I hate hitching. Hitching refers to when an official grabs his flag but does not throw it. I was first told that I was hitching by a high school coach who happened to be an experienced lacrosse official as well.
I was standing near him and I saw one of his players take a stick to the helmet. I grabbed my flag, thought about it and decided not to throw it. This coach saw me and said, “Gordon, if you’re going to reach for it go ahead and throw it.” Once I realized I was hitching I noticed how much I did it in every game.
Even though I knew I was hitching I couldn’t stop myself. It’s taken almost two years and regular concentration in all of my games to drop my hitching rate. I probably hitch about 10-15% of the time throughout the course of the season, but I want to get to zero.
To further combat hitching I changed the way I carried my flags. I started off reffing with two yellow penalty flags on either hip, tucked into my waistline. I always had a flag ready near each hand, which meant I could hitch equally with both. I removed the flag from my left hip and put it into my right front pocket, then situated my other flag in my waistline directly above my right front pocket. I also bought the black-tipped flags so they blended into my black shorts and belt. By changing how I carried my flags I eliminated any hitching on my left side, but I still had my right side to worry about.
A lot of officials, like me early on, reach for their flag when they anticipate a foul occurring, but the contact does not rise to the level of a penalty. Then they get into a lot of trouble with a coach or evaluator wondering why a flag wasn’t thrown. Remember the end of all the You Make The Call Videos – “Anticipate the Play, but not the Call.” When you anticipate the call you might have to make you will hitch, but when you anticipate the play the call or no call will come to you. To help you do this you need to practice a relaxed posture.
After I spent a full offseason in 2009 making my mechanics as by-the-book as possible, many of my officiating friends and mentors remarked that I looked robotic and uncomfortable on the field. So I started practicing a more relaxed posture, which started with my arms and hands. If you watch me during a game you’ll notice me shaking out my arms during a settled possession after about a minute. I shake out my arms as a very subtle reminder to myself to relax. That keeps me very calm on the field and helps me project the appearance of relaxed confidence, as opposed to tight arrogance.
The best place to keep your arms and hands is next to your sides. You may not realize it, but how you stand on the field also projects an attitude regardless of how you may actually be feeling at the time.
- Arms crossed
- Arms behind back
- Doesn’t care
- Hands on hips
- “This game is boring”
- “Why am I here?”
- Hands knifed along sides as if at military attention (what I used to do!)
- “I am so uncomfortable”
- “I better not screw up!”
- Hands on knees
- Whatever you’re looking at is much more important than anything you look at while standing upright
Aside from the image you project with the above arm/hand positions, you will have a hard time throwing a timely flag. I keep my hands and arms loosely by my side nearly 95% of the time while standing during a settled possession. My right hand knows it has to reach a few inches in towards the outside of my hip to find my flag when I need it.
My final word on hitching is you discover something really cool when you focus on not hitching. If I see something borderline on a bang/bang play where a penalty might have occurred and my right hand doesn’t move one centimeter, then I know there was no penalty. This is a built-in physical check for confirming my no call. The coach is yelling at me, “Where’s the flag?” And I’m thinking to myself, “Right where it should be. Still in my pocket because my initial reaction was not to throw.”
Aside from improving my judgment on penalty calls at higher levels of play, and adding better game management techniques, focusing on not hitching was a major part of me becoming a better lacrosse official each year. Focus on decreasing your hitch and you’ll start seeing your calls become more consistent.