College High School Youth

Respect My Authority!

mll_ref_lacrosse

Coaches, players, and fans often compare sports referees to police officers when explaining the authority that a referee has over a game. While it is an easy comparison to make, everyone who makes it seriously understates the amount of authority that a referee actually possesses.

We referees are a combination of:

  • The police officer – we witness violations and detain the player
  • The lead prosecutor – we levy charges against the player
  • The jury – we determine the player’s guilt or innocence
  • The judge – we sentence the player to a period of time in a confined area
  • The warden – we don’t let the player out until their debt is paid
  • The executioner – we decide if the player gets ejected

In lacrosse, the rulebook grants the referees absolute power over the game, the area around the game, and everyone associated with the game:

The officials shall have authority over the play of the game, with control and jurisdiction over the timekeeper, scorer, players, substitutes, coaches and anyone officially connected with either team, and spectators (NFHS 2.6.2, NCAA 2.7).

Referees are endowed with similar authority in nearly every other sport that uses refs because sports require quick decisions that are tough to dispute. This authority is granted by design. If sports were officiated in the same manner as a criminal trial then the NCAA Lacrosse Championship Weekend would take six months to finish and there would be a lengthy appeals process.

I officiate well over a hundred games each year covering every age group, which equates to a few thousand people that are impacted by my decisions. Out of those thousands of people, I’ve run into only a few who know how to effectively communicate with officials. The rest say things that only serve to diminish their case. To explain how best to communicate with a referee, let’s go back to the police officer comparison.

When I first got my driver’s license my parents gave me a very useful piece of advice. If I ever got pulled over, I was to be polite to the officer. Applying a bit of common courtesy whenever I spoke to a police officer let me learn exactly what I was pulled over for, and showed that I was likely not going to cause the officer any additional trouble. I’ve gotten a few tickets driving, but I’ve also gotten let off with a few warnings. However, I can confidently say that while I could have gotten a ticket every time I got pulled over no matter how I behaved, I definitely would have gotten a ticket every time I got pulled over if I behaved like a jerk. The point is that police officers and sports referees are just human beings doing a job, and they both generally respond well to common courtesy.

In a lacrosse game the refs are going to make decisions that you (as the player, coach, or fan) will not agree with. Right or wrong, the referee has all of the power and can either make your life pleasant or unpleasant, but if you understand this fact you can work around it.

Last season, I called an Illegal Body Check for a late hit after a shot on a senior defender during Senior Night. Oh, people were pissed off, and I imagine that defender hated my guts the instant he realized I penalized him. He didn’t make any aggressive comment or come at me like he wanted to hurt me (though it was reasonable to think he wanted to). He walked up to me and said, “Mr. Official, why did you flag my hit?” I answered, “Your hit was clean in every respect, but you hit the shooter when the ball was beyond five yards.” The defender nodded and jogged to the penalty box to serve his time. The next time he had a chance to hit the shooter after the ball was well away, he eased up, and I thanked him for that during the next dead ball.

That is an ideal interaction between a player and a referee, but that doesn’t always happen. More often than not, tempers flair, words get exchanged, and two or more people do something they later regret. That first interaction was a positive example, but I find negative examples tend to illuminate the need to change behavior better.

Years ago, I called a player for a trip, and he felt that I made a bad call. The player got right into my face and was screaming at the top of his lungs that I was the worst ref he’d ever seen. I threw my flag (now I’m out of the two I carry), and then I poured gasoline on the situation. I told the player, “You really need to shut your mouth.” That suggestion did not have the desired effect that I was hoping for. The player got more pissed off and as he was walking to the penalty box he shouted, “Throw another one!” I walked over to my partner and asked him for his flag, which he handed to me and I threw high into the air. The player demanded that I throw another, so I threw my partner’s last flag. When all was said and done I assessed a 1-minute trip, a 30-second conduct, a 1-minute non-releasable unsportsmanlike conduct (USC), and a 3-minute non-releasable USC. Oh, I also ejected the player.

The major difference between this example and the more positive one is that the player and the referee did not treat one another with respect. Verbal insults by the player lead to flags from the referee, and none of it was really necessary. Back then, I knew I held all the authority, but I hadn’t learned that I could manage a game much more smoothly by giving players, coaches, and fans genuine respect until they treated me without it.

So to all the players, coaches, fans, and referees reading this I want you to remember that there is no magic to settling disputes on the field. Bring a mutual respect for everyone at the game and work on maintaining that respect for as long as possible. There will still be disputes, but you’ll probably find that the game moves along much more easily.

Quote for the players, coaches, and fans:

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” – Jackie Robinson

Quote for the referees:

“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Spiderman’s Uncle Ben

About the author

Profile photo of Gordon Corsetti

Gordon Corsetti

Gordon is a born lacrosse official who played for ten years before realizing he'd much rather ref the game than play it. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia and officiates youth, high school, and collegiate men's lacrosse games all over the southeast. His passion is educating and training officials, coaches, players, parents and all other fans on the rules of lacrosse, it's history, and how best to develop lacrosse in new areas.

9 Comments

  • Great article. I love the additional perspective it gives those of us that are not officials.

    My frustration with referees usually occurs when they seem to not know the rules. I was once told that an opponents stick check across my back was not a slash because; in the ref’s eyes, I should’ve been wearing bigger shoulder pads. Whether or not the check that had occurred was a slash, the amount of padding (or lack thereof) that a player wears does not dictate a slash or not. Needless to say, the game did proceed well for anyone.

  • Great article. I love the additional perspective it gives those of us that are not officials.

    My frustration with referees usually occurs when they seem to not know the rules. I was once told that an opponents stick check across my back was not a slash because; in the ref’s eyes, I should’ve been wearing bigger shoulder pads. Whether or not the check that had occurred was a slash, the amount of padding (or lack thereof) that a player wears does not dictate a slash or not. Needless to say, the game did proceed well for anyone.

    Scriff – I’m glad you enjoyed my article. I won’t speak to the slash/no-slash since I never saw it, but I do have a problem with any official telling a player that something wasn’t a slash because they felt the player’s pads were inadequate. That kind of comment does not make allies from anyone on the field.

  • I agree 100% percent that everyone just needs to be treated as a fellow human being; this is the number thing. I also agree that the type of constructive interaction you had is ideal, and it would be beneficial of both parties to do more of that. The only thing that troubles me is a bit of blind resistance to authority could lead to bad things; unfortunately, the truth is the truth and sometimes refs make bad calls or even have bad egos to go along with it. If you saw a police officer senselessly harming a child, would you not intervene? If we can use the case one way, we should consider it the other way. Which form of authority then takes precedence, fellow human or police?

    Every game should be an opportunity for the ref to learn how to be a better ref, coaches to be better coaches, players to be better players and fans to be better fans; if it’s two sided, then both parties win, but if it’s one sided, there are no checks and balances. Fans, coaches, players and refs all need to be human beings in this together and search for the truth in regards to how the game should be played I believe.

  • I agree 100% percent that everyone just needs to be treated as a fellow human being; this is the number thing. I also agree that the type of constructive interaction you had is ideal, and it would be beneficial of both parties to do more of that. The only thing that troubles me is a bit of blind resistance to authority could lead to bad things; unfortunately, the truth is the truth and sometimes refs make bad calls or even have bad egos to go along with it. If you saw a police officer senselessly harming a child, would you not intervene? If we can use the case one way, we should consider it the other way. Which form of authority then takes precedence, fellow human or police?

    Every game should be an opportunity for the ref to learn how to be a better ref, coaches to be better coaches, players to be better players and fans to be better fans; if it’s two sided, then both parties win, but if it’s one sided, there are no checks and balances. Fans, coaches, players and refs all need to be human beings in this together and search for the truth in regards to how the game should be played I believe.

    Gregory Rose – I don’t want to discourage the proletariat from rising up against unjust authority, but I do think you took the police analogy a bit too far. A bad call on the lacrosse field does not match up with a police officer senselessly beating a child. Now if a sports official wants to ground and pound a player like a Randy Couture fight I hope some nearby adults would put a stop to that as quickly as possible.

    I’m totally with you that each game is an opportunity for improvement for everyone involved, and if a player, coach, and official doesn’t view each game as such then they should probably retire. You’ve given me an idea for my next post though! I think I’ll write up some effective strategies that teams can use to work with the on field officials at each age level.

  • I would say the best thing for me as a player and fan was to ref. It really makes you realize where “Bad calls” come from. While I was only reffing at the youth level, I couldn’t believe the number of times you could swear a penalty happened, but based on your position at that split second, you’re screened from the action. I was usually on the coaches’ side of the field, so of course anything I missed in this scenario, all the parents would see clear as day. You’re left with the decision between making a call that you’re pretty sure happened on a player that you’re pretty sure did it, or letting play go on. Most of the time this was something like a slash while a player went through traffic, pushes on crowded ground balls, etc. Either way, someone’s going to be upset.

    Now while watching a game, I pay much more attention to which ref throws a flag or blows the whistle than the call itself. Many times I can completely understand why they made that call, even though my viewpoint says something different. Many times, not all. Several calls are still n the rulebook as judgment calls, so you do have to respect their judgment as the default.

    As a player, like Gordon mentioned, respect is key (humor helps too). Have you ever seen a call reversed because a player got in the face of a ref? It’s a guaranteed way to have a ref pay extra close attention to you going forward (not in a positive way either) and will not change the outcome. I’ll let a ref know if I don’t agree with the call, but doing so politely will make sure that the next time that situation comes up in the game, they’ll think about it more.

    Also, always thank them after the game. They’re not getting rich off being a ref and you can’t play without them. Even if you didn’t agree with them the whole game, we’re all human.

    Great post!

  • I would say the best thing for me as a player and fan was to ref. It really makes you realize where “Bad calls” come from. While I was only reffing at the youth level, I couldn’t believe the number of times you could swear a penalty happened, but based on your position at that split second, you’re screened from the action. I was usually on the coaches’ side of the field, so of course anything I missed in this scenario, all the parents would see clear as day. You’re left with the decision between making a call that you’re pretty sure happened on a player that you’re pretty sure did it, or letting play go on. Most of the time this was something like a slash while a player went through traffic, pushes on crowded ground balls, etc. Either way, someone’s going to be upset.

    Now while watching a game, I pay much more attention to which ref throws a flag or blows the whistle than the call itself. Many times I can completely understand why they made that call, even though my viewpoint says something different. Many times, not all. Several calls are still n the rulebook as judgment calls, so you do have to respect their judgment as the default.

    As a player, like Gordon mentioned, respect is key (humor helps too). Have you ever seen a call reversed because a player got in the face of a ref? It’s a guaranteed way to have a ref pay extra close attention to you going forward (not in a positive way either) and will not change the outcome. I’ll let a ref know if I don’t agree with the call, but doing so politely will make sure that the next time that situation comes up in the game, they’ll think about it more.

    Also, always thank them after the game. They’re not getting rich off being a ref and you can’t play without them. Even if you didn’t agree with them the whole game, we’re all human.

    Great post!

  • conlax14 – Kudos to you for reffing some youth ball! You are completely correct that “either way, someone’s going to be upset.” One of my favorite quotes about officiating is that referees piss off 50% of the fans 100% of the time.

    When officials get evaluated by more experienced officials they are rarely dressed down for judgement calls (unless the judgement call is incredibly bad from an officiating point of view and not a fan point of view). We are evaluated based off positioning, mechanics, and consistency. Evaluators want a slash that is called on one team in the fourth quarter to be the same as a slash called on the other team in the first.

    They also want us in the correct position to make a call. Very tough for anyone to believe a borderline crease violation call if the official is out of the box. Much easier for people to accept the crease call from an official who is a step or two off the crease.

    Respectful dialogue can be improved through humor, but you need to know who you’re talking to. I tend to avoid cracking jokes until the coach and I have done a few games together and we know each other.

    All you can hope to get with the officials in any sport is that they are consistent from the first whistle to the final horn. Things tend to get a little wild when no one can tell what is going to get flagged next.

  • Hi Gordon. Really enjoy all the videos you’ve posted. Excellent training for my 1st year as a youth umpire. Frustration with lack of hustle and positioning with our existing youth referees convinced me to go over.

    You mention that you get judged by your professional look, demeanor, mechanics and how you describe in your two man tips, “selling the call,” by hustling to GLE, the 5×5 box or to the end line on a shot. Fortunately, my scheduler puts me with fellow Referees who care.

    However, I still see A LOT of traffic cops. How do you gently help a fellow official to keep up and rise to the expected level without seeming pushy?

    I learned that by hustling, being in position and being vocal with the call cut down on almost all the groaning. Additionally, explaining the call to the kid and telling him what will not get him called next time really helps. One of the best tips I learned on a slow whistle repeat the offender kids number over and over to yourself as you continue to watch the possession. That way, you’re not picking the wrong kid to serve the personal foul.

    I’m learning now to let play develop instead of reminding a kid to get in the box, 4 second goalie count and a one handed check. I still find it much harder to count forward than sneak a peak back to count 3 d men for offsides, even though this means I’m going to take my eyes off the field of play for a second.

    Any additional advice?

  • Daddymac,

    I’m glad you’re enjoying my videos! I’m always happy to hear that officials find them useful. Here’s what I’ve got for you:

    “How do you gently help a fellow official to keep up and rise to the expected level without seeming pushy?”
    – Short answer is you don’t. Long answer is you don’t right now. As a first year youth umpire your job is to make yourself as good an official as you can be, but you are not going to change the attitudes or behavior of more experienced officials in your association as a first year official. Sounds harsh, but you just don’t have enough skin in the game yet to make this happen. What I recommend is to get as good as you can, and listen to the experienced officials that you respect. If one of your partners is really lagging try to approach him in a manner that brings both of you together instead of driving apart. For example: instead of, “Are you ever going to get into position?” try, “What’s going on in transition? I’m covering everything as the Lead until you come in. Anything I need to worry about as the Trail when the teams swap sides? Put yourself in the position of asking for advice and you can subtly adjust your R’s course.

    “One of the best tips I learned on a slow whistle repeat the offender kids number over and over to yourself as you continue to watch the possession. That way, you’re not picking the wrong kid to serve the personal foul.”
    – This is an excellent technique, and one I use frequently. Still, missing numbers happens to all officials so don’t be afraid to go AP if absolutely necessary. Also, when summer ball comes around the jerseys tend to look like they were designed by Picasso. Identifying characteristics like helmet color and wild socks can be easier to track with tough to read numbers.

    ” I still find it much harder to count forward than sneak a peak back to count 3 d men for offsides, even though this means I’m going to take my eyes off the field of play for a second.”
    – Hardest thing in the world for new officials to do consistently. The rules were switched up to only penalize a team for having too many players forward, not too few back. Try to keep your focus on the play in front of you unless there is a safety concern you have behind you. I like to count Offense first then Defense, and always in 3’s.

    Additional Advice – I’ll give you the same advice I got as a second year official: Rules and Mechanics. Rules and Mechanics. Rules and Mechanics. You really can’t study and apply these enough. It sets a solid foundation for you to progress and become a better lacrosse official.

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