This article from Jamie Hunt “Don’t Scream” which deals with how top officials avoid becoming blubbering wrecks under pressure, was published in “Lacrosse Magazine” from April 1993.
There used to be a radio disc jockey in Washington, D.C., who did a very popular show during the morning “drive time.” The show, in essence, was a daily walk through the deep recesses of his brilliant, if slightly fevered, brain. He delivered sketch after sketch, each starting with an innocuous reminiscence (“I remember one time I was with my daddy”) or a simple premise about what it would be like to be someone else or do someone else’s job. One favorite sketches of this sort was The Lawman.”Imagine what it’s like to put on a badge and strap on a gun,” the d.j. would intone with just a trace of menace in his voice, then weave a story in which a series of increasingly aggravating events would build to a maniacal crescendo in which The Lawman finally would lose control and wreak havoc.
I thought of The Lawman while at the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship weekend last May in Philadelphia. During the semifinals on Saturday, the temperature was in the mid-90s and the sun was scorching the field. On the artificial turf it was reportedly somewhere in the 120s). I drifted around and finally found a nice seat in the shade. Doubly nice: it was in the flight path of what must have been the only breeze drifting through Franklin Field’s huge arches that day.
A short time later, a man whom I’ll call Ed because that’s what he called himself (“Hi. I’m Ed,” he said) sat down an arm’s length or so from me. Ed was as quiet and docile a person you’d ever want sitting length from you.
And then the game started.
At first I thought Ed suffered from nervous tics until a couple minutes into the game I noticed that his jerks and twitches coincided with calls from the officials the field. I noticed this because Ed had begun delivering a passionate soliloquy to the officials that punctuated, mercifully, by the long intervals between their calls.
And then it wasn’t.
Before long, Ed’s comments were followed by strings of didjaseethat?s (“Didjaseethat? Huh? Didja Didjaseethat?”) which were accompanied by a sweep of his arm and a poke from his fingers to make sure I was paying attention. Hey, I was trying.
Ed, I gathered, was a pious man, not given to taking the Lord’s name in vain. On the other hand, he wasn’t above stretching it into a half dozen or so syllables. “Jee-ee-ee-eez-Zusss-keee-rist!”
Midway through the first quarter, Ed had developed (or perhaps simply unleashed) a full repertoire of grunts, bellows, curses and putdowns followed by an unvarying chorus “Didjaseethat? Huh? Didja?Didjaseethat? Jee-ee-ee-eez-Zusss-keee-rist!”
At last, I took appropriate and decisive action. I got up and left.
But as I was winding my way up the stairs to the relative peace of the press box, I thought: what if I couldn’t leave? What if I was an official and had to stand down there on the turf in that hot sun and listen to yobboes like Ed in the stands and maybe even right there on the sidelines. And what if their comments were directed at me?”
Imagine putting on the striped shirt and strapping on the whistle.
I’ve never been a referee. How would I react? They don’t even let referees carry sticks, for pete’s sake, so I wouldn’t have a chance to wreak a little havoc of my own before I was carted off. I’d probably implode, like the figure in “The Scream,” the famous painting by Edvard Munch (1863-1944). What a mess that would be.
I’ve never seen an official lose his or her cool, though, and I’ve been around the game for a while. So, I figured there must be some tips officials share with each other about keeping their wits when all about them are losing theirs. What follows are some ideas gleaned from conversations and interviews with officials who’ve worked every level of the sport.
• LEARN THE MECHANICS AND NOT JUST THE RULES.
Anyone can learn the rules; it’s knowing where to be to make the call that is going to save an official a lot of heartache. To that end, both men’s and women’s lacrosse have rulebook size guides for officials that deal specifically with mechanics – where you should be in given situations whether you’re running a game alone or with one or two other officials. With a game as fast-moving as lacrosse, there will always be situations where call could go either way. Knowledgeable coaches, players and fans are less likely to complain if an official was in the right position, notes Jake Curran, a longtime Syracuse, N.Y. Official now charged with assigning games to other officials.
• PREPARE BEFORE THE GAME.
All of the officials we talked to said they met with their crew for one to two hours before games regardless of whether they were officiating a youth game or a Division I matchup. “I don’t care what game I’m refereeing, for the next one and a half to two and a half hours, that’s the important thing for those (players) at that moment,” says Rich Tamberino, a 19-year veteran. Typically, officials will review mechanics, get up to date on rules changes made after the rule book was published and compare notes about the teams. “Early in the year [meetings) are most important to get everyone back on the same page,” says John Hill, an official at the men’s under-19 World Games in New York last summer. But he and others note that they’re always necessary, even if you’re working with officials you know well. A common axiom among officials is: Remember the Five Ps:Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
• TAKE CONTROL OF THE GAME EARLY.
“Any fouls you see early in the game, make the call,” Hill warns. “Players] need to know you’re going to call that… the good players are going to test you to see what they can get away with.
“So too will coaches. According to NCAA rules, the head coach is the only member of a team who can talk to an official and only at certain times. Some coaches (or their assistants) just can’t seem to help themselves though.
Charlie Libby, president of the National Intercollegiate Lacrosse Officials Association, advises officials to “practice preventative measures” by limiting the opportunities a coach has to talk to you. After making a call, he says, “pick up your flag and return to your position.” During timeouts, “head to the other side of the field.”
• TRY TO DEFUSE SITUATIONS BEFORE THEY GET OUT OF CONTROL.
Libby isn’t suggesting you spend the game running away from an angry coach. “You have to acknowledge him at some point. You can’t ignore him or it will get worse,” he says. But if the coach is yelling. “you have to respond in a softer tone, be polite. You don’t want to confront the coach. Say, ‘The way I saw it, it was a slash.’ On the other hand, Libby says, “If you know you were wrong, say, I’m sorry coach I missed that call. That generally ends most coach-official conversations. If a polite tone and/or an admission of error isn’t successful, don’t hesitate to give a penalty, or a warning followed by a penalty. “If you let one coach continually speak loudly and continually question your calls, the other coach will start because he’s afraid he’ll be treated unfairly.” Libby says. Then, too, there are coaches looking for a penalty. Libby had one argumentative coach apologize to him after a game; the coach said he was hoping to draw a penalty “to get his team fired up.
“Also, says Curran, a little bit of humor goes a long way toward diminishing tense situations. “If a coach is yelling in your ear, leaning closer to him and saying, I’m sorry coach, could you speak up?’ ” is one way to get the message across that he’s too loud.
• ACT LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR DOING.
Humor, politeness and mea culpas will only get you so far. An air of authority helps, too, since you and your fellow officials are what keeps the game from slipping into anarchy. It’s probably not necessary to go to the extreme claimed by the late Joseph (Frenchy) Julien, who officiated thousands of games from the 1930s to the 1970s. Frenchy said that on one occasion before a game with a team he knew would complain a lot he memorized a little known rule. Shortly after the game began, he threw his flag and called an infraction related to the rule against the team. When the howls went up from their bench, he ran by, tossed the coach the rule book and cited the rule’s section and paragraph. On looking it up, the stunned coach told his team, “Shut up, he knows the book by heart.
“A more reasonable approach, officials agree, is simply to watch how you act and what you say. One example: when making a call, run to the midline in front of the scorer’s table, speak clearly so that both benches know what’s going on, and avoid any excessive gesturing.
• NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON AN EXPLOSIVE SITUATION.
Make sure the situation is settled before you make the call. More than one official has headed toward the scorer’s table only to have a melee erupt behind him. Of course, fights will break out even if you are watching, but at least you’ll be in a position to finger and eject the miscreants. Fortunately, assaults on officials are relatively rare – you’re more likely to catch an inadvertent elbow – but they do happen. In 1953, Frenchy Julien was clipped hard by a player angry over a disputed call. More recently, regional newsletters have noted incidents violence against officials in their areas. Always be alert.
• GET FIT AND STAY FIT.
The best way to stay on top of a game mentally is to stay on top physically. “The game is becoming increasingly fast,” says Bill Ellis, who graduated from Cornell in 1972, then played for Brine LC several years before following in his father’s footsteps and becoming an official. “When I graduated, players were just making the transition from wooden to plastic sticks. With wooden sticks, a lot of the passes were maybe fifteen yards and they may not have been caught a lot of times. Now you have goalies throwing the ball on a line to midfield and beyond.” Add to that more recent developments such as the elimination of the substitution horn and other goalies throwing the ball on a line to midfield and beyond.” Add to that more recent developments such as the elimination of the substitution horn and other efforts to speed up play and you have a game in which “the officials have to constantly move back and forth. Fitness is essential,” Ellis says.
Hill agrees. “The game has gotten so fast that a lot of guys who were good have been passed by because they didn’t keep up,” he says. Hill keeps fit by maintaining a “12-month schedule,” officiating through the spring season into summer, fall and winter tournaments around the country.
Tamberino is also an NCAA Soccer official. He’s required to stay in shape to do that – a fitness test is part of the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials certification process – but he also runs 2-3 miles a day and cycles to prepare for lacrosse season. “If you’re physically tired you won’t be able to mentally keep up with the game,” he says. That’s when mistakes occur most frequently.
• AVOID YOUTH LEAGUES.
No – just kidding about this one. Most, if not all, officials get their start running youth league games, and with the rapid spread of these leagues around the country, getting more people to officiate at this level is crucial. Many officials found this to be the most stressful level, though. In part, that’s because it was their first experience, but there was another big reason as well.
“As a young official, the most difficult aspect of the job was the parents who took the games so seriously that they had members of their own team and the other team in tears,” says Tamberino. “I mean, the kids are just out there to have fun and the coaches are trying to teach them something and these parents are screaming.” Dealing with a loud parent while trying to maintain order on the field is no easy task, and there’s no magic bullet, though officials suggest working with the coaches to silence or remove the offender(s).
The toughest after youth leagues can be the other end of the spectrum, the post-collegiate clubs. “A lot of these guys are also coaches and have been playing for a while, so they feel they know the game better than you do,” says one official.
In general, NILOA president Libby says, problems at the different levels tend to run in cycles. “Three to four years ago, the club level was getting absolutely intolerable. Then the officials and the administrators met …and last year and this year have been great. Three, four, five years ago, the colleges were fine, but last year many officials felt things were really awful.” He’s optimistic, as are others, that the situation will improve this year. The NCAA Men’s Committee instituted rules prohibiting coaches from entering the field of play except in a few instances and have limited the times when a coach may talk to an official.
• DON’T BE AFRAID TO PENALIZE A COACH.
“On the college and high school level, it’s the coaches that control matters,” Libby says. “If the coach starts getting chippy, the players will follow.” Historically, officials, particularly at the collegiate level, have hesitated to penalize coaches. In part, that is because the only option officials had until the introduction of the 30-second bench penalty last season was a one-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which seemed too harsh to many. Another concern was that a penalized coach would give the official who made the call a low rating for that game, possibly making it difficult for that official to be selected to work at that level again. The NILOA is pressing to have independent observers in the stands for each game. Their evaluations would be considered along with those of the coaches.
• DON’T GET INTO IT FOR THE MONEY.
“Being an official is an avocation,” says Curran. Very few in any sport make a living off of it and certainly there are none in lacrosse, where fees range from nothing (or next to it) to $150 for a Division I playoff game.Logically, then, like the players and their coaches You’re out there to have fun. This is what you need to remind yourself when the situation gets heated, as it does for every official at some point in their career.
Illustrations by Tim Kelly.