Jan. 12, 2009
Special to GoHolyCross.com
I admit it. What I did last summer didn't exactly follow the letter of the law.
I am not an official. I don't play one on TV. And I didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
But I have to tell you that in my 10 years as a coach, officiating one summer-league game was by far the best thing I've done for my own professional development.
Every coach will tell you that the officials need to get better. Very few ever do anything about it.
After each contest, coaches are asked to review the officials. Less than half do so.
After the 2007 season, I was pretty frustrated with the officiating we experienced, so I figured it was time to do my part to improve this. After every game last year, I completed the officials' review and submitted it to AssignByWeb (the assigning software for the US Lacrosse Collegiate Officials Committee, which also tracks feedback on officials).
I still didn't feel like it was enough. So I jumped at the chance when a colleague handed me a striped shirt and whistle and dared me to come out for a summer-league game. I knew I was going to get a crash course in officiating, but had no idea I would get one in conditioning, too.
Thankfully, my colleague paired me with a couple of low-number guys who laid out for me the basics of positioning, communication and game management. (The numbers that COC-USILA officials wear on their jerseys correspond to their tenure as officials -- the lower the number, the more experienced the ref -- and the two I worked with totaled 17.) They explained to me single-side versus double-side, lead versus trail, and even took the time to demonstrate the proper technique for signaling a goal (think "touchdown!").
I was still pretty nervous. As a coach, I get butterflies before every game. But that's out of excitement. This time, I was just worried about screwing up. After the opening whistle, though, the nerves disappeared. They had to. I had too much to think about. Not only I was trying to remember my mechanics and responsibilities each time the ball moved, but I had to do so while trucking up and down the field. I had no idea how much running was involved! (Some officials have worn pedometers during games and estimated that they run 3-5 miles per game. And that's sprints. No jogging.)
I didn't make a ton of calls that afternoon, but I blew my whistle here and there. Each time I did, I made sure to get enough air into my lungs before making a decisive tweet.
It was an awesome experience. And I got a heck of a lot more out of it than a cool summer league t-shirt.
I got a first-hand look at what the guys in stripes go through. I got to see a game through their eyes. I heard how they consult with each other. I realized how much they have to look for and attend to on every play. And I felt the pressure that they feel to be right on every single call of every single game of every single season. I learned so much that day. I realized that they have a job to do, too, and that they want to do it well. I found that you really need a feel for the game, and how hard this must be to develop if you're not a "lacrosse guy."
But the coolest part was that a number of other veteran officials also were out that day. Some were in the stands offering encouragement and instruction to me at breaks in the action, and others were working games on the field next to ours. It was inspiring to see so many top-notch officials -- some of the best in New England -- sweating away out there, working on their game, honing their craft during the dog days of summer. We need more guys like that, who are willing to go out and get better.
Most importantly, though, I saw that these guys are human. I know that they'll make mistakes -- just like I do as a coach -- and doing so doesn't make them bad people. As long as they are working hard to get the calls right, communicating with coaches and players in a fair and respectful way, and keeping the game moving in safe manner, I will continue to support their decisions on the field.
I just hope they don't ask me to come out and help them ref the game.
Adam Pascal is entering his fifth season as the head coach at the College of the Holy Cross. He was an All-America attackman at Middlebury College.
This column originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Lacrosse Magazine.