Road Trip Dad – From Every Angle . . .
Dan Witmer | July 22, 2019
Although I can’t admit that I planned it this way, I realized last night that, in just the past five weeks, I have participated in at least five different lacrosse tournaments.

No big deal, right? I can hear you parents out there saying, “Welcome to my world,” or maybe, “Five? Pah! That’s nothing!”

Except that, in those five tournaments, I have played the various roles of A) youth coach, B) referee, and C) tournament staff. I wish I could add the role of D) parent spectator but, regrettably, those days are mostly gone now (enjoy them while they last, parents; you will miss them some day).

When you’re a coach, you might complain about the tournament, finding fault with tie-breaking systems, age group rules, etc. You yell at the referees. You get frustrated.

When you’re a referee, you endure the parent/spectators, and you try to appease the coaches. And you work game after game…

When you’re tournament staff, you try to make everyone happy, answer questions, enforce policy, and pray for cooperative weather.

And I know that, as a spectator, you find fault with referees’ calls (or no-calls), challenge “no-dog” policies, and question the real age of your son’s over-sized and uber-skilled opponents.

You can’t win, right?

Wrong. It is possible to have a good time, to enjoy the experience, no matter what your role might be. Let me try to share my perspective, looking at these things from every angle…

Tournament staff
First, you have to remember you’re in the service industry. Keep the customers happy, or they won’t come back. Practice patience. Smile.

Big tournament or small, give your best to everyone, including the other three groups I’ve identified. Take care of your refs as well as your coaches. If possible, offer golf cart transportation to the growing number of grandparents coming out to watch their kid’s kids play.

Communicate with all constituents. Publish rules ahead of time, for both on-field and off-field policies. Do 5th grade goalies have to wear arm pads? How many time-outs per game? At what point – if any – do face-offs discontinue? Who’s keeping the penalty time? Are dogs allowed? Is there a championship? What are the tie-breakers? Can team (or family) pop-up tents be put up anywhere, or is there a designated area? In youth age groups, are teams playing 10v10, 8v8, or 7v7?

Veteran tournament staff organizers will have quick, concise answers to these types of questions, and if they’re smart, the answers are available before anyone enters the parking lot. No one likes surprises, and gray areas too often result in heated debates.

Coaches
Be honest with yourself (and maybe your team and parents) and have realistic expectations. Do you really have the players to win the weekend’s championship (if there is one)? Know your opponents; do a little research about the other teams in your division.

Read the rules before the day of the tournament; right or wrong, rules tend to vary from one tournament to the next. Same goes for tie-breakers. I heard one parent talk about a tournament where ties were treated like losses; the time to ask questions is before you start play!

Please, preach sportsmanship to your team. Maybe you’re a scholastic coach “moonlighting” for the summer, or maybe you’re a Dad coaching because no one else stepped up. Maybe you’re a young “hired gun” working for a bigger club program. No matter what the situation, use your opportunity to teach some good habits. No unsportsmanlike penalties. Shake hands after every game. No trash talk, on the field or on the sideline. Tell an opponent he made a great play/save/dodge/etc. Honor the game, and be a positive role model.

Play everyone; chances are good they all paid the same amount of money to play in these games. There are always opportunities to “hide” a weaker player here and there. If you can’t get kids their playing time, maybe you’ve got too many players on your tournament team. I cringe a bit when I see 20-25 (or more) players on a sideline for a 40-minute game.

And don’t hesitate to let kids try new positions. No one likes to listen to six kids at halftime ask to play a different position, but see what you can do to keep ‘em happy. No 6th grader needs to specialize and only play LSM.

Finally, go easy on your players. I’ve heard coaches yell and scream nasty stuff for lack of hustle, a bad pass or shot, or a missed check. Lots of things start with a coach’s mannerisms, from parents and spectators, to players themselves, to opponents. It’s game; these are kids. They’re (probably) not practicing five days a week, watching film, or thinking about lacrosse till they buckle up their helmet. Remember; it’s summertime…

Referees
Let me say right off the bat that, as a third-year lacrosse referee, this is definitely my area of least experience. Still, I’ve been taking notes…

First and foremost, like all the other groups, read the tournament rules ahead of time. Lacrosse referees frequently officiate at different levels during the spring, and modified rules are very different from JV; college rules are very different from varsity. Well, the same goes for one tournament to the next. Are time-outs allowed in the final minute? Does the clock stop during a time-out? Are penalties full-time served, or are technical and personal fouls all a minute? At what age group are one-handed checks allowed? Like the coaches, you should be asking questions before games begin if you have any uncertainties.

Tournament referees might be working four or five or even six games in a row, on their feet for four or five hours, so you’ve got to be physically and mentally prepared. Teams are paying a lot of money to participate, and it’s a very fair expectation to count on good officiating. You need to give as much effort to your last game as your first.

I recommend addressing the spectators instead of trying to ignore them. Acknowledge that you might have missed a hold (or slash, or trip, or interference, etc.), or take a second to explain why you called what you called. A friend of mine described his pre-emptive routine - before the first face-off, “…  I jog (not walk) out to one side of the parents sidelines, take off my hat and sunglasses, and give them this: ‘Hey parents – these boys are about to play a lacrosse game. The coaches are going to coach a lacrosse game, and we’re going to ref a lacrosse game. You guys are going to cheer for a lacrosse game. Any problems, we won’t hesitate the clear the sidelines.  Enjoy the game.’  And then I jog over to the other half of the parents’ sidelines and do it again. Hat goes back on, glasses back on and we begin...”

Also, from a coaches’ perspective, while I always think a referee should be willing to talk to a player or coach and explain a situation, you need to also remember that, unlike a JV or varsity (or college) game, the clock is running, and if you’re taking time to justify a call to a coach (especially if his team has the lead), or giving an impromptu face-off rules clinic to his FOGO late in the game, that’s not right. Know the situation; put yourself in the other coach’s shoes, and give the players of both teams all the minutes they can get. They paid for ‘em.

Parents/Spectators
Listen, I don’t want to beat a dead horse here (or any other horse, for that matter!) – I just published a recent RTD article a few weeks ago with some observations about and suggestions for parents and spectators (see http://www.justlacrosse.com/19archives/blogs/witmer_parents3tournaments.htm).

In addition to everything I said two weeks ago, just try make the experience a good one for everyone. Plan for food and drink. And shade. And down time between games. And little brothers and sisters. And the family dog.

Heck, I’d even suggest you initiate some friendly banter with the nearest referee. Ask a simple question, make a joke, or tell him he made a good call – even if it was against your kid’s team (make him wonder which team you’re rooting for!). And remember, you probably don’t have complete strangers coming to your place of business telling you that you’re horrible…

Make a new friend or two. Speak to opponents’ parents, whether it’s during games or between. Model good sportsmanship – show your son and his teammates what good manners and plain old friendliness look like.

For one and all
The Golden Rule comes to mind, and I thought about writing it in each group’s section. Instead, I’ll use it here in my conclusion. Tournament staff, please, treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Coaches, “do unto others as …” Referees, same. Parents – ‘nuff said.

Overall, my experiences over the past five weeks have been very enjoyable. I certainly don’t dread being a part of any tournament, whether I’m on the staff, coaching, reffing, or simply going to watch kids play.

If you’re all worked up at the end of the day, ticked off at the officials, the tournament director or staff, the opposing coach, “those parents from ____,” etc – then you’re doing something wrong. Everyone needs to play his part, and make every effort to make it a great day for lacrosse!

Drive carefully, everyone!

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.