Monday, July 13, 2015

Rule Changes on Physical Contact, Referee Interpretation, and Their Impact on Coaching

I have just completed my first season back in coaching after a year's hiatus, and I was stunned by the dramatic changes that have occurred in lacrosse in just this past season. Part of the changes are a matter of placing a "new emphasis" on certain rules, while other changes involve the play of the game.

By far the greatest impact on lacrosse has been the greater emphasis placed on "blows to the head" and upper body, as the sport tries to minimize injury, and, especially, the number of concussions that occur each season.

But in looking back over the season, I have noticed that this new emphasis on contact has added to the already troublesome lack of consistency among officials as they manage the game on the field. It is incumbent on officials, prior to a game, to meet with one another, and then with the coaches, to communicate how they will be managing the game. During our last game this past weekend at Hershey, there were at least 7 instances where the officials differed in how they called the game, with one official giving warnings to players for certain behaviors on the field, while the other official immediately flagged players for the same violations. Moreover, in these tournament environments where referees are called upon to officiate several games, all too many of these referees are not maintaining proper mechanics in terms of their position on the field, for example having the trail official stay up near the midfield line rather than moving to the top of the box. This "conservation of energy' places the official out of position to make important calls, adding an element of unfairness to the contest and creating confusion for both players and coaches.

But by far the greatest impact of the change of emphasis regarding physical contact is that coaches are now finding it difficult to teach proper technique. As the defense coach on our team, I spend a great deal of time teaching proper hitting technique. Contact is to be made from the front or side of a ball carrier or anyone within 5 yards of a loose ball. Well I can't begin to tell you how many times I've had my players run off the field shrugging their shoulders after being assessed a "push with possession" or loose ball push call, or in several occasions an illegal body check call even though my players were doing everything "by the book."

If officials can't make proper calls in this area, physical contact will all but disappear from men's lacrosse. Maybe that is the goal, to make the men's game more like the women's game in this regard. If my players can't slide properly, and can't hit properly, is there any point in teaching hitting?

Part of the problem is that the demand for officials has drawn people into the sport who have no understanding of how the game is played. They have low "IQs," and this translates into many poor calls, ie..was it a shot or a pass, is that a proper hit, was that a delayed substitution..

In conclusion, it is incumbent on officials to develop more consistency in their calls during the game, to use proper field mechanics, and to properly understand what is and what is not a "clean hit" in men's lacrosse. If in fact the "powers that be" want to eliminate hitting from the sport, then just say it so we can have honest debate. Defensive players are being placed at a distinct disadvantage, and coaching defense has now become an exercise in frustration and confusion. The rules need clarification, and they need it now.

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