The NFL’s recent officiating debacle provides the perfect example of what can happen when improperly trained officials take the field in any sport. Unfortunately, the lack of consistent, national education and training requirements for officials has been an issue in men’s and women’s lacrosse for many years. With the exception of college officials, national certification requirements for which have been in place for a number of years, the responsibility of educating and training youth and high school lacrosse officials has been largely the responsibility of independent local officials associations. While these associations continue to play an important role in the sport’s development, the way they train and evaluate youth and high school officials varies widely because, prior to US Lacrosse, no standardized officials training and certification requirements existed. This longstanding inconsistency has resulted in significant differences in how games are called, which is compromising player safety to a greater and greater degree.
Thankfully, lacrosse officials associations now have the opportunity to require a national education curriculum for their officials at all levels of play, which has been developed by US Lacrosse and its Men’s and Women’s Game Officiating Subcommittees. The adoption of standardized training protocols for officials according to this national curriculum, along with the adoption and consistent enforcement of nationally-published youth and high school rules, would seem like an obvious step in assuring the sport’s responsible growth and, most importantly, player safety. But some officials and/or their local officials associations have been resistant to adopt this philosophy choosing, instead, to perpetuate regional differences in how the game is officiated and played.
Officials deserve our appreciation and respect for providing a service, under often challenging circumstances, that is so fundamental to fair and safe competition. But I believe they must also be held accountable to meet educational standards that are consistent with that responsibility. Because of the essential role they play, officials are uniquely positioned to provide leadership and exert influence to improve the quality of the player experience, as well as their own working conditions.
Assignors within local officials associations, who are contracted by youth leagues, high school associations and tournaments to provide qualified officials to games and events, also play a critical role. Too often, they enable tournaments to register more teams than can adequately be serviced by assigning officials to 5, 6 and even 7 games a day in the heat of summer. I’ve attended dozens of tournaments, both as a parent and administrator, in which officials have either refused or not been unable to run the field. No one can argue that officials are not at their best after 5 or 6 games in 100 degree heat, so why do assignors agree to compromise the quality of the officiating services they are paid to provide, the safety of players and, to some degree, the wrath of parents by agreeing to such working conditions?
Lacrosse officials associations, assignors and the officials they represent have a powerful option -- refuse to accept assignments that require working conditions (rules or game schedule) that inappropriately jeopardize player safety or game integrity, impact the quality of their performance, or increase their own liability exposure. Leagues and tournaments will quickly adjust, I assure you, because they desperately need officials.
Just as important, youth leagues and tournament organizers must demand that their investment in officiating services – typically their biggest expense – is contingent upon the assignment of at least two qualified officials, properly-trained according to US Lacrosse-established education standards and rule mechanics, to every game. In many cases this won’t happen unless consumers – the parents who care so deeply about the safety of their children, as well as the opportunity lacrosse can provide, exercise their influence to make sure that officials, leagues and tournaments are each doing the right thing. US Lacrosse is doing its part, as well, by launching our Gold Stick Standards of Excellence as a way for parents and administrators to differentiate between lacrosse leagues and events that follow national best-practices…and those that don’t. To learn more, visit www.uslacrosse.org/GoldStick.
P.S. I know what you’re thinking – the relative shortage of lacrosse officials requires their ranks to be stretched in order to meet the increasing demand. If we limit the number of tournament games an official can work in a given day, for example, tournaments won’t be able to invite (collect fees from) as many teams, and kids won’t have the “opportunity” to play as many games. Here’s a news flash – kids don’t need to play more lacrosse games, especially if the quality of experience is poor. Playing more lacrosse games doesn’t make young players better…better instruction makes a young player better. Time off from lacrosse makes a young player better, as does participating in other sports. Tournaments and many clubs aren’t focused on making your child a better player…they’re focused on making money.