Officiating is not immune to the human condition. Even though everyone associated with the game expects the crew to be perfect it is never going to happen. To be fair, no player or coach has ever played or coached perfectly, but no one cares about those mistakes. Our mistakes get talked about at the office water cooler and lampooned by commentators if you are officiating in front of a national audience. We cannot eliminate all mistakes, but we can cut down on their frequency if we are honest with ourselves and each other about the on-field mistakes that we make. I cannot speak for other officials, but I can talk about the different mistakes I’ve made over my career. Hopefully, putting my mistakes out in the open will help other officials when they hit the field.
- Mistake #1 – Lack of Rules Knowledge
- I threw a flag on one team’s defensive end of the field and I did not award possession across the midfield line as required by the rules. Instead I assessed the penalty and restarted play at the spot where play stopped.
- Why Did I Do That? – I had not read the rulebook enough to know that a flag in one team’s defensive end of the field results in a free clear.
- Solution – Become a student of the rules. Bring a pen or highlighter.
- Mistake #2 – Rabbit Ears
- A coach made a statement that disparaged my abilities as an official. He did not make a personal attack or use any profanity yet I threw a flag for a one-minute non-releasable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the coach.
- Why Did I Do That? – I lacked confidence in my abilities as an official but I did not lack confidence in my flag throwing abilities. This resulted in many coaches getting penalties for pretty lame comments like, “how did you not see that?” or “that was a bad call.”
- Solution – Develop a thicker skin. Think of your stripes as insult-armor. The coach/player/fan is not yelling at you. They are yelling at the stripes.
- Mistake #3 – Penalize Everything!
- Chinstrap unbuckled? Turnover. Mouthguard hanging out while ball is on other side of the goal? Flag down. Crosse is an eighth of an inch too short? Three-minute non-releasable penalty.
- Why Did I Do That? – I thought my job as an official was to catch every illegal thing that happened during a game. This resulted in long games, long pauses to explain situations to coaches, and longer headaches for my partner.
- Solution – If the illegal action has no bearing on the play or game then don’t worry about it. Catch the big safety related stuff and the clear advantage/disadvantage penalties.
- Mistake #4 – Not Knowing The Time
- Under a minute to go in a one-goal game. Winning team has the ball in their attack area. I throw my flag for a very ticky-tack slash call that definitely should have been a brush at most. Winning team sits on the ball during the subsequent man-up and wins the game.
- Why Did I Do That? – I did not know the time. I forgot the situation and called a penalty that wasn’t even close to being a legitimate foul.
- Solution – Check the clock during dead balls. If it’s late in the game in a close contest then it is not a foul unless it is something major!
- Side Note – I officiated an overtime game and one of the offensive players got whacked in the head. Not particularly hard or deliberate so I did not throw my flag. At the next dead ball that player asked me why that wasn’t a foul. I replied, “Overtime.” He smiled and went back to playing. Moral of the story is that the players want to decide the outcome and they don’t want ticky-tack stuff called late either.
- Mistake #5 – Ball Watching
- I forgot to watch the shooter on a shot. My eyes went towards the action of the ball moving really, really fast. I completely missed the shooter getting destroyed by the sliding defenseman.
- Why Did I Do That? – I had played for over ten years and my eyes were accustomed to following the ball. Officials do not watch an entire game. We watch sections of plays. I was simply not used to focusing my attention on plays behind the ball.
- Solution – Repeat to yourself, “Shooter, shooter, shooter.” During a shot. This will help you focus in on the shooter and be in a position to make the call on the big hit.
Are those all the mistakes I’ve made over the years? No! I stopped counting mistakes in my first year. The ones above are the major ones that I never want to repeat.
I’ve found that writing down my mistakes and then crafting solutions to stop myself from committing them again has been immensely helpful in improving as a lacrosse official. What are some mistakes you have made and what are your solutions?