The Worst Evaluation Ever: Three Ways to Become a Better Lacrosse Official

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER


I arrived at the University of North Carolina overly confident for my first clinic — a USA Lacrosse LAREDO (Lacrosse Referee Development) training session. As a second-year official, I thought I’d show the clinicians how the game was meant to be officiated. I expected to hear that I was a promising young official with an uncanny knack for making the right calls.

Instead, I learned that my positioning was truly awful, my foul threshold was inconsistent, my signals were all over the place and I showed an unwillingness to accept criticism. I read the evaluation with growing anger toward the clinicians until I came to the last sentence.

“Gordon behaves as if everyone showed up to watch him officiate and not the players.”

Yeah, that hurt.

I reread my evaluation, trying to understand how I gave the impressions that I was unwilling to learn and wanting to be the center of attention. Eventually, I chose not to remain angry at the clinicians for doing their job. I chose to work on what I could change while making a sincere effort to be open to criticism.

Since that evaluation, I’ve officiated two high school state championship games and multiple collegiate club playoff games and earned my way into the NCAA playoff ranks. I volunteered on the USA Lacrosse men’s game officials training committee and eventually moved from Atlanta to Baltimore to work full-time as Officials Development Program manager until 2019. I had the privilege of crafting content for youth and high school officials ranging from manuals to comprehensive online courses. 

None of that would have happened without that brutal last sentence. Officiating and getting evaluated aren’t about being perfect. They’re about doing your best and constantly seeking ways to become better.







BOOST YOUR MECHANICS

You can be out of position and make the correct call. That just means you were lucky. Don’t rely on luck when officiating. Rely on mechanics that have been exhaustively tested by expert officials. 

USA Lacrosse two- and three-person mechanics put you in the best position about 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent gets refined by certified observers or clinicians to help you identify when you must adapt to unusual play circumstances. 

Improve your knowledge of the correct mechanics by viewing the online courses and recorded webinars at learning.uslacrosse.org. 

DON’T READ THE RULEBOOK

Instead, visualize it. For example: “A1, the faceoff player, moves after the ‘set’ command but before the whistle.” Make the black and white of the text come alive: “Red is eager to win the faceoff and drops his right shoulder toward the ball before the official’s whistle.”

In each case the official must blow his or her whistle and award possession to Team B in its offensive half of the field, but the official visualizing the situation gains more mental repetitions than the one who merely reads the text and will more likely make the correct call in real time.

KNOW YOUR WHY 

Forge a mission statement, your reason for putting on the stripes. Mine is, “I give my best effort so the players have the best experience possible.”

Everything I do is filtered through that statement. If one team commits penalties, I must throw flags. If a coach behaves improperly, I must address them professionally. If I am not focused, then I must find a way to place my attention on the game.

The 10U coaches and parents don’t know that I did an NCAA Division II game the week before. They shouldn’t because that college game no longer matters, and I must be humble enough to not think myself above doing the correct mechanics in a midweek youth game.

My mission statement ensures that I bring the same degree of focus, effort and professionalism to the youngest ages in the most relaxed atmospheres to the toughest conference games in the most hostile stadiums. 

This article appears in the Championship Edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

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