With the US Lacrosse Convention kicking off in Baltimore this week, I mark my first year working for US Lacrosse. I am happy to say that I feel more passionate about the game and the opportunity that lacrosse offers young women today than I did a year ago. What I have learned in one year at US Lacrosse has truly changed how I see the game and, most importantly, has helped me to have a newfound respect for all those who keep the game going.

As a high school and club coach in the Mid-Atlantic Region for over a decade, I admittedly felt pretty confident in my knowledge of the game and in my understanding of the women’s lacrosse culture. I knew that safety and recruiting were hot topics, and I knew the importance of serving as a good role model for my athletes.

I spent a lot of my energy and time trying to be a winning coach by learning the X’s and O’s from elite college coaches, while also working constantly on forging new strategies to motivate high school athletes.

I have always had a profound collegial respect for coaches. I know that the bulk of them give their heart and soul to their players and to winning. I also know that coaching can often be a thankless job without a lot of support and I came to US Lacrosse wanting to impact that in a positive way.

I had not, however, spent much time in my coaching life thinking about officials or where the rules came from. I had never reflected on whether or not I was protecting the game, or promoting the legacy of those that had paved the way for today’s players.

Over the past year I have met and worked with so many different people: administrators, coaches and officials who give so much to the sport and don’t ever think about winning. Their commitment to protect the game, build a legacy, and create new opportunities and experiences for young female athletes is inspiring.

Working with officials has the most eye opening part of my new job. Don’t get me wrong - I always knew their job was not easy and I rarely blamed them for outcomes or yelled at them from the sidelines.

But I never thought about why they showed up to officiate, either. Why were they there?

Officials do not get to see their team rankings go up or get thank you notes from players. Over the past year, I have learned that they are people who bring just as much passion and commitment to the game as coaches, but usually without any accolades, except from their own colleagues.

They practice; they train; and they reflect. They support each other. They care about every call and about their responsibility to the rules and to player safety.

Last week, during a conference call - one of many every month – I listened as officials volunteered to talk about how best to keep the game safe, how to enforce the rules to protect players and how to mentor and encourage young officials. They did this motivated mainly by an overwhelming commitment to lacrosse.

I came to US Lacrosse confident in my goal to empower female athletes by supporting coaches. But I’m now thinking about a lot more: protecting the game, preserving its history and supporting the people who have made lacrosse their life passion.

Officials, administrators, trainers and volunteers; it is an amazing thing to see so many people giving so much to the sport and preserving the quality of the playing experience for young athletes.

And to all the officials who worked my games over the years, thank you for your time and commitment. My sincere apologies for not thanking you sooner.

In 2016, US Lacrosse will run a series of blogs representing the Women’s Game. We would love to hear your stories from the field. If you have experiences to share, please contact Caitlin Kelley, women’s game senior manager, at [email protected].