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This article appeared in the July issue of New England Lacrosse Journal

State of the Game: Tarnishing the Golden Rule
by Chuck Jaffe/ July 8, 2011

My tongue hurts from biting it so much.

All season long — as an official, parent, player, father and spectator — I have seen and heard outrageous things that made me want to speak out. Mostly, they made me want to scream.

Instead, I jotted them down in a notebook; re-reading my notes, I can hold my tongue no longer.

With that in mind, here are four memos on the 2011 season. If you see yourself or someone you know described here, learn the lesson so that you don’t make me want to scream next year.

Playing time
Little Michael loves lacrosse, but he’s not a great athlete; when the coach of his town “select” team asked him to come out for the squad, Michael was skeptical, but the coach needed players to fill out the roster and assured Michael’s parents the experience would be good for the boy and his game.

But Michael didn’t play a minute of the team’s second game — he played less than 10 minutes total over the season’s first three games — and went home in tears. The coach was oblivious; Michael was wondering if, despite his love for lacrosse, he should go back to baseball.

I saw the game in which Michael rode the pine the entire time.

Michael’s team won by three, and his presence on the field would not have cost the team the game.

Never mind that these are 11- and 12-year-olds — even in a “competitive, select league” — and that every child deserves to play (and every parent who pays to get their kid on the team should see them play). The youth coach who can’t win by playing each of his kids a reasonable amount of time in each game is a terrible coach, no matter the won-lost record. Good youth coaches make their players better, and are willing to risk losses to teach life lessons.

The only life lesson Michael learned was that sometimes grown-ups have their own agendas, and kids suffer for it.

And by the way, coach, to find minutes for Michael, try taking your son off the attack and putting him on the bench for awhile. (It’s a position he’s probably going to have to get used to once he gets to a level where you’re no longer the bench boss.)

Keeping it safe
“Give me a break … it’s not like she hit her.”

The parent who yelled that was correct, but his girl was holding her stick less than two inches from the opponent’s nose … again … after already being penalized and warned a few times … in a game of third- and fourth-graders.

You really complained that I didn’t wait for the player to get hit in the head before blowing the whistle? What standard qualifies for a whistle in your book, the need for smelling salts or paramedics?

The reason referees and umpires blow the whistle — especially at the youngest levels — is to keep the game safe, and to give players instruction on rules that their coaches (and parents) often don’t fully understand.

If officials have a choice between making parents happy or keeping kids safe, let’s hope they’re not worried about the grown-ups.

Teaching the game
It was halftime of a 13-and-under girls game when a player asked her coach about a call made in the first half.

“Well,” the coach said in a booming voice, “the ref has made some questionable calls today, but that’s going to happen so we just can’t worry about it.”

A moment later, the coach was standing by me and I asked what calls he considered “questionable.”

“Oh, no, girls,” the coach said loudly. “I said something dumb to the ref. We’re scr---- now.”

So many mistakes in so little time.

Aside from the insult of suggesting that refs would call a game based on something aside from the action on the field — an idea that offends all officials — the coach had to answer a little girl’s inquiry of “What does ‘scr----’ mean?”

But the bigger problem is that the coach simply should have asked for an explanation for why a goal had been waved off. That way, he and the team could have learned the rule, picking up something besides what the coach was teaching, which is “When you do something wrong, it’s the ref’s fault because they’re out to get you.”

Running it up
The growth of the game and the emergence of new programs has created more blowout games than ever, and too many coaches and players have no clue how to win those games without belittling their opponent.

I saw games where coaches forbid their teams to shoot or score in the second half, or where the team would run plays, get open, fake a shot and start the offense again. I saw games where the coaches were screaming at their players to use their weak hands or to make so many passes that the defenders were vividly aware that they were being toyed with.

Sometimes the winners did that after scoring a goal a minute for the first 20 minutes of the game, rather than slowing things down and leaving themselves some scoring room for later.

The art in winning a blowout is to leave the other team something positive to go home with. It might be that they gave up 15 goals in the first half, but cut that in half — against a team still going to the net — in the second.

You can get solid practice time out of a blowout win, quietly encouraging players to work on weaknesses, to shoot wide or to experiment with techniques that might cost a turnover now but which could help their game down the road.

Too often, however, the big winners left the losers feeling disrespected, which is out of line no matter the score.

Plenty of players miss the point, too. If you’re the kind of player who has no problems scoring 10 goals against some horrible team, but you struggle to get on the scoreboard against an evenly matched rival, you’re not a league all-star — no matter what the stats say — you’re a league also-ran.

Almost every behavior on a lacrosse field — from player, coach or fan — would be better if someone thought for a moment about how they’d want to be treated if they were on the other side.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.
Chuck Jaffe is the editor of New England Lacrosse Journal. He is a longtime youth and high school coach and official, and currently runs BullsEye Lacrosse. He can be reached at