The word “consistency” is derived from the Latin consistentem, meaning: “to stand firm”. As an official, I heartily endorse the original meaning of the word. Officials must be resolute, a bulwark against the winds of popular opinion. The best officials stand between two opposing forces and enforce agreed-upon rules, without bias, and never allow the masses to influence their decisions. 

“You’re not being consistent” is a charge often leveled at officials.

I have no rooting interest for any team in any sport; I pay attention to the officials. As a result, I rarely agree with any person arguing about inconsistent calls. The subjective bias that comes from supporting one team over another is incredibly powerful, and I think it would be helpful to coaches, players, and fans to learn about how officials view the two types of consistency in sport.

Consistency with a single game

Officials’ Perspective – The calls at the end of a game match the calls at the start if there are no significant changes in how the teams play.

A knowledgeable coach should be able to get a sense of what the officials are calling within the first six minutes of a game. That amount of time is usually enough for a few possessions by each team, a few goals, and a meaningful amount of contact between players.

After six minutes, a coach should know the threshold for stick and body contact. That does not mean the coach agrees with the threshold, just that the officials have drawn a line that everyone can clearly see.

Most coaches prefer a consistently good officiating, but they will make do with consistently bad officiating. The former is preferred, but the latter is at least bearable, and most coaches can tell their players, “We’ll at least the officials are bad for both teams.”

A coach cannot coach their team if a game is called inconsistently. It is impossible, and more officials need to appreciate this fact. When officials are consistent, coaching is more effective, players can adapt, and fans have a better experience.

Consistency from game to game

Officials’ Perspective – Take nothing from one game into the next.

“How are you going to call things today?”

The game within the game between coaches and officials begins long before the first whistle, and it makes sense for a coach to try and get inside information that might help their team.

In my early days as an official, I painted myself into a corner: “We’re going to call it loose.” Then as soon as a flag flew into the air, I would hear: “You said you were calling it loose! You’re being inconsistent!”

An official interrupting play should be earned by the players if they do something unfair or unsafe that violates the rules. Until the game starts, though, the officiating crew has no idea what the players will do, and it is manifestly unfair for the officials to apply a penalty threshold established in an earlier game.

Officials try to call what the game requires, and every game is different.

These perspectives become untenable when stretched to logical extremes, and this is where some of the disagreements about consistency come from.

If an officiating crew misses a hit to a head in the first quarter, should another hit to the head go deliberately uncalled in the fourth? Absolutely not. Yet, someone could argue that the officials flagging the fourth quarter hit were being inconsistent, and they would be right!

If a 50/50 stick check was not penalized in a game last week, should a coach expect the same threshold for contact in a different game, with athletes playing more violently? Not a chance. The penalty threshold between the two games are inconsistent because the threshold can only be determined by how the teams act against one another.

There is consistency, and then there is common sense. US Lacrosse helps officials develop both with educational resources created by expert officials from around the country: