Photo by Joe Koshollek

It’s a spring day and your 13-year-old is playing in a tight game. An opposing player crosses a line on the field by one step, but the official doesn’t call a foul. The parent sideline erupts in screams of disgust and vilification of the official that missed an obvious call.

Step back and reflect. Try to understand that the official, another adult trying to support your child playing youth sports, missed a call that is a part of the rules designed to keep the game fair. I am not a rules expert — I might yell also — but I have a belief that all rules in a game are put in place for either fair play or player safety. Of course they can be about both, but as a parent on the sideline, which ones do we care about most deeply?

We want our team to win, but at the end of the day, we most want our child to be safe and able to play the next game, to go to school, and to play with friends. (If I’ve lost you at this point and you don’t agree with the concept of player safety rules before game fairness rules, I invite your comments below).

Officials put player safety first. I believe this to be true for US Lacrosse certified officials, and I hope it is true for all officials. They know all the rules, but as the adults on the field in youth lacrosse, they pay attention to the safety rules first in order to protect the athletes.

As a coach, I eventually learned that the player safety fouls were the only ones I should even question. At one tournament, we almost forfeited when we thought our players weren’t being protected. After several late hits after shots and one particularly vicious high hit, we felt like winning was not worth an injury to one of our U15 players. Maybe walking away is not great coaching behavior, but its more understandable when your goals are about the kids, not just the “W”.

As parents, we should all consider giving the officials a break when they appear to miss a fair play call. They may have been watching a player safety issue somewhere else, or they may have been counting players to confirm a foul versus the appearance of one.

On the other hand (and I apologize to my friends that are officials), make some noise on a missed safety issue call. That noise can be on the sideline, by taking advantage of the rule interpretations on, or more effectively, via a postgame chat with the league or tournament leadership to understand how officials are qualified and how you can help make that better.

Youth sports safety involves parents, coaches, and officials. We are the adults that affect the game’s safety by our choices, and we must make an effort to work together to make the game better for young athletes.

That’s why we are all doing this, right?

Bruce Griffin serves as director of health and sport safety at US Lacrosse, as well as the father and coach of a youth and high school player.

Originally posted on US Lacrosse