls were either too hard or didn’t compress according to standards, and the NOCSAE-approved helmet is only rated to protect players from being struck in the helmet by a NOCSAE-standard ball. Once this was discovered the rules committee moved quickly and established a new note in the rulebook:

USL/NFHS Boys’ Rulebook – Rule 1, Section 5

The ball shall be white, yellow, orange or lime green and meet the current NOCSAE lacrosse ball standard. White balls shall be used unless both coaches agree prior to or during the game to use a yellow, orange or lime green ball. Game balls shall be supplied by the home team.

NOTE: Beginning in 2014, all game balls must include labeling which states: “Meets NOCSAE Standard”.

This is a serious safety issue. Home teams and/or youth leagues are required to provide and use only NOCSAE-standard lacrosse balls for play. If there are no NOCSAE balls, the officials are supposed to ask the visiting team if they have NOCSAE balls. If the visiting team has NOCSAE balls then the game is played with those balls but the home team loses the first face off as it is their responsibility to provide legal balls for a contest. If there are no NOCSAE balls at the game then the game DOES NOT start! Treat this situation as if you did not have a legally equipped goalkeeper. It is a major safety issue to not have a legally equipped goalkeeper on the field, and it is a major safety issue to not play with balls that meet NOCSAE standards.

If during the course of play all the NOCSAE balls are lost in the woods then play is suspended until the NOCSAE balls are found. If no NOCSAE balls can be found then the game is canceled, the referees will file a report, and the league or state administration will handle how the game is restarted at a later date according to league or state rules.

If a goal is scored and the ball is found to not be a NOCSAE ball then the goal counts, the ball is removed from the game, and a face off is conducted.

I cannot stress how important having NOCSAE-standard balls are for 2014. I already had one youth game that I delayed until NOCSAE balls were found, and I explicitly told both coaches that there would be no game if those balls were not found. This is a major safety issue and it should be treated as such by the coaches of both teams, the officials at the game, and the league/site administrator.

Common questions about these standards can be found here: USL Ball Standards FAQ (PDF)


The Really Big Box

Published by:

new rules for 2014

My last post detailed how to coach without substitution horns, but that is only answering half of the new sub rules. This season the substitution box was widened from 10 yards to 20 yards wide at all age levels. An extra five yards on either side of the midline, or the same width as the wing lines. This was done to facilitate quicker and cleaner substitutions with the absence of the sideline horn.


It doesn’t seem like a lot of extra space, but believe me, it feels awkward the first few times. Coaches have to stand five yards to the side of where they used to stand. Players have to get comfortable using the entire box when substituting during transition. Even officials have to look out when coming up the field as players can now run in and out from an unfamiliar area and potentially run into the ref!

Rules of the Substitution Box:

  1. Keep the box clear
    • Coaches this is on you at the youth level. If both teams want to take advantage of the bigger box they must also assume responsibility of keeping it clear of players who are not substituting and just want a better view.
    • The only people permitted in the sub box are: The table personnel, players serving penalties, and players who are imminently ready to substitute. No one gets to just hang out in the box, and while the referees are supposed to keep the box clear I’d rather they watch the on field action instead of worrying about the box. Coaches take it upon yourselves to keep the players out of the box.
  2. Go to the cone
    • When subbing on transition from your defensive end to your offensive end tell your substitutes to go all the way down to the cone of the sub box that is on your offensive half. That’s 10, 15, or 20 yards that the players don’t have to run while on the field. By subbing at or near the cones in transition you speed up your break, and you can effectively teleport a player twenty yards forward by having the defensive player sub off at the cone on your defensive end, and the new offensive player sub on at the cone of your offensive end.
  3. The player coming off the field has right of way
    • In lacrosse the player subbing off the field has the right of way and should be provided a clear lane into the box by players waiting in the sub box. This is an often overlooked part of subbing but it makes sense. Often the player coming off the field is running at or near full speed. If a player from the box moves to block his clear exit from the field and a collision happens, then it is the fault of the player in the box. Not the fault of the player coming off the field.
    • To use a driving analogy, if you fail to yield on a marked merge and the other driver crashes into you then the collision is your fault. Everybody wants to get onto the field fast, but the rules are clear that the players in the box must make way for those coming off.
  4. “On the fly” means the players have to wait
    • I see and correct too many youth teams who run their three fresh midfielders immediately onto the field when they go on a quick transition after their goalie makes a save. Suddenly the games goes to 10 vs. 13 because the coach said, “Go, go, go!”. On the fly means one for one. If three players come off the field one at a time, then only one player may go on the field at a time. If three players running shoulder to shoulder run off the field at the same time, then three players may sub on immediately.
    • Personal pet peeve – Coaches please don’t ask me during the game when you are allowed to sub. Ask me before the game when I’m not watching twenty players running after a small rubber ball while wearing miniaturized versions of riot gear. Also, all of these rules are in the rulebook!
  5. Take a knee
    • Players, be courteous to the individuals working the table and take a knee anytime you are in the box. Stand up right as you are ready to sub onto the field.
    • This also applies anytime you are serving a penalty, but make sure you watch the game. If you release and you are going on defense then kneel down by the cone on your defensive end. If you are kneeling and the ball transitions to your offensive end then move to the other cone, take a knee, and wait to be released.

I’m a big believer that extra space can calm things down. So don’t be intimidated by the larger box. Work on substituting using the above rules in practice and when you’re in a game make it the job of one assistant coach or parent volunteer to keep players out of the box until it is time to sub.