"Imagine a wall that's green on one side and red on the other. You stand on one side and only see green. I stand on the other side and only see red. We'll both be right about the color we see, even though we disagree on what color the wall is. Being able to realize that the other person has a valid point, even if you disagree with it, that's maturity." -- Oliver Gaspirtz

That quote gives a great message on how two individuals or groups can be both right and wrong, based entirely on their perception. Applying this visual to a lacrosse game requires the addition of a third perspective, the officials, looking at the middle of the wall:

There are four very important concepts in this image:

  1. The red team never really sees the entire green team’s perspective, and visa versa.
  2. The officials are aware of the red and green teams’ perspectives, but should not let that influence seeing the game as it is (marked by the black area).
  3. Some of what the officials see might look like favoring the red team or the green team (marked by the gradient from black to red and black to green).
  4. The official’s perspective is larger because it is ideally the perspective most accurate to what is happening on the field. Because the officials are the only ones with the authority to make calls, their perspective has a greater impact on the game than that of either team.

Let’s flesh out these four concepts a bit more:

1. Neither team really sees the game from the other’s perspective during a game.

This is the nature of competitive sport. During a game, both teams and fans couldn’t care less about the other’s opinion while the game is going on. Foul on the red team? Totally legit, says the green team, but the red team fans groan, confident that the contact was nothing more than a love tap. Goal wiped off on the green team? “No freaking way” says those wearing green, but the folks in red go, “Darn right, we could see he was in the crease from here!” After the game, sometimes the teams and fans can begrudgingly agree over how a particular play went down, but that definitely doesn’t happen during a game.

2. Officials are aware of the teams’ perspectives, but can’t be influenced by them.

There’s a part of me that really enjoys bugging both teams at the same time. A good example is when the red offensive player might be warding at the same instant the green defender might be holding. Both players are doing something illegal and both teams yell at me to make the call their way, but the players separate and the ball is passed away. The right call is not making one, because neither player’s action had an appreciable effect. If I called the ward, I’d be stuck calling miniscule wards on both teams all day, and the same goes for the hold. Neither team really wants those called for an entire game, but they’re going to try to get what they can for their team.

3. Some calls are going to look biased.

Watch a sporting event without your favorite team or your team’s rival playing and see how you react to what is called and what isn’t. I’ll wager you won’t feel as strongly about a decision as you would when your favorite team is involved.

4. The official’s perspective matters the most because we’re the ones making calls.

The rulebook grants officials the authority over the game from the moment we step on the field until we leave the immediate playing facility. Our position holds a lot of power over both teams, and as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben wisely said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I’ve coached in games where the coach of the opposing team and I shared a few incredulous looks at what was being called and what wasn’t. Sometimes all you can do is shrug and say, “Well at least they’re bad for both of us.”

As a new official, I had several mentors look at me sideways as if asking, “What game are you watching?” It took a few years of perseverance before I learned to officiate the game and not the rulebook while keeping a professional demeanor. As a result, I’ve had a few coaches tell me that they don’t always agree with what I call, but they appreciate that I run hard and will listen to a legitimate question or concern. I try to remember before every game that even though I’ve got all the authority, nobody purchased a ticket to watch me ref. My job—and the job of all officials—is to not let any other perspectives influence our focus on player safety and fairness.

Gordon Corsetti is the manager of men's officials education at US Lacrosse. Suggest topics for future blog posts in the comments section.

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