How Did You Miss That?
Courtesy of Gordon Corsetti
We say officials have the best seat in the house. While it’s true that we are the closest to the action we can’t watch the game the same way everyone else does, which is typically watching where the ball goes. I love being on the field officiating, but I only see one-half or one-third of the entire game depending on if I’m working in a two- or three-person crew. That’s because proper mechanics demand that at least one official watches the action that no one else is paying attention to away from the ball.
In a two-person game the field is split diagonally between the two officials in settled situations. The Trail Official is the furthest from the goal and takes a position just above the attack box. The Lead Official is near Goal Line Extended (GLE). Depending on where the ball is on the field, one official is responsible for the area immediately around the ball, while the other official scans the off ball action. They are known as the On or Off official.
The clearest distinction between the two officials’ responsibilities is on a shot. When a player shoots the only official responsible for watching that player is the Trail official. This official stays with the shooter watching for late hits. The Lead official tracks the ball as soon as it leaves the crosse, and often has no eyes on the shooter at any point after the shot. These separate responsibilities make it possible for one official to cover the goal, while having another official focused on the safety of the player. That’s an easy situation though, let’s do a tougher one.
In transition, a penalty could occur on the far side of the field opposite the new Lead Official (the official running to GLE during the clear), and the new Lead Official may call a personal or technical foul near the far sideline because that official has an unobstructed angle to the play. The new Trail Official coming up field may not even have eyes on the play if there are two players behind that need to be watched to make sure nothing bad occurs away from the play upfield. But even if the new Trail Official is running up he might have a lot of bodies in front of him and has no way to make the call even if he is closer than his partner.
If more coaches understood the basic mechanics of officiating (the Men’s Officials Rules and Penalty Course is available on learning.uslacrosse.org) and why we stand where we do, I think a lot of calls would make a lot more sense. For example, I officiated a tournament not too long ago where I was the Trail official in a settled play. The offensive player shot the ball near the crease, missed the goal, was pushed from behind, and landed in the crease. I put my hand into the air for a loose-ball push, and at the same time my partner as the Lead put his hand in the air and whistled the play dead for a crease violation. I asked what he had, and he said “White stepped in the crease.” I replied, “Yes, but he was pushed in first. The ball stays with White.”
Two coaches on the Blue team were not pleased with me and while my partner readied the ball for play they asked me what happened. I told them their defenseman pushed the shooter into the crease after he shot the ball, giving the ball to the White team. Then one coach told me that that call wasn’t my responsibility. He then told me that while in the Trail position all I was supposed to call was offside.
If I only had to call offside when the Trail Official then lacrosse officiating would be one of the easiest jobs I could think of! I’m only responsible for one thing? Great! I’m just going to stand on the midline and focus only on this four-inch line, and when a player gets destroyed on a late hit I’ll calmly inform the coach that I’m only supposed to call offside.
I’m being facetious here to drive home the point that the official furthest away from where the ball is may be in the best and only position to make the correct safety or fairness call for the situation. We have fundamental mechanics that are drilled into us in every training class and field evaluation because the referees that came before us experimented with a lot of different ways to officiate the game until they broke down the most effective ways to position officials to watch for safety and fairness.
Gordon Corsetti is manager of men’s officials education for US Lacrosse. You can support US Lacrosse officials education efforts through the US Lacrosse Foundation.