Some nights I can’t sleep, so I search YouTube for lacrosse videos I can use for officials training. When I’m still wide awake, I watch videos of spoken word poetry. One night I came across the following video by Taylor Mali, a teacher, poet and fantastic speaker.

 

I love Taylor’s message about speaking with conviction, because that is one of the biggest challenges for youth officials. Teenagers, for the most part, spend the majority of their upbringing being told to stay quiet, listen to the adults, and not interrupt. Some take that message to heart more than others, and with a few exceptions, most of the teenagers I’ve worked have trouble speaking clearly and with conviction. Let alone both when officiating a contentious U13 game!

One of my favorite tricks as a trainer is to introduce myself to each young man or woman in the class as they walk in with a handshake. Those that give me a firm handshake, look me in the eye, and say their full name clearly make a very good impression on me. Those that give me a limp fish handshake, look away, and mumble their name do not. What I’ve noticed is those that I evaluate on the field who were able to formally introduce themselves do much better when interacting with coaches than those with weak handshakes and unclear speech.

I often find that young officials are really waiting for a chance to speak in an adult manner, but haven’t quite had the practice. Officiating gives them plenty of practice in every game. The pre-game requires the youth official to introduce him or herself to the head coaches, and the louder the game, the stronger the official’s voice must become. Many start off too quiet, but after a half or two of game play with a few nudges of encouragement, they’re blowing the whistle loudly and very convincingly reporting the direction of play.

The best way I’ve found to get these officials to find a bigger voice is to tap into their player mentality:

  • Me: How loud are you when you play?
  • Youth Official: Really loud.
  • Me: Make that voice the voice you bring onto the field as a ref.

What a change that produces! Even a player who is very quiet off the field can be coached to get loud on the field. It’s one of the few places in a teenager’s life where they are encouraged to be louder and clearer in their speech rather than quieter, because quiet defenses can’t communicate and quiet offenses can’t find the open shooter.

Public speaking usually ranks at or near the top of fears for most Americans. Officiating is taking a break from wind sprints to publicly state an important notice and then going back to sprinting. This is why officiating youth lacrosse is such a good training tool for teenagers to gain valuable speaking experience. It makes the idea of speaking to a group with strength and clarity less frightening because they’re doing it at a lacrosse game, a forum with which they’re already familiar.

There are not many opportunities for young men and women to be in charge of a group of younger players and adults, which is why I love seeing youth officials grow as individuals on the field. I tell them all the time: “When you put on stripes, you are no longer 15. You will be looked at as the authority figure and you must be capable of speaking like one.” That is a terrifying understanding for a teenager to fully grasp, which is why we adults must help guide these courageous young individuals on the field.

Interested in officiating? Reach out to the Local Board Chair (girls game) or Sub-District Coordinator (boys game) closest to where you live and inquire about any upcoming training classes during the offseason.

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

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