I do not make excuses for my failures, and I do try to learn from them. As do most officials. If you’re going to yell about something, yell about a missed safety violation.
Now that I have your attention, I must apologize for the title of this article. “Stop complaining and pick up a whistle,” and variations of that admonishment have been given at fields, rinks, ballparks, and courts at all levels of play. “Quit complaining and pick up a whistle,” is another trope typed onto online forums and blasted across social media.
This needs to stop.
I find these terms to be needlessly antagonistic. They certainly do not help, and they probably harm, recruiting efforts for Lacrosse Officials’ Organizations around the country. After all, no one has ever been insulted into a new job.
What these retorts do accomplish is reinforcing the persistent stereotype that officials are indifferent and only interested in a paycheck. Officials, collectively, cannot afford to be combative with the very people we hope to recruit.
I’d like to suggest approaches from multiple angles that are more positive.
Leagues and Tournament Operators
We need you to adopt standard rules. I am a very capable official, but even I have been lost at how to handle end-of-game situations because of unnecessary variations in the rules. That leads to spectators getting upset when I inevitably screw up. Then I get upset. End the cycle of confusion and anger, and use the USL Youth Rules. Become a Sanctioned League or Tournament.
Teams and Program Leaders
Invite certified trainers and certified observers from your local official’s organizations over for a rules meeting before the season. This is a great way to interact with officiating experts and improve the lacrosse IQ of your team. Online courses and instructional webinars are also available, for free, for all US Lacrosse members at https://learning.uslacrosse.org.
Parents and Fans
Allow me to be the first to tell you that sometimes, you are correct. Sometimes a call is flat-out missed, or a rule is misapplied, or the game is called inconsistently. I have been in the middle of games and realized I was not doing a good enough job. I do not make excuses for my failures, and I do try to learn from them. As do most officials. If you’re going to yell about something, yell about a missed safety violation. That will tell the officials that they might have missed something, as opposed to yelling about everything, which gets tuned out quickly.
Give the officials information to help them keep the game safe and fair. Please do not come up to me and shout, “He’s not letting me move!” Instead, try, “Mr. Official, or sir, number seven is holding me on the inside, could you keep an eye on that?” That tells me a number to look out for and an action to be aware of. This is information I need to discern if your perception is accurate.
We have different goals. Your objective is to win. The officials’ objective is to allow for safe and fair game play. This will inherently cause conflict, but we need not be at each other’s throats. I ask that you stop with the, “ouch, ouch, ouch” or the, “you need to overrule your partner” comments. Imagine how upset you would be if an official screamed at you, from sixty yards away, for making a bad coaching decision. You would be rightfully livid.
Every interaction you have impacts the perception of your organization, US Lacrosse, and the entire officiating profession. Strive to leave good memories. You can eject someone for behaving inappropriately, but do not take their behavior as license to act in kind. Instead, be the model for sportsmanlike behavior even as you attend to tasks that will anger one team or the other. The best recruiting message is to act like a professional every time you wear the stripes.
Ultimately, the sport needs more people to consider picking up a whistle. It is vital for the long-term growth of lacrosse. I do not feel comfortable compelling you to try officiating. Instead, let me nudge you with what officiating has given me:
• Lifelong mentors and friends.
• Amazing, close-up views of the action.
• Fun and engaging conversations with partners after games.
Officiating continues to be a deeply rewarding profession for myself and my colleagues across the country. I invite you to consider joining this amazing fraternity and sorority of zebras.
US Lacrosse is the sport's national governing body and provides national leadership, structure and resources to fuel the sport's growth and enrich the experience of participants. For more information on US Lacrosse, check out the links below.