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Where Are the Officials Going?

By Charlie Obermayer, US Lacrosse, 10/15/18, 12:00PM CDT

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If we can change how we direct that passion and display that passion, the sport will be in a better and stronger position to continue to grow.

In 2017, US Lacrosse records indicated there were approximately 17,000 men’s and women’s lacrosse officials around the country — a record number to serve the growing needs of the sport.

In 2018, we saw a drop of more than 1,000 officials from the ranks.

Where did they go?

Sportsmanship is the number one reason people stated for leaving officiating. Sure, some left for other reasons like family and career commitments, injury, age and other aspects of life outside of a lacrosse field, but the fact that an overwhelming majority left because of sideline etiquette from coaches and spectators is a major issue that we need to address as a community.

A National Association of Sports Officials survey conducted in late 2017 drew responses from nearly 800 lacrosse officials. More than 66 percent of the lacrosse officials said that sportsmanship, primarily from coaches and parents, was getting worse. The only sport where officials indicated sportsmanship was getting worse at a higher rate than lacrosse was rugby.

You may have seen recently in the news that an organization has begun posting videos of sideline behavior at youth and scholastic events from around the country. They have shown soccer, football, baseball and basketball games.

To my knowledge they have yet to show a video from a lacrosse game, but we would all be naïve to think this isn’t happening in our game as well. There was an article in the New York Times where the headline read Fighting the Epidemic of Parents Behaving Badly. That’s right, epidemic, which means according to Miriam-Webster, a sudden, widespread occurrence of an undesirable phenomenon.

We need to fix this undesirable phenomenon and the first thing we all need to ask ourselves is, "More than 1,000 officials stopped officiating lacrosse last year. Am I the reason we lost one of those?"

I hope the answer is no, but I also hope that for some, the answer is yes.

If it is yes, it’s ok, because you recognize the change that is needed. We get it, we understand, we are all human and sports bring out a level of passion from us. When we add our kids into the mix, the passion is multiplied by a million. If we can change how we direct that passion and display that passion, the sport will be in a better and stronger position to continue to grow.

Officials are there to adjudicate the rules of the game for both teams to have an equal opportunity to win. Safety is important, and that is always at the forefront of an official’s mind during the game, but ultimately, we are there to keep the game on an even playing field for both teams.

Will an official miss a call? Absolutely, without doubt.

Does the official feel good about missing a call to the point that a fan is cursing them and telling them they are the worst person to ever wear stripes? Of course not.

Officials are human too. When you make a mistake at work or at home does your boss or spouse start yelling obscenities towards you and telling you that you’re blind and awful at your job because you missed paying a bill or invoice? Well, I sure hope not.

If you are a part of the problem, lets change that starting today and be a part of the solution.

As we gear up for 2019, we need to recruit more officials. We need to institute and enforce sideline etiquette and sportsmanship programs at our leagues around the country. We need to tell everyone that we need officials in our sport and if someone does decide to be an official, we need to appreciate their willingness to serve in that role and be an integral part of the competition.

Everyone has a responsibility in this arena and don’t leave it up to your local leagues administration, the other parents, the other coaches or the other fans to step up and be responsible for change. It’s up to every one of us, including officials to see this through. Let’s work together to change our culture before it’s too late. The longer we wait the more difficult the challenge.

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