Tag Archives: win

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:

“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

Cheers,
Gordon

No Mercy!

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I’m reffing yet another game at yet another summer tournament. One U11 team is clearly superior to their opponent and the score quickly becomes one-sided. Yet the entire coaching staff of the leading team, led on by their head coach, repeatedly yells out “No Mercy!” after every goal they score. In what would eventually be a 15-2 beating these outbursts got old really quick. From what I could tell this behavior started with the head coach. He was the first to start yelling out “No Mercy!” and was quickly followed by his assistant coaches, who were then followed by the players on the bench. Everyone on the dominating team was thoroughly enjoying their epic victory.

Maybe my years as an official help me maintain a level of cool when I’m on the sidelines coaching, but that isn’t the core reason. If I behaved like a child during a youth game my dad would pull me out of the game and park my behind on the bench. He was acting like an adult while the coaches in my summer tournament game were acting like children. Winning wasn’t enough for these thirty to forty-five year old men. They needed to humiliate their opponent while on the road to victory.

After hearing all I cared to hear during the first half I told the head coach at halftime that the next time I heard “No Mercy!” I would issue a conduct foul on his team. He seemed perplexed when I gave him my ultimatum, but I was even more perplexed. I was struggling to understand why I, a twenty-five year old, had to explain to a forty-five year old that screaming “No Mercy!” when their team is up by ten goals is distasteful in a game with eight, nine and ten year olds.

It has been my experience that kids naturally gloat over one another. Most of the time it is good-natured ribbing, but sometimes an adult needs to step in and explain to the kids involved that there is a line that should not be crossed when you are the better player or on the better team. Kids need to learn that how you win is far more important that just winning. Mariano Rivera is finishing his last season with the Yankees. He has been a dominate closer for his entire career, and he wins with class. A-Rod, on the other hand, is a very accomplished baseball player but is now forever tarnished by PED usage. Both are winners, but Mo is the one who will be remembered fondly.

I can’t stand adult coaches acting like children in youth games. I am constantly amazed that the parents of these players even stick with the program when this behavior is evident, but their team is winning so what is the harm really? The harm is that when these kids get to high school I repeatedly send them to the box for unsportsmanlike behavior. They never learned to win with class as youngsters and they bring an overinflated view of themselves into high school ball.

If you’re unfamiliar with the featured image above go watch the original Karate Kid. You can yell “No Mercy” all you want, but eventually someone is going to out work you while you were spending all your time coming up with new insults.

Bow To Your Sensei!
Gordon