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What are the proper ways to communicate with an official?
Ask the Expert excerpt from US Lacrosse Parent Newsletter 2010

QUESTION: "I have often been confused by an official’s call at my child’s games.  Each time this happens, I consider approaching the official to seek clarification but am always worried that it may be inappropriate to speak to the official.  Is there a right and wrong way to talk to an official? Are there any actions I should avoid?"

Response by Lucia Perfetti Clark, Manager of Officials Training and Umpire Development, US Lacrosse 

It’s important to keep in mind that, as a parent, your behavior in the stands, and with officials, sets an example for players and other spectators.  Both good and bad behavior can be contagious.  The golden rule is always a good general starting point for communication with anyone.  Most officials are just like you: they have a regular full-time job, they love the sport of lacrosse, and they commit time, resources, and energy to ensure that your child has a safe environment to play in.  While ability level of officials will vary, all officials have to start somewhere, and that somewhere may be the game you’re watching.

If the officials on the game you’re watching are USL members, they have been trained by veteran officials, both in the classroom and on the field.  Spectators cannot say the same thing for themselves regarding spectator training, anyone can watch a lacrosse game, and this is something that officials keep in mind when spectators are critical from the stands.  Officials are instructed to never answer or engage with spectators who are trying to interact with them during the game.  There are several reasons for this cardinal rule.  It’s unprofessional to allow a spectator to distract you from the job you were hired to perform.  Additionally, it is someone else’s job to ensure that spectators act appropriately.  A game administrator or some other representative from the school or league which is hosting the game is in charge of maintaining fan decorum (of course it’s always nice to hear sportsmanlike fans policing bad behavior; peer pressure can go a long way towards a pleasant contest).

Spectator Don’ts: before you think about shouting something critical at an official at the next lacrosse game you attend, consider the following:

  1. What was your view of the play, versus the official’s view?  In general, the official is much closer to the play than any spectator.  Officials are also constantly moving to be in the best position and angle for viewing where common fouls occur, spectators don’t move, and if your seat was the best place to call the game from, the official would be right next to you.
  2. Do you actually know what was called?  Do you recognize the signal, and do you understand the rule, it’s application, and the context that it applies in the game scenario you are watching?  These are all things officials consider when making calls, so consider all of those things before being critical of the call.
  3. You came to the game to see a team, or a child, and you have an interest in seeing that child or team be successful.  The official did not arrive with that bias.  Officials arrive at each contest knowing that both teams are worthy of their best effort, and when they go home, they often can’t remember the score, or even sometimes who won.  All games are worth working and preparing for; there is no other agenda.  What do you remember at the end of the game?
  4. Maybe you know the official on the game; should you make that known to everyone by saying hi, and shaking hands or hugging hello?  No, say hello, and leave it at that.  Even though the relationship you have with the official may have no bearing on the game, perception is reality.  Think of how you would feel if you saw the official hugging a spectator from the other team.  It wouldn’t make you feel confident, so keep the interaction short and professional.  The official is wearing a professional hat for the day, catch up with that official personally at a later time.

If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering when can you talk to an official?  Certainly saying thank you as they are leaving the field, or being complimentary is always welcome; it is a nice perk to the job.  If you are in control of your emotions, and are curious about rules or calls, asking officials questions appropriately after a contest is a great way for spectators to learn, and for officials to share their in-depth knowledge of the rules.  Try not to ask about specific calls or game situations, but you can ask about a certain rule, mechanic or penalty administration.  If you’re asking to learn, go ahead.  If you’re invested in the answer, now is probably not the time.  As much as you can, you should use the language of the rules, and expect the official to respond to you using the language of the rules.

It is also possible that you are a spectator with some knowledge of the rules - perhaps you officiated or coached at one point - does that mean you can shout whatever you want during a contest?  Well no, actually, as someone with knowledge of the game, you should do what you can to spread sportsmanlike behavior at the contest, and not undermine the officials who are working that day.  If you do have a particular issue with the officials on a contest, the appropriate thing to do is to address it through the proper channels after the contest is over, whether it be with a school administrator, or the local official’s board, or assigning authority you should professionally and without emotion state your case after the day of the contest.  If you have video of the contest, you should send that in with your complaint.  You should never approach an official leaving a contest with a complaint or hostility.

Spectators have an important part in the game!  They have the ability to make contests lively and fun, or mean and contentious.  Do your part to ensure a positive experience for everyone.  Hey, if you find yourself wanting to talk to the officials at every game, COME JOIN US!  Seriously, we have a lot of parents who make great officials.  Now is your chance, get the best seat in the house.

US Lacrosse, Inc. ©2010