Before the 2013 season I was interviewed for an article about US Lacrosse’s Officials Education Program to give my take on how the OEP benefits new and experienced officials around the country, especially those in developing areas.
Emily Gibson and Paul Krome wrote the article, “Huge Step Forward: US Lacrosse Officials Education Program,” where they quoted me saying:
“Consistency is the holy grail of officiating — it’s what we strive for,” said Gordon Corsetti of the Georgia Lacrosse Officials Association.
Officials want consistency through a whole game. Coaches may want it from game to game. Parents may want it from state to state or region to region. “There’s a disconnect in how each region officiates,” Corsetti said. “Having those national standards set by US Lacrosse is a huge step forward.”
I thought then and I think now that my analysis of consistency between the different groups of people at lacrosse games is spot on, and likely accurate in just about every other youth and varsity sport across the country. I’ll use an example from a tournament I did this past winter to illustrate the consistent disconnect on what consistency is all about.
“That is not how the officials call it in [insert state, county, region here]!” – From a U11 coach after his player was penalized for demolishing an unsuspecting opponent on a buddy pass.
“I guess they don’t have moving picks where you live ref!” – From a U15 parent where the opposing team ran a great pick game on the inside. They moved regularly but stopped before contact.
“I’ve never seen that called where I live!” – Parent, coach, of a U19 player. Take your pick on the penalty assessed.
The game may be called differently in different areas even with the exact same rules (I will not get into tournaments making up their own weird rule exceptions or additions which are the bane of my existence). The rules are black and white, but the interpretation of those rules covers a wide range of gray, which creates a natural inconsistency from game to game and region to region. A new favorite quote of mine I heard from Rob Gross out at the 2014 World Games. He said, “The rulebook is black and white, and we earn our money by sorting out the gray.” I’ve found that opposing coaches have few issues with officiating crews that call a game tight or call a game loose – as long as it stays that way for the entire game for both teams.
A few seasons ago I called a slash against a U17 attackman in a tournament. He swung violently as the clearing midfielder crossed the midline and made solid contact on the midfielder’s back. The Red coach said he was going for stick, but that didn’t excuse the final contact – flag down. In the second half the situation was reversed. A red midfielder was clearing and the opposing attackman swung his stick violently and knicked the shoulder pad of the midfielder as he crossed the midline. Coach yelled at me that I was being inconsistent by not flagging the same slash. The windup was the same, but the final contact was drastically different – no call. Now if the contact had been the same as the earlier play and I didn’t launch my flag then the coach would have a legitimate gripe, and I would have to reevaluate my no call.
Good coaches can adapt to what is called during a game, but it is impossible for them to adapt if the crew is all over the place in what is being called and what is not being called. That will frustrate a poor coach, but will really frustrate a good coach because he doesn’t know what to tell his team. Being aware of your calls will help you become more consistent, but the “holy grail” that I mentioned in the US Lacrosse article really refers to crew consistency. How is it possible for two or three separate individuals to call a consistent game? Consistent Communication.
Timeouts and quarter breaks are fantastic times to ask – “Did you see the push I passed on? Did you have the same thing I did on the cross check? Did I mess up that crease call?” If the crew does not ask these questions then every official is reffing on an island. Talking to one another encourages greater consistency and you can tell your partner – “I could see the contact was in the shoulder even from where I was. Cross check all day, I had the goal but saw his hands apart as he was coming off the player. Nope, if you didn’t signal crease violation I was coming in to back you up.” Communication creates consistency, but coaches, players, and parents need to realize that every game is going to be called a little bit different, and that the job of the officiating crew is to be consistent with each other from the first whistle to the final horn and not match what exactly what was called in last week’s game.