Opinion: Something Needs to Change
05.20.2014 - By Blake Gaudet

10009805_814992805181547_2001263094_nI think I might be done.  After just one season of officiating I’m considering hanging up the stripes, donating my gear, and walking away from the third and least comfortable hat I’ve worn in the Idaho Lacrosse community.  Perhaps a few months away from the ugly sideline culture that I was introduced to this year will temper my attitude, but right now I can’t imagine spending any more time around the negativity that has permeated our sport’s culture.

Let me back up by saying that lacrosse in Idaho has exponentially changed my life for the better.  In high school it was the confidence that I developed on the lacrosse field that gave me the courage to ask a girl to prom, a girl who would later become my wife.  As a coach I learned how to set a positive example for the young men in my charge, a skill that directly transferred to my success as a teacher in the classroom.

What I learned as a ref, however, is that there is an ugly side of our sport. 

The vast majority of people involved in Idaho lacrosse are phenomenal human beings.  For every obnoxious parent on the sideline there are nine others who watch respectfully.  For every coach who encourages his players to act in a manner they wouldn’t condone off the field, there are nine others who take their mentorship role to heart.

But we as a lacrosse community are only as strong as our weakest links, and the 90% aren’t doing a good enough job of calling out the other 10%.

As a first year zebra who showed a moderate amount of aptitude right out of the gates, I was assigned a slew of games at every age level.  In most States it would take me at least a couple of years before I even sniffed a high school varsity game.  In Idaho, because we have a hard time recruiting and retaining officials, I was given these games three weeks in to my career.

How could a league that has been around since 1999 be so short on officials that first year guys like me are being assigned to some of the most high profile contests?  Simply put, we aren’t doing enough to shame the people giving our sport a bad name.  We’re not suspending coaches for berating officials.  We’re not sending moms and dads to their cars when they turn the sidelines in to a community theatre version of the Jerry Springer Show.  The 90% are letting the 10% determine the league’s reputation, and those 10% are running officials out of town.

Far too many individuals in our community feel like it is their own personal responsibility to point out every flaw in an official’s game, even if that flaw did not exist in the first place.  In the last two months I’ve been accused of favoritism, I’ve been called “horrible”, “blind”, and “terrible” by people who were simply upset that a call went against his or her son.  I’ve listened as parents yell, “Take him out!” and “Hey ref, keep the kids safe!” in the same breath.

My tipping point came recently, when I had a player get chest to chest with me to argue a call.  When his behavior was passively encouraged, I decided I might not need this in my life anymore.

I plan on returning to the coaching ranks some-time in the next few years.  When I do, it will be team policy that parents who berate the officials are asked to go home.  Players who disrespect the men in stripes will be benched, and additional consequences will be tacked on at the subsequent practice.  Most importantly, when I disagree with a ref, I will model appropriate behavior by waiting until a dead ball and talking to him the way we expect the players to talk to their peers and superiors.

And you know what? We will win ball games.  We will win lots of ball games.  We’ll win because success is a byproduct of doing things the right way.  We’ll win because our young men will develop values that will benefit them both on and off the field.  We’ll win because our boys will know that failure is caused by internal factors, not by the men in stripes.  We’ll win because both of our sidelines will be packed with positive role models that will demonstrate what solid character looks like.

God bless the men that have been dealing with this ugly side of our sport for the last 15 years.  We need more of them.  Unfortunately, if the 90% continue to refuse to step up and call out the 10% that give our sport a black eye, our quality zebras will eventually go extinct.

  • Richy

    This is one of the best posts I have ever read on Idaho Lacrosse News. I have been a player and coach for the past 12 years and am constantly reminded of how the most uneducated people are making the most absurd comments. Most of these fans and coaches that berate the refs are the ones that know the least about the game. It is our duty to stand up and and set a good example for them. Thanks, Blake for taking the time to put your thoughts on paper to move lacrosse forward. I will be assisting Spain’s National Team at the FIL World Championships in Denver in July and can guarantee you that the non-sense you have explained in this post will not be happening there. Boise is a booming lacrosse market and I wish all of you the best in setting this straight. There is no place in the game for this.

  • Sheri

    Way to go Blake! It is such a different perspective watching a game without a child on the field. And to observe the tensions on the sidelines and parents losing their minds. Everybody makes a bad call, misses a call, etc. You shouldn’t be villified for it. On the same hand, referees need to be observed and those that continue to do a poor job, should not be asked back.

  • Newby

    This is fairly disturbing. If Mr. Gaudet is disillusioned with Lacrosse, there is a problem. My son has been on the B team for most of the year, and just recently moved to the JV A. I haven’t heard too much, but I have heard a few things on the sidelines. I will try my best to act as suggested. I’m still learning the game, but I like it and would like to see it continue to grow.

  • rksully

    Great Post Blake! As a parent of a player you introduced to the sport and coach for his High School Years, you helped develop men and not just lacrosse players. Your coaching skills and attitude were passed on through his coaching seasons. Thank you for all you have done for lacrosse in Idaho. Don’t allow the negative, and ignorant taint your strips, you are vital to the game of lacrosse in Idaho!

  • David Timmons

    It would be helpful if Quint Kessenick (ESPN) and all the others behind the microphone quit analyzing each flag looking for a “bad” call. It becomes standard of acceptable behavior; makes it the norm.

  • That One Guy

    As a coach and a ref a number of years, the response from this article is actually puzzling… One thing will always hold true, fan will be fans, wether they know the rules or not is irrelevant. Remember, you signed up for this job! As in any sport (football, Hockey, basketball, etc.), refs are constantly bombarded with hecklers. Its part of the job… If you’re hired as a customer service rep, you’re going to get that costumer that gets upset over the phone. If you join the military, theres a chance you’ll get shot at. If you become a race car driver theres a chance you’ll get in a accident. etc. etc. Its really frustrating to see these refs so sensitive to being called out. Its part of the job! Live with it and grow some thicker skin! End rant.

    • Blake Gaudet

      A few points:

      1. I think I would agree with you if we were talking about professional or even college sports. At the high school and youth levels, however, the people on the sidelines are not fans, they’re moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, etc. In other words, they’re role models. These are the people that the players look to when deciding how to behave, and when they endorse a lack of composure, they contribute to an unsafe environment on the field.

      2. Fan education does matter. I know of one organization where parent attendance at a “lacrosse 101″ course is a requirement if they wanted their son to participate. I have never had an issue with sideline behavior while officiating that organization.

      3. Even US Lacrosse is aware of the increased instances of unsportsmanlike conduct that has found its way in to lacrosse. That is why it implemented the “Blue Card” program. Here are its desired goals: “The program was created with the goal of establishing constraints that should:

      1. Eradicate the “unsportsmanlike behavior” that is creeping into sport,
      2. strengthen sportsmanship,
      3. contribute to the retention of officials, and
      4. honor the game.”

      4. You’re probably right. My skin is likely too thin for a high level of this line of work. That being said, just because poor spectator behavior has been around for a while, doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

  • Table Mom

    Blake this is so disturbing. First of all because I was always reassured of a fair and well called game when you were out there. The sport of lacrosse in Idaho will miss your presence. Secondly this year I have seen more of this aggressive nature than all other years. I have heard and personally experienced many horrible comments made by parents, players, and coaches. As I have told and explained to many of our new parents, the first year you will cheer for the wrong thing but keep learning the rules and be respectful. We are training men not just playing a game. The game of lacrosse is not about head hunting, looking to take a player out at his hurt knee, or encouraging players that are in time out for unsportsman like conduct because he saved a goal. Refs are doing their best and can only be in one spot at a time, I can only imagine what it would be if I called it. Sometimes what we see is not how the game is actually going, even my players have commented that a team was playing well when all of us on the sidelines all thought they were aggressive. Are there missed calls? YES Are there times when I would like to see more attention paid to safety calls? YES. Are there times when the yellers get the refs to change a call or quit calling? YES But there are many more times when the game is called well. The leagues have given coaches a way to express concern about or state how well a ref called the game. It is not the players nor the parents job to insult and run off great refs.

  • Sayre Thomas

    Blake I appreciate the article and I know you are one of the foundation stones of the sport in this State. It would be a shame to see you lose involvement or interest in our great game. That being said I think it would be a greater shame to shelter and baby players from the reality of competitive sports. Yes, I agree Lacrosse is a place for mentoring and character development but part of that development is being able to sift out what is important through all the bull shit that surrounds any sport. Playing at the next level (Division III NCAA Lacrosse) “yelling” at refs is part of the game. Our Coach, and every coach for that matter, does it strategically and for a purpose. There are always going to be irate parents in the stands who don’t know what the hell they are talking about.
    These are realities of any competitive sport. If we expect our young players to strive to play at these higher echelons of lacrosse we should also be realistic about the environments they will be involved in. Just as a player should work on his shooting, dodging and break down defense he also needs to develop the ability to shut out the bickering fans, “bad calls” and penalties uncalled and just play his game. Preform his role.
    There are three things you cannot control in any sport: The Fans, The Weather and the Refs. If we shelter our young players from this reality early on they will be in for a rude awakening at the next level that they strive to play at. As for ignorant fans, as you said they are all parents. Those parents have a son on the field. If that son isn’t embarrassed by their parents lack of knowledge and takes them to task on it off the field then Yes, their Coaches have failed them. But for those players whose parents who have been educated on the rules should play with a quite smirk on their face gaining confidence in there resolve.
    I think that is the true problem about “Idaho Lacrosse” is that we are in denial about the hard realities of the sport of Lacrosse. It is a cutthroat, piss on your shoes to get ahead sport. If we as a sport aren’t willing to step up and take this sport seriously then we will never be taken seriously as a state in the national lacrosse community. If you can’t handle the idea being a ref in Boise, ID just imagine being a ref in one of the most competitive and rude places in the nation….Let’s say Boston or New York. Guess what? These areas are producing 90% of Division I prospects every year. And it isn’t because they have been playing it longer.

    • Blake Gaudet

      Sayre – My favorite thing about you as a player was not your skill. You were certainly fun to watch (even when you were tearing our team apart), but you went about it in a classy way. You were a true gentlemen both during and after the game, and I appreciated that.

      I don’t think whether or not we should be teaching positive values to our players is what we’re debating. It’s obviously beneficial to teach our kids to be gentlemen. Also, I don’t know a single kid who has played for me and has ever been distracted by sideline banter.

      So the premise that we would somehow be shortchanging the players by getting rid of classless behavior on the sideline seems far fetched to me.

      What I think is very real, however, is the fact that we can’t seem to keep a sturdy enough stock pile of refs in an area that should be easy to cover. We’ve had 17 years to recruit and train officials, and yet, there are only about 8 who can consistently cover high level varsity games from year to year. Why do so many drop the sport after just a year or two? It’s certainly not because of the pay or the travel, it’s because the environment isn’t conducive to keeping refs around.

      If we want the sport to grow, part of that growth will need to come from solid officiating. It will be hard to find those additional solid officials, however, if they keeping getting run out after a year or two.

      • Sayre Thomas

        Thank you for the kind words. I was indeed Coached my entire career by very classy individuals with a lot of integrity. I guess perhaps the problem will be fixed when more players (like myself) return from playing in these higher levels and perhaps are more accustomed sometimes harsh environments surrounding the sport. I know I will be Coaching/reffing in some fashion when I have the chance and would love to give back to the sport.
        I do believe a “Sportsmanship 101″ education program could be very beneficial for players and parents as a league wide installment.

        • Blake Gaudet

          Agreed. I think something like that would go a long way.

  • longdrive

    You chose to be a referee and you’re expected to be a competent one. Toughen up, own your calls and live with the critical parents. I’m so tired of officiating staff complaining. If you’re not ready for primetime games don’t officiate them for God’s sake.

    • Blake Gaudet

      I think you’re ignoring the critical point of this essay. We absolutely do not have enough officials in Idaho. We’ve been playing youth lacrosse since 1998, high school lacrosse since 1999, and even after 17 years we’re still having trouble covering the games taking place in a relatively small valley. Why do you think that is?

      Is it the pay? I don’t think so. I feel the compensation, particularly for a high school varsity game, is pretty good.

      Is it the travel? When the furthest you have to go is Mountain Home, I don’t think travel is a factor.

      I submit that it’s the culture.

      I feel good about the calls I made this season, particularly given my first-year status. My purpose for writing this was not to gain sympathy for myself, but to hopefully encourage people to help fix one of the major problems in our sport’s environment.

      How do you propose we do a better job of retaining officials?

      • LAXREF

        I have been officiating for nearly 10 years. I do sympothize with Blake. I find it interesting that the same individuals that are telling officials to toughen up and “own” their calls, are likely those same coaches that blame officials when they lose.
        Maybe, these same coaches that ride refs relentlessly need to “coach-up”, and “own” their losses. And these “parents” that are so critical of a game they clearly dont understand, should step up.

        Yes, things are better…Level of play and attitude of most coaches and fans. Im sure I will be back next year because: 1. I have kids that play 2. I love the game of Lacrosse, but for right now, I am with Blake….. I may not be back next year.

    • Jeff Crowell

      Longdrive, we **do** own the calls, and we spend a lot of time in training and in our personal time striving to be far more than merely ‘competent.’ What you are missing is that it’s not about our actual competence–it’s about our perceived competence, filtered through the lens of people who cannot believe that their team committed a foul, or that the opponent didn’t.
      I’m also an active ref in the Treasure Valley, but Blake is dead on target, and your assertion that Blake somehow lacks toughness is a cheap way to ignore how right he is.

  • Chris Goellner

    Great article, Blake. This year I have left many a game wondering what the heck just happened. The problem as I see it is the belief that the ref is causing a team to lose. The “Call it both ways!” mentality seems to put the refs in the spotlight as the party most responsible for the outcome. Do you really think I want X team to win over team Y? Do you think I care who wins this game? Is it possible that one team is playing out of control while the other is under control and therefore gets less penalties?

    At the end of one varsity game I officiated this year, I felt a strong desire to walk over to one of the team’s crowd of fans and ask, “what are you teaching these young men and women sitting beside you about this sport? Is it that it is OK to berate officials? Is it that if we are losing, it must be because of poor officiating?” I left the game thinking maybe I’m just not cut out for this. Maybe I am terrible. Maybe, although I have played, coached and now officiated this game for 27 years straight, I have no idea what a slash is. But mostly I was sad. I know for a fact my HS and college coaches never spoke to officials the way we do here. And maybe that has changed over the years. Either way it is sad.

    I thank you for being in the 10% and encouraging me to do the same. I know as a coach I was far from the quietest. I know coaches have a certain job to state their case to the officials. But like you pointed out, there is a proper time, place, and manner in which to do that.

    • Blake Gaudet

      I couldn’t agree more about the “call it both ways!” mentality. Nothing really annoys me more. The implication that I care more about one team than another, and then the snowball effect that creates as spectators begin to evaluate all of your calls through that lens, is what really gets a sideline out of control. Thanks for the thought Chris.

      • bcornaby

        While I can understand your distaste for the “call it both ways” comment, the coaches/players perception is their reality. I personally would prefer to never have to comment or talk with an official-not because I don’t like them, I would simply prefer not to have to speak with them during the course of play.
        But, as a coach (advocate for my players) I expect to be treated fairly and when this doesn’t happen, I will say something and typically the most innocent statement would be “call if both ways, sir.” I could take it a step further and say “I think that #xx is a hack and if he doesn’t control his body/stick or if you don’t help him control his body/stick, someone is going to get hurt.” When a penalty is called on my player, my typical reaction is “that was a legit call, but you need to call the same one that happened 1 minute earlier.” My reaction isn’t “that’s a horrible call and there is no way that should be a penalty!” If you listen- what I’m saying is “I agree with the call. We need more flags thrown-both ways. So we can get this game under control. Can you help me out?”
        As strange as this may sound you as an official are an advocate for my team as well. I dislike having conversations with opposing coaches even more than I like having conversations with officials and talking with other players during a game is not kosher as well. So as an official you are there to keep the peace.

        • Blake Gaudet

          For sure. I think conversations between coaches and officials need to happen. I really haven’t had much of a problem with a coach this year, but I think some problems that do occur between those two positions on the field stem from a failure to speak calmly.

          If coaches were more willing to simply discuss a call, and not immediately yell about it, more officials might be willing to discuss. Again, I feel like most coaches are willing to do that.

          Perhaps representatives from the coaches and the officials should meet before each season to talk about standards of practice for this type of communication.

  • Matthew Engel

    You should consider refereeing girl’s lacrosse! After refereeing both, I realized the girl’s lax experience is much more pleasant. The players are actually thankful for your services. Overall the coaches and fans are very respectful. They are always in need of officials. You would be a huge asset to them!

  • Stephen

    Blake – I am a 7th year lacrosse official in Florida. While not quite the emerging area as Idaho, we still have our challenges. Thank you for writing this article. It perfectly articulates the challenges of first-year officials everywhere and puts a spotlight on the unsavory aspects of lacrosse.

    Please continue officiating. As you know, emerging lacrosse areas need officials desperately. To find a former player willing to put on the stripes is rare, and the knowledge gained as a player surely helped you as an official.

    If at all possible, utilize the training offered by US Lacrosse. Attending a LAREDO this summer or next would help tremendously. Officiate any tournaments that you can (I find them tremendous for learning to deal with coaches and parents). It gets easier every year.

    Congratulations on a successful season, and I hope you continue to wear the stripes. Remember – it’s all noise until you choose to listen to it.

  • Dan Faricy

    I have been fortunate enough to have two sons play lacrosse in Idaho and over the 15 years of watching and playing the game I have seen the good and the bad. My boys are 10 years a part in age.

    For my older son’s games, I was the parent who yelled from the sidelines. Blake was there to hear it. And I regret it.

    For my younger son’s game I stay behind a camera taking photos. I keep my mouth shut, thank the coaches for the hours of time coaching each day and thank the refs for being at the game and doing a great job. Sharing photos for both teams is how I contribute to growing the game.

    Without refs, we do not have a game.

    For every parent or coach who feels the need to yell from the sidelines at the officials, I would ask you to refrain from doing so. It really detracts from the game for everyone, especially the players.

    What the loud mouth parents do not understand about lacrosse is that the game is a life long sport. The cry to “hit’em” or “take him out” reinforces you do not know anything about the game, the rules or how it is played. At the youth level of lacrosse, the last thing you want is someone “taken out”.

    What we should ALL want for Idaho lacrosse is a community for growing the game. Allowing anyone the opportunity to play it, even if it is their first year, at any age. The game will continue to grow, coaching will improve, and yes the referees will as well.

    Completely support the increased need for sportsmanship in the game – particularly from the parents.

    The question as players, parents, and coaches, should be thinking how are we going to grow the game in a positive way.

  • Rising Program

    No sir………..we have had you officiate a couple of our games and you are a very fine ref. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the barrel, identify the disruptive parent and throw him off the field. Same goes for any player that gets in your face, ejection along with a mandatory one or two game suspension will put an end to that behavior.

  • @tmwboise

    Thank you for articulating what I have observed for quite a while in all of youth sports, not just lacrosse. Something does need to change with the Parents, Coaches, Officials and local lacrosse leadership. As solutions, I offer the following:
    Parents-Joe Ehrmann, retired NFL lineman, Director of Coach for America and author of several books on the topic has said the following “the most competitive youth sport today is the parents competing in the stands”. There is a sign in a park in NY (where I was born and raised) that says- “Remember, These Are Kids, The Coaches are Volunteers, The Officials are Human and you did not play for the Yankees/Giants/Rangers or Knicks. Lighten Up!” It works well. Create a Zero Tolerance Policy for Unruly Spectator behavior and empower
    the officials to enforce it. A Sight and Sound Rule will go a long
    way. If you act up on the side lines, you are asked to get out of sight
    and sound.
    Coaches- Focus on getting the most out of every kid, question rules application if needed, not what the official saw, (he will tell you), be firm if need be, but always be respectful. Take the Level I officials online module offered free of charge with your USL membership. It goes a long way with the officials if you know a little more than yelling “that’s a ward” all of the time.
    Officials- check your ego at the door, leave the chip on your shoulder in the trunk of the car and remember the players, coaches and fans are not there to see how knowledgeable you are in the game. They are there to watch kids play. Granted half of them do not know how to spell lacrosse, but they do not care that you are LAREDO certified, that you memorized Rule 2, Section 1, Situation 2.1.1 on page 20 and you write blogs about it. You are there to manage the game, not control it. Focus on Mechanics, Communication and Tone. Hustle, please. All coaches ask is that you work as hard as we do and ask out players to. Being lazy on a fast break and missing an out of bounds call from a perfectly executed ride because you are lazy is infuriating to a coach.
    Leadership (Chapter and Leagues) Focus needs to be on 3 things- Grass, Whistles and Stripes. 1) development of a lacrosse dedicated complex that can accommodate 10 games at a time, not just 2 on turf with lights (grass). 2) Instead of wasting time and money on hip, slick and cool sublimated uniforms for the players, buy 1,000 black and white reversible pinnies for about $10 each. The time and money saved ($40-$50K) can be devoted to a comprehensive coaches education and development curriculum (whistles). You can also pay the youth officials more, $32.50 per game is hardly a compelling value proposition (stripes).

    In closing, whether it is HS or U9, they are still kids. If we all remember that It’s suppose to be About The Kids, then we will make great strides towards improving the lacrosse experience.
    Thank you again for your articulate insight and perspective. Something does need to change.

    Tom Welsh
    Founder and CRO – About The Kids, Inc.
    USL Level II Coach
    USL Level I Official
    US Box Lacrosse Level I Coach
    US Box Lacrosse Level I Official
    USA Hockey Level III Coach

  • Tim Goggin

    I am an official in central Ohio, and have been officiating the game for 14 years. We have our share of parents who don’t understand the rules, and have a tendency to be ignorant. They display bad judgement and behave nothing like they would in a professional situation – at least most of the time. I ignore the parents for the most part.

    Whenever I do a middle school or lower level game, and the parents are near the sideline, I approach the crowd at half time and ask if they have questions about the rules. It is amazing how well this works in helping them understand the rules, neutralize ignorance, and respecting the game.

    Who I don’t ignore are the coaches, or the players. If a player chest bumped me because he didn’t like a call, he would be immediately ejected, same goes for a coach.

    I think we as officials allow team sidelines too much latitude as far as their behavior. I have a very low tolerance for the assistant coaches, and players on the bench. I warn the head coach once to keep his assistants and players under control if they are maligning me, or my partners. The next outburst, they either get the ball taken away, or draw a 30 second conduct foul. Subsequent outbursts draw unsportsmanlike penalties, and then ejections.

    I am approachable, and if a head coach asks a question in a respectful manner, I will do everything I can to answer him. If I missed a call, I will tell him I missed it. There are three sets of eyes watching the game on the field, we do make mistakes, and miss things.We have to take control from the time we walk on the field. We have to be confident in our officiating, and always be in position to make the correct call. We can avoid a lot of problems be doing those simple things.

    Tim Goggin
    NCAA District 6 #125
    Central Ohio Lacrosse Officials Association