This is a companion piece from the official’s perspective to Bruce Griffin’s post “Give ‘em a Break: Adjusting Parent Attitudes Toward Officials.”

Bruce has a belief that “all rules in a game are put in place for either fair play or player safety,” and he is completely correct. However, I swap those words around when training new officials and conducting rule seminars for new lacrosse parents and players. Here’s my take.

Officials are at the game for safety first, then fairness. If the safety calls are made and neither team gets an unfair advantage, then the kids will have fun.

My singular job as an official is to make sure the players are safe by calling the safety violations that are in my area of responsibility on the field.

I do not throw my flag to make friends, boost egos, break teams down, confuse coaches, or infuriate spectators. But every time I throw my flag, I’m going to piss off someone, and that knowledge allows me to ignore most of what is said in my direction and focus on the next play.

What Bruce targeted in his post is when officials are lambasted for missing a fairness call that is obvious to everyone but has no bearing on the play. His example of a player stepping on the midline while the ball is closer to to end line is a great one. The player may be offside, but he isn’t involved in the play so the offside really doesn’t matter. If the official is focused more on a toe on the line with the ball 40+ yards away, then he is not focused on potential safety violations that occur often when the field is stretched in transition.

Are there any goalkeepers reading this that were slashed off ball because the official wanted to watch the ball arc through the air instead of looking at the attackman beating your elbows? Ball-watching and looking for non-advantage technical violations off ball are both big no-no’s from the perspective of US Lacrosse Certified Trainers who educate officials.

As a player, I was hit late, slashed off ball, jabbed in the hip with exposed metal from my opponent’s stick that had no rubber butt end...you get the idea. I also hit late, slashed off ball, and jabbed my stick into the hip of my opponent. You’ll never hear me claim I was a saint on the field. I took things as far as I could until the refs made a call, because that is the nature of any player with competitive fire. My playing experience informs my perspective as an official, so I keep my eyes on the bodies of players when my reffing Spider-sense starts going off. I recognize there could be some funny business about to happen, and I’d rather catch the off-ball safety issue than the technical foul down the field.

Bruce’s other point is that when there is a missed safety violation, the officials should hear about it. I’ve missed safety violations and legitimately caught grief because of it. Sometimes I was out of position, other times I was screened. The worst misses of my career though are the ones I saw, but didn’t call.

The most obvious miss I had was last summer where a player was cross-checked right in front of me during a clear. He lost the ball and it rolled out of bounds. The crosse of the defender thrusted forward and impacted the player in his ribcage. I saw everything. I didn’t throw my flag, and I didn’t have a good reason for keeping it in my pocket.

The fans erupted, the coach was pissed, and the player gave me a look that said, “Really?” I deserved every comment from the sideline, and after the game I went up to the coach and the player and apologized. I couldn’t run the clock back and make the call retroactively, but I could own up to the missed safety call and the player and the coach and I shook hands after my apology.

As with everything else, there is personal accountability in officiating, which is why I write down a self evaluation on myself after every game. That lets me note my mistakes and see what areas of my game need the most work for my next assignment. I am also accountable to my association and to every other official wearing stripes.

Just about every officials organization in all sports has a board that reviews complaints sent in from leagues, coaches, and spectators. US Lacrosse provides guidance to lacrosse officials organizations that reach out to us for best practices on handling different situations, and it is up to those officials organizations to make a determination on the official in question based on the available information.

The best way to get these issues in front of the officials organization is to get video and gather as many witness statements about the situation as possible, and then get that to your team’s head coach team for final review and submission. That way, the team is speaking with one voice and the officials organization leadership can interact with the head coach in a constructive manner.

Mistakes will happen on the field, and accountability is key. But let’s remember, if the safety calls are made and neither team gets an unfair advantage, then the kids will have fun.

Gordon Corsetti is the manager of men's officials education at US Lacrosse.

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