When I’m not writing about playing better or coaching techniques, I’m usually writing about overcoming negative behavior in youth athletics. Well today I want to write about one of my favorite experiences as a lacrosse official in a U11 game.
About three years ago I was officiating a tournament in north Georgia at the start of the summer. I had a mix of age levels each day, and that particular day I had three U11 games. The first two U11 games were brutal. Parents screaming, coaches screaming, players launching themselves into airborne miniature missiles aimed at the heads of their opponents or swinging their sticks so violently I was surprised that none broke. Usually in these games I can make a kid laugh or smile even when all the other adults are going crazy, but in those two games the kids on both teams were dialed in with a level of seriousness that was unexpected. My partner and I threw flags, and we might have ejected a coach. I can’t remember, it was really hot.
I can deal with crazy people and wild penalties, and I can deal with hot weather. Combine the two though and I get cranky. With my third U11 game coming up I was not happy about having to ref it. Here was another game where the players would be out of control, the coaches encouraging out of control behavior, and the parents yelling at me that I wasn’t keeping anybody under control.
Yet, that didn’t happen.
The players played with the appropriate level of body contact for their age group. They didn’t swing their sticks. In fact, they rarely tried more than a well timed lift check! The game was competitive, but the coaches stayed positive with their players and didn’t gripe to my partner or I excessively. Even better, the parents were enjoying the game and were very pleasant. I started that game with the idea that it was going to be a giant mess of craziness, but I ended it startled and genuinely happy.
I was so pleased with how everyone behaved that I asked both coaches to have their players take a knee on the far sideline where their parents were. I introduced myself and told them that their game was the best game I got to officiate all day and that everyone made me feel like coming out again the next day. I told the players that they made me a happy referee because they played with skill and finesse, and I complimented the parents and coaches for keeping the youth game in perspective and enjoying a nice, albeit hot, Georgia afternoon.
It is easy to get jaded in sports, especially when you see the same poor behavior at every game. Most games it isn’t that everyone is being a pain, but that there is one person on the sideline, one coach in the coaches box, or one player on the field making a mockery of the sport. But every once in a while there are games where the game is played and everyone enjoys it for what it is. A safe, fun time with friends.
I want to see a player helping up his opponent after a hard hit. I want to see a coach maintain a high level of intensity with his team without going overboard. I want to see a parent calming down another parent on the sideline who may be taking the youth game a little too seriously. Those are the moments I live for when I’m reffing.