Few things piss me off more than an assault on my integrity, but as an official it’s inevitable that a person or group of people will send a comment my way that hurts. The second year of officiating high school lacrosse was the hardest year for me. I was getting more varsity game assignments, and while I wasn’t completely out of my depth, I was definitely treading water in the deep end. I showed this in my very defensive demeanor with coaches and players. No smiling, no engagement, no explanations. If coaches questioned or threw a verbal barb my way they found their in-home kneeling next to them before they realized what happened. I was an official, but I didn’t own the stripes.
A while ago I reffed two games three weeks apart that demonstrate how people really don’t pay much attention to the officials when things are going their way, and shows to new youth and adult officials that these comments aren’t all that powerful if you understand the source.
The first game was a blowout. There was an average number of flags and two conduct fouls on the winning team that turned the ball over, but nothing wild or crazy happened. The better team won by about fourteen goals, we had a running clock in the 2nd half, and the game wrapped up without incident. My partner and I were practically invisible, and I was able to get a few laughs from the players facing off (the game was that low-key).
In the second game a few weeks later I was officiating the team that had blown the doors of their opponents earlier, but this time they were facing a more skilled team and the final score was reversed with them on the losing side with a running clock in the 2nd half. There was one high hit called on the winning team, and several conducts and eventually worked up to USCs on the losing team as they began to lose composure.
In the three weeks between those two games I am quite certain I did not forget how to officiate. I approached both games in the same manner. Dressed for it as I always do. Pre-gamed with my sheet as I always do. In short, I did not change but the game was different and the losing team needed a scapegoat. So a few of their players started making their displeasure known about a few of the crew’s calls.
In year two I would have taken those comments from players and coaches that I was biased, or I sucked, or I needed to read the rulebook far harder than I do now. I flagged what needed to be flagged during both games. I was invisible in the first game, but I was the worst ref in the world in the second because the losing team was down by fifteen. Insulting comments are not personal, and I needed a few years to understand that people really are yelling at the stripes. To speed up my development I started reading books on officiating, but I also tried to find resources on managing crazy people in other professions. Unsurprisingly, I found a great deal of useful information from 101 Useful Tips on How to be a Bouncer. The tips focus on how to de-escalate potentially violent situations by being calm and not immediately reacting to the poor behavior of wild, drunk people.
If you are a thinking about starting to officiate lacrosse as a youth or adult official I highly encourage you to dive on in! Study the rulebook, learn the mechanics, and find a mentor, but take an honest stock of how you react to mean-spirited comments. Do you react with hostility or aggression? Do you internalize verbal attacks until you blow up from holding it in? Letting comments said to you in anger, confusion, or frustration slide off your back is a learned skill. It takes time, but you can learn how to do it if you know the way you are primed to react to those verbal attacks.
Think of the stripes as armor. I used to go out onto the field weighed down by the black and white. It took a few years, but now I own my stripes and when I put them on my mind is prepared to take a few insults with good cheer and a flag when they really go over the line.