By Michael Williamson
A key to maximizing the success of a season is to minimize the negative influences affecting the team. During my 36 years of officiating lacrosse, I have observed many types of coaches and coaching styles. It has become very obvious that some coaches are their own worst enemy on the sidelines. Team players and team play reflect the personality and behavior of the coach. This can have a positive or negative impact on the play of the game. By observing team-coach interactions, one can learn what to do and what not to do.
The discipline and behavior of teams is quickly ascertained. Some teams stand in a row back from the sideline in a relatively straight line awaiting substitutions and instruction while other teams crowd the sideline, spill into the penalty box, and basically force the coach onto the field. This second team has very little focus and discipline. On the field, the disciplined team usually plays under control and is often the better team that day. The undisciplined team on the sideline usually plays undisciplined on the field, too. One can only wonder what its practices are like and who is really in control of the team. The discipline and professionalism of the coach is usually reflected in the behavior and play of the team.
The overly aggressive coach is usually detrimental to his team’s attitude and play. This team usually reflects the coach’s behavior and plays in an overly aggressive manner. Especially in high school and youth lacrosse, the combination of various skill levels and aggressive play mean the players frequently commit more slashes, illegal checks, pushes and unnecessary roughness penalties. This results in more man-down situations, and thus, more losses throughout the season. In the coach’s mind, the loss of the game is usually the fault of the official. This is the coach who frequently yells a lot about everything during the game. Eventually, he complains to the official, “You’re calling more fouls on us than them.” Well, there are usually more fouls on his team because they are overly aggressive and are usually fairly out of control. My reply to the coach is, “We are not here to keep the penalties even; we are here to keep the game fair and safe.”
Another type of coach that is detrimental to his own team’s success is, for a lack of a better term, “the whiner.” This is the coach who comments or complains on almost every call or non-call throughout the game. If his team gets touched he wants a slash, or if his player almost takes another players head off, it’s “He hardly touched him. What are you calling?” In most cases, the constant whining barely constitutes an unsportsmanlike penalty, but it is always there.
Not only does he spend more time “officiating” and/or whining about officiating than coaching, but worse, his team starts to pick up the coach’s behavior. The players start grumbling and complaining. Eventually, a player argues with the official or loses control and swears which results in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, or the team loses its focus on playing the game and plays poorly because the players begin to “officiate” too.
If the coach spends most of his time officiating, when does he have time to analyze his opponent, to develop strategies for the day or actually coach his players? The behavior of the coach has a negative impact on the success of his team and development of his players.
Fortunately, most coaches coach. Just as in baseball where different umpires have different strike zones and the batters have to quickly adjust to the “zone of the day,” coaches have to realize that different officials have slightly different tolerances for what constitutes a push or a slash. The best strategy is to coach the players in a positive way to suit the “play of the day” of the opposing team and of the officials. Arguing with officials is not going to have a positive impact on the game or the players. Coaches should use the time and effort to observe the opponent and to coach the team to a higher level of awareness and play. The results will have a more positive long-term impact on the game and on the growth of the players.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Williamson is the associate officials director of the Eastern Massachusetts Lacrosse Officials Association.