Officiating, at its core, is the ability to make quality decisions under stress. The loud environment, the passion of the players, and running up and down the field, all increase your heart rate. In fact, a lacrosse game is a perfect recipe for a heightened stress response.

Commonly known as the fight or flight response, the stress response is your brain priming your body to protect itself. Imagine your hunter-gatherer ancestors. Those that perished, were less ready to sprint away or fight off a predator. The survivors were the ones with the more refined stress response.

When you experience the stress response your brain produces cortisol and adrenaline, which:

  • Raises your blood sugar levels (instant energy)
  • Increases your blood pressure (power to your limbs)
  • Speeds up your breathing (more oxygen)
  • Widens your pupils (larger field of vision)
  • Slows your digestive tract (you don’t need to digest a meal while you avoid becoming one)

Your body is better geared to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle than it is to modern life; lacrosse included. The fight or flight and relaxation responses are part of the operating system of the human body. If you want to officiate well under stress, or do anything well for that matter, it is valuable to read the owner’s manual.

To that end, here are three methods to reduce stress during key game situations:

1. Timeouts – Breathe Deep

  • Basic: After the teams huddle up, take three to six deep, deep breaths into your low belly.
  • Advanced: Inhale to a count of four, hold full for four seconds, exhale to a count of six, and repeat.

2. Halftime – Mental Reset

  • Basic: Use a mantra: “be here,” “be present,” “have fun,” “stay frosty.”
  • Advanced: Ask yourself how the game is going. Visualize yourself getting a call correct at a critical moment later in the game.

3. When You Perceive that You Made a Mistake – Physical Tics

  • Basic: Physically brush off your shoulder or mime flushing a toilet. After enough repetition, your mind recognizes these gestures to mean that it is time to refocus.
  • Advanced: Apply the P.A.C.E. Principle – Performance After Critical Error. You, or your crew, has made a mistake, now you must take corrective action.

A lacrosse game is not life or death, but your body does not know that. You do not have a separate stress response for a game, and a different stress response if you hear your child cry out in pain from the next room. The better you learn to manage your stress response, the more likely you will make quality decisions in stressful situations on and off the field.


Gordon Corsetti serves as manager of the men’s officials’ development program at US Lacrosse.